By Mandy Coriston It’s shortly before showtime at the Sparta Avenue Stage and theater owner and director Joe Garsetti and his wife and co-owner, Diane, are making sure all their guests are comfortable, chatting with newcomers and regulars alike and stocking the refreshments table. The theater is small, seating just under 70 guests comfortably, with a mix of rows, cabaret tables, and a bank of plush folding seats. The crowd settles in as the curtain opens on one of the biggest names in modern magic, Francis Menotti; he’s one of the first and only performers to succeed on the highly touted television program “Fool Us with Penn & Teller." Menotti will be perform with his partner, mentalist Lindsey Noel. Artwork from all eras of magic hang on the grey, red, and gold walls, amid playing card decor. A backstage wall is graffitied by the magicians who have performed at the theater, including world-renowned mentalist, The Amazing Kreskin. The Sparta Avenue Stage, located at 10 Sparta Ave., and opened in 2012 as the culmination of years of hard work and big dreams by Garsetti, who has been living and breathing magic since he was in grade school, in spite of a rather reluctant start. “A friend asked me to go to a magic club with him when I was about thirteen years old, and I wasn’t too sure, but I went along anyway,” Garsetti said, “They could only accept 25 of the 40 kids that showed up. We put our names in a hat, and my name was drawn. My friend wasn’t picked. The rest is history. I was hooked.”Garsetti dvoted his life to magic. “People watch magic to escape reality and forget their stress for a while, and they love the mystery of it," he said. "It’s easy to entertain the true magic fans, and fun to create theater to entertain the non-fans.”For Garsetti, theatrics are the best part of being a magician.“If a trick doesn’t go off correctly, and it does happen sometimes, you just go to Plan B and keep up the act.”Garsetti appreciates the history of magic, and while he considers many tricks to be timeless, he thinks technology helps keep the artform alive. “We see a lot of new tricks employing technologies that feature miniaturization, which can add to the special effects aspect of a show,” he said, “I’m a bit of a purist, so I probably won’t get into that type of stuff, but I’m certainly keeping an eye on it.”Garsetti sometimes delves into illusionism. He said most magicians fall into one category or the other, but dabble in each. Mentalism and misdirection, he says, also take a lot of practice, and a “lot of guts.” Garsetti’s own signature act is his Dove Set, which includes 14 white java doves, which he raises, breeds, and trains at his home. He’s also masterful with a deck of cards, and every once in a while, he saws his performance partner, Lisa Marie Glover, in half. “Lisa’s a good sport,” Garsetti said, “She used to perform with Ringling Brothers, so me cutting her in half now and then doesn’t faze her.” On the stage at the theater, Menotti and Noel are trading playful jabs, putting new twists on old classics like the magic rope, and engaging the crowd in rousing audience participation for both magic and mentalist tricks. It’s clear that they’re enjoying the small room, and their energy fills the space as they close their hour-long set with a new variation on the trick that brought Menotti fame on TV. After the show, the pair praise the theater and the Garsettis. Noel, who has a background in musical theater and burlesque, said she got into mentalism because she wanted to play to a broader audience.“I love performing for families, and I love being able to show girls that magic isn’t just for guys, it’s for everyone. This place is awesome, and I’m so excited that we got to play here,” Noel said, “I can’t wait to ask if we can come back!” Menotti said he was impressed with the level of detail put into the theater. “We travel a lot, and this is one of the nicest small spaces I’ve ever seen,” he said, “This is just a magician’s dream, from the dimensions of the stage to the lighting. Even the height of the stage is perfect. And we got such a warm reception. This place is just an amazing, pleasant, surprising secret.”Kudos like those from Menotti and Noel mean that the Garsettis have hit the mark on Joe’s vision of having a “magic cave," where he and his fellow magicians could gather, rehearse, and perform in an intimate atmosphere. Aside from the performance salon, there’s also an office, equipment storage, and a magician’s library, which all aspiring magicians are welcome to arrange a time to browse. In addition, Bill Wisch, Garsetti’s friend and official protege of the late great Tony Slydini, offers 8-week sleight-of-hand courses at the theater. “We wanted to build a space dedicated to the performance of magic,” he said, “A place with good sightlines and close-up seating. Someplace very different from playing big rooms, or doing parties or corporate events.”With state of the art technology including a 4KHD projector and 8’x16’ screen, a spacious kitchen, and comfortable, convertible seating, the Garsettis are happy to rent the space for events or rehearsals in between magic shows. “We’ve had parties in here, movie screenings, band rehearsals,” Garsetti said, “You name it. It just works because we can arrange the space to fit people’s needs.” So, what happened to the friend who dragged Garsetti to magic club, but didn’t make the cut? Did he ever end up being a magician? “No,” Garsetti said with a laugh, “He became a businessman, and we’re still friends. I perform at his company parties. Isn’t it funny how one afternoon can change your whole life?”Know Before You Go:What: The Sparta Avenue Stage, a 501(c)3 theater devoted to the preservation, teaching, and performance of magic; offering shows for all ages, magic classes, and a magicians’ library Where: 10 Sparta Ave., Sparta, NJ 07871Hours: Showtimes and office hours vary; monthly magic shows will resume in September, and theater space is available for rental year-round Cost: Live performances are individually ticketed at wallet-friendly prices; consult ownership for rental feesAccessibility: The theater is fully handicapped accessible, and all amenities are on ground level with ample on-site parkingMore info: Visit www.spartastage.com, call (973) 769-2893, or email firstname.lastname@example.org; joining their mailing list is encouraged to receive news on all upcoming events Tourist tip: Guests to the Sparta Avenue Stage are invited to bring their own refreshments or enjoy those provided. Every seat in the house is designed for a great view of the stage, and audience members should not be surprised to be asked to participate. .