‘Street performing is an excellent proving ground because . . . you don’t make money, you know you’re bombing.’
Though it’s a perfect nickname for a magician, Stephen Sloan did not become known as “Sleeveless” because of his act. Some old friends used to switch the letters in the 33-year-old’s name, calling him “Sleve Stoan,” which evolved into “Sleeveless” because of Sloan’s habit of rolling up his sleeves. Nevertheless, “Sleeveless” has made a name for himself in the magic entertainment world, performing for the past six years at various San Diego locales, including Balboa Park and Sea World. After studying drama and English in high school and junior college in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, Sloan started “street performing” on the Redondo Beach Pier. He moved down to San Diego in 1982, and began performing at Balboa Park for “immediate cash.” A job at a magic shop in Seaport Village helped Sloan make contacts in the entertainment field, and led to jobs at conventions and parties. It also led him to Vista Hill Hospital in Chula Vista, where he has taught magic tricks to the teen-agers there for the past four years. Sloan says a person’s ability to learn a trick and fool someone with it encourages positive behavior. Sloan has also worked at Sea World for the past four years, first as a “putty” entertainer (one who fills in the time gaps where the attractions are few) and currently with the “City Streets” show. Sloan lives in the south San Diego area with his wife. He was interviewed at the hospital by Times staff writer Kathie Bozanich and photographed by Dave Gatley .
I started with magic really due to my father. My father had a hobby of performing magic, at parties and things like that. Magic was always part of my toy box when I was growing up.
One day somebody said, “You have to get a job,” and magic was really the only thing I knew how to do. It is pretty much my only skill.
I started off doing street performing on the Redondo Beach Pier when I was 19, 20 years old. I would perform, then pass the hat.
Street performing is an excellent proving ground because if you make money you must be doing well, and if you don’t make money, you know you’re bombing. That’s where I learned what made a good trick and what made a bad trick and how to entertain an audience.
My drama studies gave me a background in theater so I could understand what entertainment is and how to put on a show technically. I studied English to understand it as a language, not just as words. This gave me the ability to pattern my show so that it’s not just scrambled, that it actually makes sense.
San Diego has a better market for street performers than most cities because the weather is so nice here.
Of course, the heavy tourist times are going to be your best times, but you can go out this weekend and do a street show and make money. Obviously, you couldn’t do the same in, say, New York, or anywhere else back East.
I think San Diego is really unique because the performers are all really friendly with one another. If somebody isn’t part of that friendly atmosphere, if they are a little too cutthroat, they’re really an outsider in the community of entertainers.
My parents encouraged all of us to really be anything we wanted to be, and consequently, all three of us kids have gone off in really different directions. There’s never been that time that my parents have said: “Well, when are you going to get a real job?”
I think there’s always a lot of jobs for an entertainer. One of the reasons I became a magician rather than an actor is that it is difficult for an actor to find work. There’s only so many hours of television programming, for example, which means there can only be so many jobs.
I found as a magician there was lots of work. As a street performer, all you need is a place in the street where they don’t mind you doing a show, and instantly you become a professional in what you do.