Now a staple of Atlanta-area celebrations, Jan Levie and HandyEntertainment.xyz were not always known as providers of arcane entertainment. It all started with a Halloween event at Montgomery Elementary School in Brookhaven at which she was tasked with performing a few scary stories for the children.
“One of the parents had to step away, and she asked me to fill in,” Levie said. “She had some kind of crystal ball, and I couldn’t really tell what to do with it, so I told someone to stick out their hand, and I read their palm. It was astonishing; people started lining up.”
That night gave Levie the first inklings that she had more to offer telling fortunes than a few PTA performances, and A Handy Little Company was born in 2009. It grew into her current venture, HandyEntertainment.xyz.
“By October 2009, I was applying for my occupational license. I wanted to apply as a fortuneteller, but it’s illegal in many cities, so I got the license as an event entertainer,” Levie said.
“I went to Rabbi Joshua Lesser before I started the business to ask what he thought and make sure what I was doing was OK,” the Congregation Bet Haverim member said. “He cited two passages of Torah: It says stone the soothsayers here, and it says lift up your oracles, so it’s not entirely clear.”
Perhaps best known as her character Naja Elieva, Levie began making a name for herself, bringing a long-forgotten style of performance to celebrations throughout Atlanta. With a variety of characters at her disposal, Levie still most often performs as Elieva, a character born of a myriad of influences.
“Naja Elieva is my name in pig Latin, as devised by my at-that-point 9-year-old son. A woman told me Najiai in Arabic meant ‘G-d is my savior,’ and Eliava from the Hebrew ‘G-d is my father,’ ” Levie said.
The other characters come almost entirely from client ideas or concepts for different events.
Originally focused on the iconic elements of fortunetellers, such as Tarot, palm, tea leaf and coffee ground readings, the performances and products have become more varied. Levie still offers the same style of performances on which she built the business, but also new products, including her signature chocolate ganache “lipsreading” kits.
Fortunetelling is not a field that has seen a great deal of innovation over the past few centuries, but Levie said she has been making strides to incorporate modern practices. “I’ve been targeting technology companies because part of my goal is finding places that you wouldn’t think of doing what I do and putting it in there.”
Levie remains best known for her fortunetelling at events, including her “Zoltar Live,” which mimics the appearance of the classic carnival machine, and her palm readings, the very thing that launched her business.
At the core of the process, evident to anyone who visits the HandyEntertainment.xyz website, is a sense of humor. For example, the front page includes a link to “sign up for our stupid and sporadic newsletter.”
Even as her business grows, Levie believes that the personal touch is paramount to her success.
“It’s a question of trust,” she said. “It’s not something people read an ad and say, ‘That’s what I want.’ It’s all reliant on somebody knowing someone who knows me and how I work.”
Levie is looking to expand. “I’ve been developing auxiliary jobs; I do it all myself at the moment.”
She hopes to be able to break down her production into small jobs and provide some work experience for people with developmental disabilities.