Rabbits vs. doves. That was the first question Magic Michael had for Barry Taylor on Monday night during Barry’s lecture at the monthly meeting of the Society of American Magicians, Assembly 141.
“About the same,” Barry said. “Doves tend to scatter their seeds and make more of a mess.”
Barry, who used to run Barry’s Magic Shop in Montgomery County, is wise in the ways of birds and bunnies. He owns one rabbit and four white doves, one of which he had produced from under a silk handkerchief to appreciative applause from the 40 or so audience members.
They were mostly amateurs — and overwhelmingly men — in the Columbia church hall. There were only three women and about the same number of people who actually earn a living plucking scarves from out of nowhere and guessing people’s cards. Magic Michael — Michael C. Worsham of Harford County — said he is trying to make it as a pro.
“I’m working on a Baltimore Orioles-themed street magic act,” he said. “I’m hoping to be ready by Opening Day.” And he was hoping Barry might have some useful tips to go along with the tricks.
Like everything else these days, magic has been “disrupted,” the Internet is changing the way budding magicians buy their tricks and learn how to master them. The famed Al’s Magic on Vermont Avenue NW in the District closed in 2004. Barry, 61, closed his Rockville store in 2012 after redevelopment forced him to move in 2007 from the Wheaton shop he’d been in for 33 years.
“A lot of people were bummed when Barry’s closed,” said Rob Niccolini of Ellicott City, the chapter’s president, a labor lawyer by day. (“I do magic to maintain my sanity,” he said.)
Watching a trick on YouTube or buying it online isn’t the same as seeing it performed right in front of you or learning how to do it from the guy who invented it.
“Especially with magic, you kind of have to kick the tires,” said Peter Wood, a full-time magician from Towson who started going to Barry’s store when he was 8. “My birthday is in late July, and every August we’d take a field trip to spend my birthday cash,” he said.
Barry’s appearance — billed as “Barry Taylor: A Lecture of Magic & Mentalism” — was part magic show, part magic trick explication and part sales pitch. Barry still has a lot of tricks and the DVDs that explain them. They were spread out on a table, available for purchase. The names of the illusions were reminiscent of Kentucky Derby entrants: Impossible Monte, Half Gone, Poltergeist Card, Mis Made Bill, Quadraflex.
I did magic as a kid myself — made my own magic wand, even — and I couldn’t resist shelling out for Guess Again Revelation, the DVD box that promised: “The money card will vanish and reappear in such a way that your eyes will pop out! The transpositions are so startling that spectators will gasp in amazement!”
And it was quite amazing when Barry performed it. No matter how he laid out four cards, it was impossible to find the Queen of Hearts. It seemed to jump from hand to hand before ending up in his jacket pocket.
I knew this was all the result of some dexterous sleight of hand — subtle changes in fingertip pressure that allowed Barry to pull two cards at a time or flip one upside down in his palm — but it was smooth and seamless.
Magic works only if you can’t see the painstaking work that goes into it.
“Start with something visual,” Barry had counseled after showering the audience with streamers then producing a bouquet of flowers seemingly from nowhere.
He paused to briefly discuss his affection for rubber bananas before lamenting that his were in poor shape. He showed the proper way to hold a live dove and discussed the relative merits of rubber doves. He warned against the dangers of “flashing” when producing a coin (accidentally showing where it is secreted) and stressed that a magician’s patter must not insult or irritate an audience.
“Some people get mad and frustrated by magic,” Barry said. “That’s not the way it should be.”
Barry lectured and performed for nearly two hours, until he was sweat-soaked from the handkerchief-, bouquet-, rubber ball- and God-knows-what-else-filled jacket he was wearing.
When he was finished, he stayed to answer questions. Then he packed everything up. His dove went into a little cardboard box, ready for the ride home.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.