Braille Monitor               October 2022

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Chad Allen: The Blind Magician Strolling Magic with Sighted Guide

by Chad Allen

Chad AllenFrom the Editor: The idea of a blind magician has always been fascinating to me, someone who can use illusion to play tricks on sighted folks but who does not enjoy vision himself. I revel in the thought because it hints at the wide diversity of occupations in which we who are blind can compete. But, when it comes down to it, I’m intrigued by this particular gentleman because my grandson wants to be a magician and a card mechanic, and through the kindness of Chad, Ethan was received courteously by a man willing to help him who had no obligation to do it.

Here is an article that speaks to many things: alternative techniques, the beauty of having a goal and achieving it, and the flexibility to operate within what is too often narrowly perceived to be the NFB philosophy. Here is the magic of Chad in his own words:

I am a blind magician. I love to entertain people with magic—no easy task. The mission is always to utterly astonish someone with something impossible. Every magician works towards this important goal when given the opportunity to do magic. It’s got to be a surprise!

My own personal achievements in the Art of Magic include: an appearance on Penn and Teller’s Fool Us and a performing membership at the World-Famous Magic Castle in Hollywood, California. I work on stage, at formal events, and for parties, celebrations, and birthdays. I typically perform for adults.

I recently performed for the American Printing House for the Blind, HumanWare, and the National Federation of the Blind in New Orleans at the 2022 National Convention of the NFB. I was hired to perform in celebration of these three organizations coming together to develop a tactile graphics and Braille display for blind users. I was expected to perform magic while guests ate, drank, and socialized with each other during the event.

This genre of magic called strolling magic lets the performer entertain guests with ordinary objects like playing cards, coins, napkins, wallets, or anything else that typically fits in a pocket. Magic is a lot about practice. There is a great amount of preparation involved in making a trick work. When performing strolling magic, I must be able to perform surrounded. I couldn’t find a reasonable way to perform under these circumstances while also using my cane. I always kept fumbling either the cane or the cards. I have the skills of traveling with a long white cane, and I can do magic, but I can’t do both at the same time. There’s got to be a way to make this work.

I had nothing. I was stuck. The best I could envision on my own was to either: 1) do it one handed (I’m not that cool), or 2) I don’t do the gig.

This is not the first time I needed to turn down strolling magic gigs. Sometimes, clients would allow me to set up a table in the corner of the room. However, that’s not strolling magic. This genre of magic happens to also be the most common kind of magic for hire. Many magicians perform strolling magic exclusively. There’s enough work out there to do that if you are ambitious.

In the past I felt forced to refer other magicians. I always strive as an artist to provide my audiences with nothing less than the impossible. I did not have the confidence to do it to my expectations. I explained this situation to the President of the NFB, Mark Riccobono, and he, without skipping a beat, said, “Why not use sighted guide? We’d be happy to provide you with someone so you can perform for us.”

I considered his recommendation and quickly knew that he was right. Sighted guide while I perform strolling magic. I usually felt weird asking potential clients for accommodations, but since this was a NFB event, everything made sense. I’ll do the gig. Chad Allen Magic is going to New Orleans!

Well, it worked. Jeff from the Jernigan Institute was asked to be my sighted guide. We met about ten minutes prior to the event, and I explained how I needed to know who was sighted and who wasn’t. I needed to know if the group I planned to entertain was willing or not to watch magic. I did not want to take away from people’s own amusements. You never know if an old friend or a new flame is happening at parties. Nobody wants magic over engaging conversation with a friend or a loved one. I choose to increase my odds by going to folks who are relaxed and in search of the next opportunity. Often, that group is the most accepting to experience magic.

Jeff explained to me who was eating and who wasn’t, who looked as if they were simply spending time together or not available? I asked him to check back from time-to-time to see if the people we passed over were free. I need to be sure that everyone who wants magic gets it.

My opening line was: “Hi, I’m Chad. And you are? I’m the magician and like a vampire, I need to be invited. Would you like to experience some magic?” We were in New Orleans, so the line was well received.

I made tiny red balls appear and disappear to the astonishment of guests. A ring vanished and reappeared on blind people’s thumbs with gasps of, “How did you do that?” and “What? I felt nothing. That’s impossible.” Braille playing cards signed by spectators found themselves impossibly hidden inside wallets and pockets throughout the small groups of guests. Coins moved without detection from hand to hand, and cards kept rising to the top of the deck magically. I was able to easily share my art with other blind people like me. It was wonderful. It was a blast!

I had not performed strolling magic professionally for almost twenty years. Now, I can’t wait to do it again! From now on, I’ll coordinate with clients to supply a sighted guide for me. Thanks, Mark, and the National Federation of the Blind for the lovely assist, and please feel free to contact Chad Allen Magic for your entertainment needs anytime. My doors are always open at: www.chadallenmagic.com. Mention this article and I’ll supply a ten percent discount for any of my performances. Thanks for reading!

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