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Laguna Beach

 Volume 11, Issue 48  |  June 14, 2019


As a kid, Jeff Rovner wanted to be Ricky Ricardo, but life had other plans for this multi-talented man

Story by DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

It takes more than sleight of hand to become an expert in multiple endeavors: lawyer, technologist, professor, magician, and photographer. However, Jeff Rovner, although he is an accomplished magician, doesn’t need the magical arts to attain success. Granted, there is a bit of performance in each of his diverse roles, but he claims there is another common thread; if he discovers a final effect worth achieving, he’ll put in the time and behind the scenes preparation to bring it about. 

Jeff is married to Marrie Stone, a writer and co-host of KUCI’s Writers on Writing radio show, and father to fifteen-year-old Haley, a sophomore at Sage, and a hula hoop performer with Le PeTiT CiRqUe, an all-kid humanitarian cirque company. 

He’s also master of the house to Theo, a beautiful Ragdoll cat.

How does someone who, as a child, wanted to be a band leader in the style of Ricky Ricardo and had the red sport coat with black lapels to prove it, become a multi-award winning technologist, a professor at George Washington University, a member of The Academy of Magical Arts, and an exhibitor of Fine Art Photography at the 2017 Festival of Arts? 

Jeff was born in 1957 in Washington D.C. and took up magic at the age of seven, when he found a magician’s number in the telephone book and called him. The magician turned out to be a professional who performed at the White House for the Kennedy children. He sold Jeff his first magic paraphernalia, and during Jeff’s childhood and early teen years, he performed at various events. 

In 1995, he was inducted into The Academy of Magical Arts (aka Magic Castle). On Halloween, he treats the neighborhood to performances at his door, and he still does magic for his students in the Master’s Program in Law Firm Management course.

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Jeff’s Collection of Magic Memorabilia

With the intention of becoming a doctor like his father and older brother, Jeff earned a BS in Zoology and worked briefly at NIH. But along the way, he switched career paths from medicine to law. In 1982, he graduated with a law degree from GW and practiced for 14 years. In 1996 he made another career change, this time to the field that came to be called knowledge management. He is currently the Managing Director for Information at the global law firm O’Melveny and Myers. 

In this role, Jeff organizes vast quantities of information to make it accessible and useful to the lawyers in his firm. Jeff says he enjoys the challenge of bringing order to chaos. “The more complex and messy a subject is, the greater the payoff when you finally organize and simplify it.” 

In 2007, Jeff was named one of the Top 100 Global Tech Leaders; in 2014, he was chosen Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management; and since 2015, Jeff’s litigation efficiency software, called OMMLit, has received four innovation awards, most recently from the Financial Times. 

This talent for innovation has translated into his photography. On his photography website, www.jeffrovner.com, he says, “The camera is my preferred tool to extract order, beauty and meaning from a chaotic world.”

Mesmerized by Haley and photography

His interest in photography began in earnest in 2011, when he was determined to take better pictures of daughter Haley and knew he was on borrowed time to document her childhood. “She just endlessly fascinated and delighted me,” he says. “I was determined to take better pictures of her. One of my photographer friends insisted I learn how to shoot without relying on my camera’s automatic settings. I bought a camera from Leica, a retro model that requires the photographer to choose focus and exposure manually. While that made shooting pictures more difficult at first, the results were so much better. It’s the only art form in which I’ve been able to produce results that satisfy me.”

Haley was also the inspiration for the fine art photographs Jeff will exhibit at this year’s Festival of Arts. When she joined Le PeTiT CiRqUe, Jeff frequently drove her to her practice sessions and performances. With the blessing of the troupe’s owner, Jeff conducted a formal portrait session with all the young performers, shooting them in the style of Irving Penn’s famous portraits. 

“Based on the success of those photographs, I was given more access to the troupe, and was able to document the kids at their rehearsals and shows,” he says.

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In the midst of magic, Le PeTiT CiRqUe and Haley (in a photo on the wall)

Once he had accumulated a large body of Cirque photos, he recalled the advice of his mentor Robert Hansen, another photographer at the Festival, who had suggested he choose a photography project and perhaps produce a book. So he planned the finishing touch for the project – a dramatic portrait of each artist performing his or her circus art, including trapezes, hoops, and stilts. 

Jeff will exhibit that portfolio of portraits at this summer’s Festival. The portraits are also included in Jeff’s book, The Values of Le PeTiT CiRqUe. All profits from the book are donated to the purchase of supplies and equipment for the troupe. “The book was a labor of love,” Jeff says, “my attempt to capture the beauty of the costumes, the nostalgia of the circus, the skill of the performers, and the growth of all the kids, including my own.” 

Three of these portraits are on exhibition at Wells Fargo Bank’s third floor gallery, as part of the Festival’s Fresh Faces exhibit (featuring artists recently juried into the Festival), which runs until June 14. A reception will be held at 11 a.m. on Sat, May 13.

Hometown performance

Adding to Jeff’s excitement at exhibiting during the Festival’s 85th year, the troupe from Le PeTiT CiRqUe will perform twice on Family Day on July 16 at the Festival. Between shows, they will mingle and interact with the crowd. “It will be wonderful to watch Haley perform with her troupe in her home town,” he says.

Laguna Beach became Jeff’s town in 1994. What drew him to Laguna? “It just feels good here. It’s kind of a healing place, there’s something very special about it. For people who need some repair, it offers that, and the small scale of the architecture compared to the mega mansions in other communities reminds people of their humanity,” he says. “The small beach cottages also encourage people to get out of their homes and into the town. It’s a real place, a community, more like what I was accustomed to back east.” 

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In all endeavors, Theo serves as Muse

Fortunately for us, he made Laguna his home, but he does love to visit other places. Jeff, Marrie, and Haley have traveled extensively via house swapping, which they started doing in 2005, the first time in Paris. They’ve been back there several times, and it turns out that is Jeff’s favorite city. They also liked Leiden in the Netherlands and Forte dei Marmi in Italy. He dreams someday of orchestrating an arrangement with two other families, one in Paris and the other in some other wonderful city, and have each family rotate through the three homes during the year.

Looking to the future

That conversation takes us into the future -- what projects, what chaos is out there for him to simplify. “New ideas excite me,” Jeff says. “I’m lucky to work in a job that gives me the time to read and look for new ideas, including ideas from other disciplines that can be adapted for use in my law firm.” 

Jeff’s interest in ideas led him to a new project he calls “Concept Cards.” He plans to produce a deck of cards, each explaining an important concept and showing how it can be useful. “People need concepts to attach their experiences to, to give meaning to those experiences. So I’m assembling the concepts that have been most useful to me, and soliciting others from my friends. With a deck of Concept Cards, one can learn valuable ideas that would otherwise require a lifetime to gather.” He has already crowd-sourced 200 concepts.

So, we found out how the boy who wanted to be a band leader ended up in Laguna Beach as the master of many roles. Although the one thing he hasn’t mastered that he would like to, he says, “…is playing the piano.” Of course, I immediately pictured him someday in Paris, playing the piano in a lounge, and wearing a red sport coat with black lapels. 

“When you were young, did you expect you would have a good life?” I ask, and he responds, “As a child I always expected I would have a good life. I still do. (And by God, I have!)”

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor & Writer.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Alexis Amaradio, Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Lynette Brasfield, Marrie Stone, Maggi Henrikson, Samantha Washer, and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Stacia Stabler is our Social Media Manager & Writer.

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