'Fred the Fantastique': Retired minister revels in bringing joy through magic tricks

loberle@islandpacket.comOctober 26, 2013 

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Bluffton's Frederick Reisz, Jr. a pastor, professor, retired seminary president and magician "Fred the Fantastique" is shown here Tuesday afternoon in his Sun City home.

SARAH WELLIVER — Sarah Welliver Buy Photo

The Rev. Fred Reisz's magic shows aren't about supernatural power.

As an ordained minister and retired seminary president, the Sun City Hilton Head resident isn't claiming he's God.

Rather, Reisz, whose stage name is "Fred the Fantastique," simply wants to entertain and enlighten, using magic to illustrate fables and parables.

"Magic is the experience of the impossible in the instant of your imagination," he said. "And our job as magicians is to shape your imagination so you get to that moment of surprise."

YOUNG MAGICIAN

Reisz has been practicing magic for more than 60 years; he began teaching himself at age 11.

It was a popular hobby among boys his age, one that was usually abandoned in junior high. But Reisz contracted rheumatic fever and was confined to a bed for a year and a half. During that time, his parents encouraged him to continue working on his magic tricks, which he'd perform for visitors.

His first trick involved a small block with two colored dots on it. He would cover the dots, and they would change colors, eventually switching places.

That was his first trick requiring actual skill. He continued working on his magic in high school, but took a break in college before starting the magic again.

"I came back to it as my principal hobby, or obsession as my wife would say," Reisz said.

Reisz was the pastor of the University Lutheran Church in Cambridge, Mass., for 14 years, teaching at the Harvard Divinity School as well. He moved to Columbia in the early 1990s where he served as the president of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary for the next 14 years before retiring to Sun City in 2006. Here, he joined the Society of Lowcountry Magicians, and previously served as the president, and became involved with Family Promise, where he has served on the board. He is also a member of Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Bluffton.

All the while, he has performed magic.

MAGIC, NOT MIRACLES

The practice of magic has long caused controversy in the Christian faith, and Reisz has received angry feedback from those saying he's doing the work of the devil.

"First, I say to them that my purpose in life is not to destroy people, but to build them up," Reisz said. "Those people also go to films and watch television and soap operas. So if they can think of it more as theater and performance and less as someone trying to prove they're God, which I'm certainly not ...."

When the Bible condemns magic, it refers to witchcraft and sorcery, of casting spells and consulting the dead -- the sort of magic that requires supernatural power.

That's not Reisz's magic. His is about illusions. He's an honest liar. He wants to fool people's imaginations, but is honest about the fact that what he does is a trick, a skill he has mastered over the years, and nothing more.

Sometimes, he uses magic to illustrate Christian teachings and stories.

When he was a minister, he would tell the story of the Good Samaritan during children's sermons and perform a magic trick that demonstrated helping, or have a child help him with the trick. For Noah and the Ark, he had animals that appear and disappear.

"I want to use magic more to project the joy of the faith," Reisz said.

And he's careful not to mimic a miracle Jesus performed, such as turning water into wine or multiplying fish and loaves. Those miracles are more than the mere illusions he would be able to create.

"I'm not Jesus and I want to protect that area," Reisz said. "I say to the children that it's fun and it's trickery, that I learned how to do it and you can learn too. I make sure they know I'm not doing any kind of miracle."

TELLING A STORY

The quest for logic and reasoning can also turn people away from magic.

Humans don't like being fooled.

Reisz was performing at a banquet in Savannah when he asked a woman if she'd like to participate in one of his tricks. She told him no, that she had no interest in magic at all. She didn't understand how magic happened and thought she'd stay up all night trying to figure it out.

"People instinctively don't like to be fooled," Reisz said. "So magicians have the initial challenge of getting people's interest. ... I've got to charm you, I've got to draw you in.

"People have been bad magicians, boring magicians, magicians (audiences) couldn't get away from," Reisz said.

"Magic is a performance art, and I approach it that way," he said.

Reisz has a one-man 55-minute show he performs along the coastline. In the Hilton Head Island area, he's performed at hotels, trade shows, parties and conferences. The adult-only show addresses mature topics such as death and cancer, as well as love and hope.

In it he tells the story of a woman who woke up with three hairs on her head, and holds up three ropes to represent the hairs.

"Oh great," she says. "Today I can wear my hair plaited."

The woman wakes up one day with only two hairs, and Reisz magically turns the three ropes into two.

"Oh great," she says. "I've always wanted to wear my hair parted."

Next, she wakes up with a single hair on her head, the two ropes turning into one rope.

"Oh great," she says. "I've always wanted a pony tail."

Finally, the woman wakes up with no hair on her head, and the rope disappears completely.

"Oh great," she says. "No more hair arranging."

"It's a story about gratitude," Reisz said. "Being grateful for what we have and creative in using it.

"It's about finding joy in life. ... It's that moment of delight when something happens that you totally weren't expecting."

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