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Magic Happens Here

<bt>No rabbits were pulled out of hats at last week’s meeting of the Society of American Magicians (SAM), Chapter 252.

Well, no real rabbits anyway. Real rabbits are fairly high-maintenance. Instead, SAM member Geoff Weber had to use the next best thing: tiny foam bunnies. The group of 11 magicians watched approvingly as Weber made the rabbits multiply from two to four to eight, as rabbits are apt to do. Then for a grand finale, Weber transformed the little rabbits into one giant bunny to the applause of the room.

While this trick is impressive and probably astounds Weber’s audiences on a regular basis, the transformation of the bunnies was business as usual for the group, which has been attracting magic enthusiasts from the Northern Virginia area for the past 10 years. According to Jack Coffey, an original member, the Northern Virginia Society began in early 1992, when founding president Dean Allen created the group as an extension of a magic class taken with the Park Service. The group has met in the Knights of Columbus Hall behind St. Leo’s Catholic Church in Fairfax every Thursday since then. Members have performed in a variety of stage shows, either separately or as a group. The Northern Virginia Society has also been featured at the Spotlight on the Arts Festival in Fairfax and at the Easter Egg Roll at the White House.

One might assume that SAM is some sort of secret society, especially judging from the oath interested parties must take to become members, which reads in part, “I am opposed to needless and useless explanations of secrets to persons who are not entitled to know them or who are not interested in magic.”

Even though magicians by definition know something that their audience does not know, SAM is not an exclusive group.

“When people join this organization, people come in at different levels. It is open to people of all ability,” said Allen Martin, vice president. “We are trying to attract anyone who is interested in magic, from people that perform very often to people that don’t perform at all."

What unites those who come to the meetings, whether semiprofessional or amateur, is an enthusiasm for magic. The atmosphere is jovial, as the men yell quips back and forth during the business meeting and while members perform new tricks.

The meetings usually consist of a workshop teaching new skills and a club presentation in which magicians can perform for practice and advice. At last Thursday’s meeting, for example, SAM member Gary Carr pulled an egg out of a previously empty black bag; fellow member James Marshall performed a card trick and cup trick in the style of famous illusionist Kreskin; and Geoff Weber bent metal flatware in addition to performing the rabbit trick.

What inspires someone to want to become a magician?

“I’m not really a magician," said Dean O’Connell, a dignified-looking man in a three-piece suit. "I’m an antiques dealer. The reason I got into magic was because a lot of people who came to my store would say to their children, ‘Don’t touch anything.’ So I would carry magic and I would perform for the children. Then I realized a lot of men weren’t really interested in antiques either, so their wives would say, ‘Look, that man carries magic.’” Now O’Connell’s business is known by visitors as the “magic antique store.”

Geoff Weber, a video editor, was drawn to the problem-solving aspects of magic. He said that he creates tricks by “sometimes playing around with someone else’s trick, and finding a new way of doing it that will lead down a different path. A lot of magic inventing is just problem-solving. When you watch a magic show, you want to know how it’s done. You start listing all the different ways, and if you are inventive enough, you might figure out how it’s done.”

Weber and O’Connell think that people are drawn to magic shows because they want to be amazed. Weber likens the moment of astonishment an audience experiences to the emotional response of a roller-coaster ride. “Even if you know how a trick is done, you are still amazed,” Weber said. “I’m still young enough in magic that I can be fooled, and I enjoy being fooled.”

“We suspend our disbelief,” said O’Connell.

The members of SAM believe that magic consists of more than just tricks and amazing feats. Instead, the practice of magic is an art form.

“The hardest thing about magic is that the secret to how a trick works is not the trick at all” Allen Martin said. The secret is not how a trick is done, it’s the presentation of a trick, the “patter” that a magician tells his audience throughout the show.

“I could teach you a simple trick,” Martin said. “You only know how it works, but not how to present it. An analogy would be notes on a guitar. You could probably learn that in a couple days, but how long would it take you to learn to play with emotion? That’s what you would spend your time on.”

Steve Javes, another SAM member, agreed. "Magic is an art form, not just entertainment," he said. "A good show is not just tricks. It's the packaging."