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Volume 15, Issue 22 ~ May 31 - June 6, 2007

Nothing Up His Sleeve

In the hands of the Super Magic Man, things are not as solid and unchanging as they seem

by Michelle Steel

Lights dim. The audience hushes. Peering into his black magic box, stretching out his fingers, the magician reaches inside. Presto! He presents a bowling ball. It is heavy; when he drops it onto the stage, it hits with a dull thump. Slowly and deliberately, he picks it up, lifts it over his head, then catapults it into the air. People flinch …

The bowling ball does not crash into the anxious audience. It floats, transformed into a balloon.

Transformation is the business of 24-year-old illusionist Reggie Rice.

Entertainer, magician and illusionist Rice proves that things are not as solid and unchanging as they may seem. That’s the point of his Bowling Ball from the Briefcase illusion, which begins our journey into the magic. Magical Release from Reality, Rice calls it.

Delving into the Realm of the Unknown

Perhaps the bowling ball did not convince you. Rice has more enchantments up his sleeve: Mentalism, Rope through Body, Metamorphosis, Mouth Coil, Chair Suspension, Gloves into Doves, Paper Pyramid.

Rice flips through an oversized card deck printed with letters as well as numbers. Add and subtract the numbers, he instructs. Then match them to their corresponding letter in the alphabet. Now think of a color, an animal and a country. On the last card from the deck, which Rice now reveals, is a grey elephant in Denmark.

Was your card different?

Nobody raises a hand.

Can you still disbelieve? Not once you’ve seen a rope pass through a human body.

Two people step up to help thread a long rope through the sleeves of his jacket. This trick is dangerous, Rice cautions. The rope could burn him, even cut him in half. But if you say the magic word, abracadabra, he’ll be safe. Twisting and turning, Rice pulls free of the rope, which remains intact — as does he.

Who cannot be convinced? We have witnessed human control over the forces of nature.

“When Reggie Rice performs, it is like he soars through the audience, creating laughter and memories to last a lifetime,” says Kathy Hollyner, president of Hyperspace Fun Center in Hollywood, Maryland, where Rice got his start.

“I’ve shown hundreds, probably thousands, magic,” says Tom Vorjohan, Rice’s mentor. “Reggie was the only person it stuck with. He has tremendous showmanship in his blood.”

Rice’s Transformation

At the age of 19, Rice fell into the world of magic by sleight of chance. Seeing master magician Giovanni Livera’s sleight of hand, magic’s fire flowed through his veins. After the act, Rice caught up with his new hero. A magic convention, Livera told him, was coming to Cleveland, Ohio. Magicians from all over the United States would learn, teach, compete and perform.

At the Greatest Magic Convention on Earth, Rice entered a small, tight-knit community, organized as the International Brotherhood of Magicians. Outsiders are laymen and, in a phrase borrowed from Harry Potter’s creator J.K. Rowling, muggles.

Rice was awed. His days were filled with more magic than he could have thought possible. The honor student of the junior magicians, he met great magicians of our time, including Eugene Burger, one of the 100 most influential magicians of the 20th century; Jeff McBride, masked magician and founder of the Mystery School; and Tom Vorjohan, who would become his magic mentor.

“Magic is a fantastic hobby for a young person. The self esteem it gives you is a real confidence builder,” says Vorjohan, whose introduction to magic transformed him from the school outcast to its vice president.

Rice overcame dyslexia. His training was non-conventional. He did not attend magic school or receive a first magic kit. Nor did he study the magic in books. Rice learned with his eyes, by watching videos and other magicians, taking mental notes to figure out how an illusion was done. But if he’s not going to try a trick, he doesn’t want to learn the secret to it. He enjoys being fooled, too.

Other experiences combined to perfect his act. A music lover who’d worked as a disc jockey spinning CDs, he knew how to sync music and magic together into a thematic performance. The Sound of Magical Illusions is the name of his summer 2007 show.

From working on construction jobs, he gained the skill to build his own props. Using a $20 trunk from a salvage yard, he spent $30 more to construct the lock box for his Metamorphosis Illusion based on a contortion of the Great Houdini.

He steps inside a bag. His assistants tie it shut. They put him into the trunk and lock it. Pulling a curtain up over the trunk, they wait. So do we. Seconds pass. The curtain drops, revealing Rice on top of the trunk. He unlocks it, opens the bag — and out steps his assistant, James.

In learning to persuade audiences to his magical powers, Rice has also convinced himself.

“I am Superman,” he says of the man behind the magic.

The Superman image is omnipresent. A pendant dangles from his necklace, adorns his belt buckle, pokes through his buttonholes with cuff links, sits upon his fingers, pierces his ear, keeps time on his watch, and covers his magic box. His car is not so super, but it sports personalized Superman car mats. At home, he eats and drinks out of Superman dishes. From a Halloween impersonation, he has reinvented himself as Super Magic Man. Now, he’s designing his own Super Magic Man suit.

Meanwhile, he dresses up in his favorite green or purple suit, red shirt or black mystery outfit. “Magicians always dress like they are going somewhere better later,” he says.

On the Magic Stage

“I have 30 seconds to get the audience’s attention,” he tells me. He keeps his audience with acrobatics, music and humor as he flows one illusion into another.

If you step up to the stage at Rice’s invitation for the Mouth Coil Illusion, you will need to duplicate his every move. Holding a paper napkin, he shows you that the napkin is in one piece. He waves it, tosses it into the air, does the Macarena with it. Then he crumbles up the napkin and stuffs it into his mouth.

You do the same, until — Rice pulls out a coil several feet long from inside his mouth. Watching it is enough to make you gag.

For the Chair Suspension Illusion, a small child joins him on stage. Rice carefully places the child across a board held up by two chairs. The tension in the room is thick as Rice removes one of the chairs. Hundreds gasp as the board — held up only by a single chair — and the child float on thin air.

Performing for adults is more gratifying for Rice, but children are easier to please. At birthday parties, Rice adds elaborate balloon sculptures to his magic. It is his time to spoil kids.

Without Hyperspace Fun Center in St. Mary’s County, Rice might not have pursued his magic. Rice broke in here, performing at children’s birthday parties at Kathy Hollyner’s pizza and play emporium, observing the positive effects that magic cast on his audience, both the children and their parents.

“When I am in Vegas, no matter how rich and famous I may become one day,” Rice said, “I will always put a plug in for Hyperspace. I would not be where I am today without them.”

Hyperspace also sponsored his trip to the Magician’s Convention in Cleveland. Now he mentors Hollyner’s son, James, who is the main assistant in Rice’s shows.

Lately, Rice has been perfecting his close-up magic techniques by performing walk around magic at Southern Maryland restaurants, including Applebee’s in Prince Frederick and St. Mary’s and Catamarans in Solomons. But magic emerges best on stage.

He’s played for The Optimists, Boys and Girls Clubs, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, the St. Mary’s County Fair, the National Oyster Festival and the Blessing of the Fleet, the Chamber of Commerce and Three Notch Theater.

At five years into magic, two of them full time, Rice is a young magician. But his illusions flow with energy, passion and precision.

“Sit back, let yourself be fooled, and I promise you a good time.” Rice says.

“Do not to try this at home,” he warns, stepping inside the Paper Pyramid. Young Hollyner, his assistant, shoots paintballs through the pyramid. A scream pierces the darkness of the auditorium. People have covered their eyes. A single spotlight shines into the audience.

In its beam, Rice stands, unharmed, with not a speck of paint on him. He is smiling.

Rice ( makes magic tableside each Wednesday evening at Applebee’s in Fox Run Shopping Center, Prince Frederick.

Michelle Steel, of the Willows, contributed to Bay Weekly’s 101 Ways. This is her first feature story.

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