Manhattanville college student Vinny DePonto has some tricks up his sleeve.
Manhattanville College student and dobbs ferry native
vinny deponto does believe in magic.
By W. Dyer Halpern
The other magicians brought along huge crates filled with props. Vinny DePonto had everything he needed in a carry-on—three ropes and a “silly” hat. The hat was his costume. The ropes—his magic.
Standing on stage at the Orleans Hotel in Las Vegas for World Magic Seminar Teen Stage Competition, DePonto, then 19, effortlessly seemed to make his ropes change sizes, turn into rings, and jump together and apart in ways that would send Isaac Newton running to the insane asylum. But would they win him recognition at competition’s end? “The director of the contest,” DePonto, today 21, recalls, “called me up beforehand and said, ‘It’s very unlikely you’re going to make it with a rope routine.’”
The director was dead wrong. DePonto finished third and won the prestigious Lance Burton award of excellence. “I was like, ‘Wow.’”
The road to Vegas began when Vinny DePonto was only six. One rainy day his father, a bread delivery man, pulled a handkerchief out of a shoebox and made it “vanish.” “I was completely astounded. Every thought was pulled from my face.” His early performances were in front of his family during Thanksgiving dinner. “I think I charged a bread roll and some cranberries.” But he quickly advanced his career from family gatherings to performing at birthday parties. At 13 he was charging $50 an hour. “Other shows were just for kids. I had a script, rhymes, and tricks that could entertain everybody.” He started advertising himself anywhere he could. “I’d be in a deli and just do a trick. It was word-of-mouth viral marketing.” DePonto created his own website (www.vanishingvinny.com) and managed himself. His career took off. Before he entered college, he was performing at bar mitzvahs, corporate events, and large festivals, charging over a hundred dollars an hour.
What’s the fascination? “It’s really the moment of astonishment that fascinates me,” he says. “It was originally just to say it’s something I can do and you can’t do, but now it’s more of a gift I want to share.”
“He takes tricks and turns them into performances,” says Emily Wallace, a close friend who actually had DePonto perform at her 20th birthday party. He developed tricks that took advantage of his audience’s body language. “I can influence people to pick certain cards by exploiting heuristics—shortcuts the human mind takes.” And yes, his knowledge of human behavior has benefits both on and off the stage: “I have gotten quite a few dates because of it,” he acknowledges. “Magic is a good ice breaker.”
Today he studies magic at Manhattanville where he has created his own major, “Psychology and Performance.” “Manhattanville is great about it.” DePonto also studies management and graphic design to help him further turn his passion into a career. He’s also been touring colleges and is preparing for graduation this spring. He regularly sells out his annual “Magic at the ‘Ville” show (each April) and recently performed at the prestigious Aces of Magic show at NYU’s Kimmel Center. His plan after graduation is to tour colleges (“It’s more than enough to live on.”), until he has enough money to open his own Vaudeville-themed restaurant in the city. “I need to find acrobats,” he quips. As for competitions, DePonto is done with that. “Magic isn’t meant to be performed for other magicians. I don’t have to prove anything,” he says.