Tricks of the trade

Beltsville magic class draws all ages

Thursday, Dec. 14, 2006

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Susan Whitney-Wilkerson⁄The Gazette
Beltsville’s Kyle ‘‘Shadow” Penot (left), 7, learns a magic card trick from Edward Jagen on Friday at Good Knight Castle’s Magic Academy in Beltsville. Penot chose ‘‘Shadow” as his stage name during his time at the academy.

Magic was being revealed as sleight of hand, but children immersed in the Beltsville Magic Academy club were taking notes for a possible career move.

As magic veteran and class teacher Edward Jagen carefully outlined a simple but awe-inducing card trick, Arriana Cooper, 10, said her fascination with Jagen’s techniques went far beyond an after-school hobby.

‘‘I was thinking of making it my career,” said Cooper, a Beltsville resident and one of more than a dozen pupils at the monthly Good Knight Castle’s Magic Academy in Beltsville, which was started last year. ‘‘I think after a few years of practice, I can make it a job.”

Jagen, a slight of hand expert for more than five decades, gave Cooper and her classmates hope, telling them about his years of magic shows that helped pay his way through college.

‘‘If you pay attention,” said Jagen, dressed in a Santa suit for the December class session, ‘‘you will be able to make money doing magic and teaching it your whole life.”

For now, Cooper said bringing a smile to her friends’ faces would suffice.

‘‘I’ll never tell them my secret, but I’ll always show them my tricks,” said Cooper, who practices once a week. ‘‘I hope they appreciate how hard I work on [magic tricks], and I hope it makes them laugh and have a little fun.”

Peter Cascio, known to his classmates as ‘‘Zorro,” said the classes provide skills for any showman.

‘‘I get to impress my parents and friends,” said Cascio of Silver Spring, 11, dressed in an all-black outfit, capped off by a black cape. ‘‘Magic tricks are just really amazing. Nobody knows how they’re done, so it’s a [mystery] to people.”

Keeping a close eye on Jagen’s masterful control of each trick — including turning a penny into a dime with the simple flick of a pen — Mary Cascio, whose daughter, Reyna, is enrolled in the academy, said the classes provide more than a tutorial.

‘‘It’s not just learning the tricks, it’s learning how to get up in front of people and be the center of attention,” said Mary Cascio, a family member of Peter Casico. ‘‘Some of these kids have come a long way.”

Pointing out several children who struggled to grasp the bravado needed for a solid magic performance, academy assistant Sophia Key-West said Jagen’s directions have enhanced social lives as well as magic skill.

‘‘They come in here, and after a few months, their confidence soars,” said Key-West, a Beltsville resident.

After an hour of rehearsing tricks and reviewing the magicians’ code, Jagen works with the group on conflict resolution and character development, stressing that perfecting magic tricks should not be a child’s focus.

‘‘I tell the students you can't be a good magician if you are not a good person,” he said. ‘‘A lot of the kids in the club have some emotional difficulties and the club, like a round table think tank, helps them learn how to deal in society.”

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