Do you believe in magic?


Photo by Louis LaVenture/The Pioneer

Kali Persall,
Managing Editor

Levitating a cup of Sprite or conjuring money from a burning piece of paper aren’t skills that most fifth graders possess, but 11-year-old Matthew Pizzi, otherwise known as Matty the Magician, has mastered them.

It all started with a first-grade talent show at Prince of Peace Lutheran School in Fremont. The day before the show, he told his mother, Pam Pizzi, that he wanted to perform magic, and she drove him to Houdini’s Magic Shop on Pier 39 in San Francisco to buy tricks.

“It was a little crazy and chaotic,” said Pizzi. “I didn’t know anything about magic at the time, zero, so I googled magic stores near Fremont. It turns out there are no magic shops anywhere between here and Oakland. You had to go all the way to San Francisco.”

The pair picked up two tricks: a magic “change bag” that appears empty at first glance but can be used to make items vanish and appear, and a flower that appears at the wave of a wand. “[The tricks were] quick and short and sweet,” said Pizzi. “We practiced our hearts out for a couple of hours.”

Since then, Matty has performed dozens of tricks at school talent shows, in classrooms, at birthday parties and community events. He wears a signature dark blue, pointy magicians hat, a velvet black cape and a tuxedo t-shirt and works behind a small table with a black drape. He almost always carries a magic wand. “I love entertaining people,” said Matty. “That first year it was just awesome. When I asked for assistance the whole crowd [raised their hands].”

Four years ago, Matty performed with “Dan Chan the Magic Man,” a professional magician from San Francisco at Pacific West Gymnastics in Union City. During intermission, Pizzi approached the magician and asked if he would allow Matty to incorporate one trick into his act. He agreed and Pizzi says she’s now considering asking “the magic man” to mentor Matty.

On Oct. 29, Matty performed a pop-up show at a Trunk or Treat event that took place at John Muir Elementary School in Hayward. The event was catered toward providing a safe, inclusive space for autistic children and their families.

When Matty was in preschool, he struggled with behavioral issues like biting, which made it difficult for him to integrate into public school, so his parents decided to enroll him at Prince of Peace, a private school. Pizzi said the class never reaches over 20 kids, which allows Matty to have more one-on-one instruction.

Until age six, Matty received Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy, a method of treatment that helps people with a wide range of social issues correct behavior and learn “socially significant behaviors” such as reading, academic and social skills and applied living behaviors, according to the Center for Autism and Related Disorders, Inc.

Pizzi said Matty’s magic has helped to boost his self esteem, build relationships with other kids and improve his social skills. “This is a good thing for him because it’s brought him out of his shell a lot,” she said. “At first, getting up on stage was a challenge, now he loves it.”

For the first time, Matty has showed an interest in playing team sports. He recently attended a volleyball skills camp through the city of Fremont and plans to give basketball a try at Prince of Peace next year. “It’s a social experiment to keep pushing him to be around people and be a part of something,” said Pizzi.

Pizzi is an alumna of Cal State East Bay and a former network engineer and web design project manager. Before having Matty, she was also a pilot and scuba diver. Now she’s a stay-at-home mom who never misses a school event and frequently helps out in the classroom. She helps Matty study for tests and homework every day.

Pizzi also recently chaperoned field trips to the San Juan Bautista mission in San Benito County and the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley. “I kind of gave everything up and poured it all into him,” she said. “The more you put into your kid, the bigger rewards you get.”

Pizzi is the mastermind behind many of Matty’s tricks. She researches and learns each one through videos online before she teaches them to her son. Pizzi said that tricks can take days or weeks to learn, depending on the level of difficulty, such as card tricks that require sleight of hand.

Pizzi said a lot of kid-friendly tricks and card magic isn’t very impressive for a large audience, so she modifies the more difficult tricks commonly performed by adults. In the money and fire trick, Pizzi said the magician is supposed to hold the burning paper in their hand. Matty puts the paper down in a tray before he lights it on fire.

Many of Matty’s tricks are purchased online and some come with written instructions, but Pizzi said Matty learns best by watching the trick in person or video. The same method can be applied to Matty’s own tricks: Pizzi started a Youtube channel with all of Matty’s shows, which the pair watches frequently in order to help Matty evaluate how to improve, what to change and what tricks to add.

“We kind of build our own momentum,” she said. Matty put on four shows this year so far and has built up to eight or nine tricks. He’s looking into performing more throughout the year and plans to constantly practice in between shows, “so he doesn’t lose it.”

“It looks so easy and once you learn, it is not too bad, but there’s a bit of a curve there that you have to be aware of,” she said.