When Steven Brundage picks up a Rubik's cube, magic happens.
The Saratoga Springs magician can quickly scramble — and unscramble — sides of the complicated and colorful puzzle cubes. He's pulled off tricks in front of live audiences during shows such as "Good Morning America" and "America's Got Talent."
It's a slick gag. Brundage shows off sides of a cube in which tiny Rubic squares are a mix of red, green, yellow, blue and other colors. He tosses the cube behind his back and up into the air; when he catches the cube, all sides show solid colors.
Television guys such as Michael Strahan and Howie Mandel react with wide-eyed amazement. Brundage doesn't pull a rabbit out of his hat, but he pulls off the impossible every time.
The 26-year-old Brooklyn native began practicing his craft as a Saratoga Springs street performer in 2012. He received a popularity boost in 2014, when he used a Rubik's trick to evade a speeding ticket in Scotia — a trick that cooperating and amused police officers captured on Brundage's cellphone video camera.
Police officials later said officers had been watching for reckless and drunken driving, and simply chose not to write up Brundage for driving 42 mph in a 30 mph zone. Brundage lived in Glenville at the time and was returning home after a performance in Manhattan.
The video went viral. People noticed, and Brundage soon had spots on TV.
Before the broadcast and social media exposure, Brundage would be happy with just $30 or so after a night on Saratoga streets.
"It was a slow start, but I was pretty persistent," he said during in an interview inside his spacious three-bedroom apartment in Saratoga Springs.
"I kept on working my craft and I slowly got better and better," Brundage added. "I was able to make a decent living after the first three years. It was mostly just summertime; you had six weeks to make that living."
He began to book shows off the sidewalks. Now, as a proven entertainer, people come calling for dates.
On his website, stevenbrundagemagic.com, the magic words are corporate entertainment, festivals, outdoor events, private parties and weddings. Brundage will work any and all gigs.
Most of the work is on the road. Brundage figures he's performed at about 20 corporate gatherings for the General Electric Co. Last year, he flew 140 times for stage work.
"I just came back from Saudi Arabia; we did a 3,000-seat theater there," Brundage said. "It's been everywhere and anywhere. I did a show in Germany earlier this year; I just came back from India."
He was in China for Chinese New Year and a gigantic variety show.
"Right now, I'm kind of doing what I would like to do," Brundage said. "Obviously, there's always bigger and better, trying to figure how to keep it up."
A magician can't solve all his problems with magic wands.
— Language problems in foreign countries?
"Usually, they have it all set up. If they're going to invite me to their country, usually there's a translator in post [post-production]. Sometimes, when I'm on stage, I'll have an earpiece so I'm literally hearing what the people are saying in real time, English in my ears, so I can respond accordingly, which is kind of cool."
— Sharing secrets?
"How does anyone ever become a magician if no one ever shares the secrets? I had to learn somewhere, so I think teaching magic is a really important part of magic, telling the secrets. But I don't think they should be given freely. Obviously, if someone is genuinely interested and they want to learn something, whether it's a simple trick just to impress your family or more in-depth stuff. Obviously, the better the secret is the less likely you are to reveal it."
— On pitching tricks to TV producers — and making sure the trick works.
"I've done it a couple times, pitched a TV show and they're like, 'Great, we love that idea, do it on our show!' And I was like, 'I've never actually done that before in my entire life. I did that for Penn and Teller ["Penn and Teller: Fool Us"], I did it for 'America's Got Talent,' pitching something I'd never done before in my entire life and they said 'Yes.' So at that point, you had a week or two to invent this brand new trick.
"I was at a point when it's 'America's Got Talent,' two days before the live show and I'm rehearsing in front of the executive producer and I can't actually do the trick. I say I will be able to do it in two days. He said, 'Hopefully.'
"The day I did it on live TV was probably the second day I was ever doing the trick in my entire life. And at that point during rehearsals that morning, the trick messes up. I've been in positions where it's like five hours before a national audience, 10 million people, and the trick messes up. I'm like, 'Why did it mess up?'"
Right now, corporate and college shows are Brundage's main sources of income.
"You're always trying to improve," he said. "If I could do a mid-sized theater tour, 1,000-, 1,500-, 2,000-seat theaters across the country, I think that would be awesome."
Brundage knows his business depends on him. That's why he's always trying to improve the act. He's got a manager who handles booking; he's always looking for new markets.
"You could book a corporate event and make 10 times what you can for a small local show," Brundage said. "It's one of those things, where you're finding the right connections."
Brundage has worn tuxedos to corporate dinners, where he'll impress people table by table and warm them up for a longer, post-dinner show. Other times, for TV, he'll often dress more casually.
"Everything on stage is me 10 times," Brundage said. "I like being myself. Everyone's unique in their own way so you kind of let that shine and that sounds cheesy. When I'm on stage, I'm having a blast. If I'm not having fun, something's wrong."
People might think a magician has counting rooms where mountains of coins and dollar bills are stored. Not the case: In Brundage's world, magic is a business. When money comes in, some of it goes back into the business.
"It's not how much you make, it's how much you save," he said. "If you make $1 million and you spend $1 million, you're not a millionaire, you just live an awesome life — but not for long if you're spending like that. I think a big thing is just saving and investing.
"You always want to grow the business," Brundage added. "I've spent thousands this year just in camera equipment and lights and improving the show with magic tricks. They just don't build themselves."
Brundage can splurge a little. He drives a 2016 Jaguar sports car and paid a few extra bucks for the vanity plate "Mag1cian." He had to substitute a number; the "Magician" plate was already taken in New York.
"I'm making a good living to afford that car," Brundage said. "It costs a little bit a month, but also the reason I've got that car is a lot of times when I do events I'm doing them for multi-millionaires and billionaires — influential, powerful people.
"I don't want to roll up in a beat-up car. You kind of have to play the part."
Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected].