Annie Thomas, an 18-year-old counselor at the YMCA Summer Camp at Ellicott Mills Middle School, knew that magician Wayne Alan would not really cut off her hand. But, standing on stage, with her wrist locked into a frightening-looking contraption with a very sharp blade, she did feel a little nervous.
"That blade was real," she said afterward, her hand still mercifully attached to her wrist. "He is really good."
Alan, a professional magician, put on two shows at the YMCA camp Wednesday as part of his mission to warn kids about the dangers of smoking. His 50-minute act, called "Make Smoking Disappear," combines tricks and jokes with a message about the dangers of tobacco.
Alan, who lives in Annapolis, says he is one of those lucky people who was able to turn his hobby into a career. He has been a professional magician since he was 14, he said.
He performs mostly at corporate events and trade shows, but he has also been to the White House 10 times and on numerous national television shows, ranging from Good Morning America to Entertainment Tonight. He has served as a consultant to magician David Copperfield.
Alan said he starting doing the anti-smoking shows about five years ago, and has vowed to do at least 100 a year for kids in libraries, schools and camps.
His appearance at the YMCA was sponsored by the Howard County Health Department, he said. Alan also did shows at the east Columbia library and at Centennial Park this week, and he is scheduled to appear at 11 a.m. today at Clark's Elioak Farm and at 5 p.m. today at Columbia Teen Center.
Alan said the anti-smoking campaign is important to him because both of his parents died of smoking-related illnesses. His father died at 49. After his stepfather, also a smoker, died, Alan said, "a light went off."
He had been using his magic at trade shows to demonstrate things like the lightness of a computer, he said. Why not use the same skills to show kids the dangers of tobacco use?
He worked with the American Cancer Society to create the program, he said. He travels the mid-Atlantic region, he said, giving "Making Smoking Disappear" shows year-round.
On Wednesday, the YMCA camp audience laughed and clapped as Alan did card tricks, produced coins out of thin air and turned scarves into beaded necklaces.
He wove his message into the show, starting in the first minutes, when he brought a balloon on stage. "If you smoke just one cigarette, it would be harder for you to blow up this balloon," he said. Then he popped it, and a colorful bouquet of fake flowers magically appeared in its place.
He showed the audience cigarette ads, saying that no product that can kill you should have the slogan "alive with pleasure," and noting that the Marlboro Man died of cancer.
"Today, the magic words are not abracadabra or hocus-pocus," he said. "It is the name of the show, which is, make smoking disappear." The rabbit that he pulled out of his top hat was named "Nosmo King."
He also encouraged kids to go to his Web site, www.make smokingdisappear.com. Residents of Howard and other counties that sponsor the "Make Smoking Disappear" program can type in their Zip code for pages on magic tricks and other activities, as well as a no-smoking pledge.
Bad jokes are part of the act. At one point, Alan pulled a coin out of the air and announced that it was dated 2008. "I guess somebody is forging ahead," he said. When a few counselors chuckled, Alan said, "Thank you, both of you."
Several times, children were called on to the stage to pull cards out of a deck or perform other magician-assistant tasks. But for the final trick, Alan asked Annie Thomas to come on stage.
"Look at it this way," he said, as he locked Thomas' hand in place under the blade. "If it doesn't work out, you'll have a new name - Lefty."
When the show was over, camper Rachel Ortell, 11, described it as "funny," and said she wouldn't smoke anyway because "it smells bad."
"I thought it was pretty good," said 10-year-old Jonathan Moore. "He's very talented."
Oliver LaRoche, 10, agreed. "I thought he did an excellent job," he said.