MORE THAN 1,200 "kids" are here for the annual conventio of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, and the interesting thing is that 95 percent of them are over 21.
"That's the beauty of magic," says Fort Worth magician David Hira. "It brings you back into your childhood again."
Why else would these full-grown people each spend several hundred dollars and several days wandering around the Stouffer Harborplace Hotel looking for new ways to pull a coin out of your ear or turn a wand into a rabbit or saw a pretty lady in half.
Helene and Adam Schad of Bensalem, Pa., perform the classic "zigzag" act in their road show, but with a '90s twist. In their case, Helene, the "pretty lady" and full-time magician in the family, closes husband Adam up in a box and then proceeds to slice the box into thirds with heavy blades.
"It's not his favorite trick, but it looks so good he never says no to me," she says of her husband, who is a manufacturing engineer during the week but a prop in his wife's magic act on weekends.
At this IBM convention, which continues through tomorrow, the pair perform a vanishing-dove routine in a stage contest that will be completed tonight when the gold-medal winner is chosen from among six finalists. The winner will get $1,000 and the chance to play two weeks at the Magic Palace in Hollywood -- "a great privilege," says Helene.
While the Schads were competing , other magicians were
shopping in the Maryland Ballroom, where several dozen magic dealers were exhibiting their wares. Butch Shufelt, a retired Marine from Woodbridge, Va., was there. Shufelt works at Virginia Power Co. and dabbles in magic on the side.
Like the great majority of magicians attending the convention, he's strictly an amateur who might bring out his talents for family gatherings or a party among co-workers. In fact, says convention spokesman Bill Wells, more than 90 percent of IBM members make a living at something else.
After watching one dealer turn a wax candle into salt, Shufelt pulled out $14 and bought one for himself.
"Do you know how to work that," he is asked by a bystander. "Well, I know the principle," he says, indicating that once you understand the concept behind a magic trick, the methodology is relatively simple. Besides, he adds, it comes with directions.
"That's right. The secret's told when the trick is sold," quips Derek Kennedy, a Texas magic dealer who, like magicians everywhere, is reluctant to reveal secrets to non-magician spectators.
"If we did that, there wouldn't be any more magic," says Hira. Besides, it's not the trick that fascinates people. It's the way you do it.
"Personality is 80 percent of it," says Larry Nye, a Hagerstown magician whose latest invention is making a case of Pepsi disappear. ("Make that four six packs," he says. "It sounds like more.")
"Any magician around here will tell you there are only about 15 to 20 principles in magic," he says. "Everything else is just a takeoff on one of them. As you get better, you can extend the premise and incorporate one trick into another for a whole different illusion, but the principles are the same."
"Let's face it. A lot of these things have been around many many years," says Bob Leedom, a radar systems engineer at Westinghouse. "The storytelling is the real magic," he says, pointing to his friend and fellow conventioneer Tommy Ivey, of Columbia.
Ivey, a senior manager for Bendix at Goddard Space Flight Center, performs at trade shows, hospitality suites and parties in his spare time. He says he's not interested in gadgetry: "I like to weave a mystery using sleight of hand. To me, magic happens in the mind."
Leedom gave up on performing magic as a moneymaking venture after it took him five hours to prepare for a simple Cub Scout presentation. But he admits "I mix it in at work sometimes when I have to give a presentation on radar systems."
Ken Trombly, of Bethesda, says magic comes in handy on his job, too. He's a trial lawyer, he says with a straight face, and magic's helped him out once or twice in the courtroom.
"No, no, I don't mean the deception part of it," he says, "but in terms of addressing the jury, putting a case together, starting strong and ending strong. You know, they both involve persuasion."
Trombly was one of the few magicians shopping for magic bargains with a child at his side.
"This is my boy, Adam," he said. "He wants to shake your hand."
Not surprisingly, when a willing victim offered a hand and was buzzed by the little 5-year-old, both dad and son broke out in a giggle.
Well, there were some real kids at the convention, but it was hard to tell the difference.