A small white rabbit named Harriet suddenly appeared out of thin air before a group of 30 mesmerized children. The sitting children burst into applause and rushed forward to pet the new arrival.
The extraordinary appearance was only one highlight of the bag of tricks displayed by professional magician Jeff Horton in his Halloween show Monday. The show was the first of nine magician performances across New Haven, Cheshire and Branford as part of Magic Week New Haven 2010. Now in its fourth year, Magic Week New Haven is held during the last seven days of October and ends on Halloween this week, the anniversary of the death of Harry Houdini, the famous magician who died in 1926. Eight of the nine performances, featuring “Wizard Jim,” “Cyril the Sorcerer,” and “Magic Dan and Snowball,” are free and five are held at public libraries. The performances, full of story-telling, magic rabbits, socks, music and fish and expose the public to the art of performing magic while promoting local libraries, who often cannot pay for such community events themselves.
“I thought it was going to be fake magic, but it was real magic,” said Shannen Tyson, who brought her two sons Horton’s show. “Even I was entertained.”
Magic Week New Haven is the brainchild of CJ May FOR ’89, manager of Yale Recycling by day but also the incoming president of the New Haven chapter of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, the largest international organization of magicians, Ring # 59. Hosted by the New Haven Free Public Library and its branches, a soup kitchen, a farmer’s market, and a bookstore, Magic Week is an annual event that takes place throughout the New Haven area and showcases tricks such as “the Great Metamorphosis,” a trick made famous by Houdini where the magician seems to escape from a locked trunk.
Jim Lang, who has been president of the magicians’ organization for about five years, performed the third show at Stetson Library. Lang’s performance involved continuous audience participation in the magic tricks and told a fairy-tale story filled with scallywags and magic stones, accompanied by upbeat tinkling background music. The highlight of Lang’s performance also included audience participation.
Two audience members, a young girl and a boy, held a string for one of Lang’s most popular tricks. The magician strung over 10 socks on the rope with clothespins. One by one, the two children selected each of the colored socks to put into a cloth bag. After the boy mixed the socks up, the socks were clipped back on the rope until only the last two remained in the bag. The girl and the boy removed the socks from the bag, and held up the final two for the audience to see. The audience watched in confusion as Lang brought out a director’s chair, took off his shoes, and revealed his socks, which matched the last two that were pulled from the bag. The children sitting in the library yelled in excitement and surpise.
Lang pulled a rabbit out of a hat, which he said audiences always eagerly anticipate. Horton’s rabbit, Harriet, appeared from a box to the audience’s delight. Children and adults alike rushed up to pet the fluffy, white animal after the performance. Horton also received loud applause following a trick with metal rings. With the help of a ten year old boy, Horton performed a series of hand movements that connected and separated ten metal rings into interesting shapes culminating with a globe made of four rings. Horton, wearing a black tuxedo with a neon orange vest, also encouraged the audience to try magic tricks at home.
Not only are most of the shows free to the public, but the libraries do not reimburse the magicians for their performances.
“It’s a tough time financially,” said Sharon Lovett-Graf, manager of Mitchell Library and organizer of the first event. The events help libraries and entertain the community, she added.
Most of the magicians have full time jobs elsewhere and the libraries are very grateful for their performances, she said.
For Horton, who performed the first magic show at Mitchell Library on Monday, October 25, it’s a way to volunteer and “raise awareness of the art form,” he said. Horton has been doing magic for about 30 years and has participated in Magic Week New Haven each of the last four years. During the day, he manages Scoozi, a restaurant in New Haven. Lang, previously a computer programmer, is retired and now does volunteer work and with Rotary International.
Diane Brown, branch manager for the Stetson Library echoed Lovett-Graf, adding that libraries are suffering from budget cuts.
“It’s so important because we’re suffering bad times,” Brown said. “They cut [community] programs down to once a month.” The event at the Stetson Library was part of family night, which the library hosts once a month to bring together different religions and ethnicities.
For beginner magicians, Horton suggests starting at 793.8 of the Dewey Decimal System in libraries, where one can read all about magic.
“That’s how I got my start,” Lang said.
But magic week is not only for children. Although none of the 10 students interviewed were aware of the magicians performances, several students expressed interest.
“You don’t get to see live magicians very often,” said Anna Blazejowsky ’14, who did not foresee having enough time to attend a performance.
For those interested in exploring magic themselves to impress friends at the next cocktail party,IBM’s monthly meetings are held on the first Monday of every month at the Trumbull Library, in Trumbull, Conn., at 7 p.m.