Seeing a kid fall off his bike face first on the Quarter Mile isn’t the only magical thing that happens on campus. Somewhere in the depths of RIT lies a community of students and faculty who share a great appreciation for all things magic, illusion, and freaking people out with cards. These amateur masters of deceit and enchantment hide amongst us yet go unnoticed (kind of like the cast of Heroes, except they’re still interesting after the second season). Jimmy Ichihana, a fifth year Industrial Engineering major, and Deborah Blizzard, an associate professor in the Science, Technology and Society/Public Policy department of the College of Liberal Arts, are both self-proclaimed amateur magicians who practice in their spare time. I had a chance to listen to their thoughts and, luckily, they didn’t make my tape recorder magically disappear.
It only takes a peek into Blizzard’s office to realize she isn’t your average RIT faculty member. Although I’ve never been inside a magic store, I felt like I was sitting in one. I was surrounded by magic accessories, stage props, magic show posters, and, oddly enough, a large Adam West era Batman wall clock. Blizzard has always been “enamored” by magic and it shows. At the age of five, she was given the opportunity to be a magician’s assistant for a family friend. Five years later, when she started experimenting with her first magic set, the deal was sealed.
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Now a professor here at RIT, Blizzard has even taught a class entitled, “Magic, Science and Technology.” “In this course, students learn not only the craft of contemporary magic, but also the history, sociology, and anthropology of how and why people engage in the performative patterns and the rituals of magic,” explains Blizzard. The class attempts to explain why adults who are accustomed to a very scientific culture willingly enter into a situation where reality will be altered and the laws of physics do not apply.
Ichihana did not give off as mystical of a vibe as Blizzard. I would have thought that he was just like every other kid until I saw him make a card disappear from his hands and then, somehow, regurgitate it. Yes, the card came out of his mouth.
Ichihana started messing around with card tricks at the age of 12, but he only began taking magic seriously two years later, after spending a week at Tannen’s Magic Camp, located in Philadelphia. A few summers ago, he also worked at a camp called the Frenchwood Festival of the Performing Arts, located about 140 miles outside of New York City. Here, he and three others formed their own theater.
Being an amateur magician requires much practice, which Ichihana doesn’t always have time for as a full-time student. “Schoolwork comes first, but it’s just like any other sport. You find time to go to the gym and practice every now and then. It’s just something where, if I have spare time, I’ll do it. It’s very relaxing for me.” And no, he hasn’t used magic to meet women on campus, in case you were wondering. It all seems a bit corny to him. Shame, really.
Despite popular belief (and by “popular,” I mean everyone who watched The Prestige,), magicians aren’t very competitive with each other. “The guys I usually meet up with are all willing to share,” said Ichihana. From Blizzard’s experience, it’s more of a quid pro quo situation rather than one-upmanship: “It’s more of a, ‘Hey isn’t this cool?’ thing. It’s all very geeky.” This leaves most amateur magicians with a lot of room to learn and grow.
Like RIT without brick, magic is nothing without mystery. Magicians often refrain from sharing their secrets with the audience, yet some like David Blaine and the Masked Magician, explain how the tricks are done on prime-time TV specials. “I don’t like it,” says Blizzard. “I don’t think these TV shows give people the chance to ask themselves, ‘Do I really want to know how this trick is done?’ After they tell you, the mystery is gone. That’s why being an amateur magician is like a double-edged sword; in pursuing a passion for magic, I lose a part of that mystery.” Ichihana, on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily mind. “I think they can still be entertained after the mystery is gone. I know when I perform, I don’t think anyone believes the stuff I’m telling them. Everyone knows I’m going to be lying to them as soon as I start,” he laughs.
So what is it about magic that has these two so hooked? “I think it takes you back to your childhood when everything was possible,” says Blizzard. “As you grow up, you get these cultural constructive rules; you’re taught one plus one is two. As an adult you don’t have the fantasy of a child, and I think, for many people, there’s a longing to go back.” For Ichihana, “It’s just another form of entertainment that can become an addicting hobby. It gives you a kind of challenge to work on and it’s something fun to do … To tell you the truth, I almost like watching magic more than performing, and I guess that’s why I keep trying to learn new things.”
Blizzard and Ichihana both left with a few words of inspiration for anyone looking to start performing tricks of their own. As per Blizzard, “I would advise them to not do it alone; find a group that’s interested because you can critique each other.” Ichihana, on the other hand, recommends reading a good book. “Start by reading classic books; don’t look for anything that’s new. Card College by Robert Giobbi is one of my favorites. Also, Expert at the Card Table by S. W. Erdnase is considered one of the most classic texts; it’s from the early 1900s and also talks about gambling.” Finally, and most importantly, never perform an act until you’re absolutely sure you’ve got it down.