Dick Steiner has an unusual resume
for an entertainer. It includes graduation from West Point and a 21-year
Army career during which he served in Vietnam, Germany and Australia before
retiring as a lieutenant colonel.
Now Steiner, who has lived in the
Washington region since 1991, performs tricks and pops smiles on the faces of
Fortune 500 executives, professional athletes and White House officials.
His performances can be broken
down into two categories: strolling magic and stage mentalism, which some call
mind reading. He often integrates a corporate or association theme, key
sales points or product promotions into his presentation.
Even though his act is best
suited for corporate events and upscale private parties, Steiner - who averages
two to three shows a week - also has entertained at cocktail parties, receptions
and other events. He doesn't perform for kids, but his act is wholesome,
Steiner talked with contributing
writer Christopher Windham about the economic downturn's effect on corporate
entertaining and related some of his memorable performances.
How tough is it to perform
magic during a time where the last thing on the minds of business professionals
It's not a tough as you might
think. Like the Reader's Digest column says, "Laughter is the
Best Medicine." I've always felt that part of my job as a corporate
entertainer is to get people to forget their troubles for an hour or so, no
matter how busy or stressed out they are. There is a lot of humor in both
my strolling magic and stage mind- reading performances. Beyond that, I
know audiences are especially captivated by the mind- reading effects. The
net result is that people really do set aside their concerns for at least a
In fact, I have been hired by more
than one company in the midst of downsizing to provide a morale boost for the
management and employees.
What trick makes even the most
serious executives chuckle?
The lie detector helmet. As
soon as I get an executive on stage to put the helmet on his head, people can't
help but laugh. The routine is hilarious but the helmet itself is a funny
sight because it's a colander with wires and batteries and flashing lights and a
buzzer that mysteriously goes off when the person tells a lie. Of course,
I no longer take the lie detector helmet on a plane with me when I'm flying to
an out-of-town corporate show.
While the lie detector gets a
laugh, most of my mind- reading effects are designed to make jaws drop. For
example, several people in the audience will write down numbers that are added
up by another audience member. That sum is then written on a flip chart in
front of the group. Another audience member randomly selects a phone
number from the local phone book and it matches the number generated by the
Has there ever been a instance
where the professionals didn't get the joke?
Occasionally I perform a
hoax-speaker presentation for a company's sales force. This starts when
I'm introduced by the manager as a senior VP from the corporate headquarters to
talk about a new training program to help sales people "get into the minds
of their customers." I start with some reasonable examples of intuitive
thinking and nonverbal cuing, but quickly escalate into impossibilities from my
regular show. People start putting their notebooks away when they realize
they've been had, and just sit back and enjoy the show. But there are
always a few attendees who go to see the manager later in the day to volunteer
to be among the first to be trained in this great new program.
What business leader,
politician, celebrity etc., admired you work?
Former Vice President and Mrs.
Gore immediately come to mind. I had the pleasure of entertaining their
guests at the vice president's residence on several occasions over the years
and they were always very complimentary about my magic. They were also
very gracious hosts. Mrs. Gore has an effervescent personality and the
former vice president a nice sense of humor. Of course, it's not only
Democrats who enjoy my magic and mentalism. a lot of Republican
politicians do as well.
Who has a better sense of
humor: executives or military personnel?
As a West Point grad and
retired Army officer, you know I've got to give the military personnel equal
billing on this one. But the fact of the matter is, I really don't see a
difference. Here, in the D.C. area, a lot of executives are former
military - which puts them in both categories. Then, too, I try to
structure my show to appeal to all adult audiences by having wholesome humor,
some astonishing effects, and lots of audience participation. Executive
and military personnel alike are universally good sports.
How do you make your act
relevant to the different groups you entertain?
I always work a theme or
company name into my performances. Executives appreciate that I take
that extra step, especially when they are entertaining their top
clients. Additionally, I usually wear a tuxedo when I perform strolling
magic so, with a collection of over 40 specialty cummerbunds, I can cover
almost any theme. I just had a cummerbund and bow tie custom-made for a
vintage Hollywood-themed party coming up.
Whose mind have you read and
what did you interpret?
I'd better pass on that
one. I wouldn't want to get anybody in trouble.