American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections Winter 2018 PERCEPTION
by Chad Allen
From the Editor: In the National Federation of the Blind we often point out that blindness need not stop us from following our dreams. Chad Allen takes this message very much to heart. In this article he explains how blindness did not stop him from breaking into a highly unusual and competitive profession.
"What the eyes see and the ears hear, the mind believes."
— Harry Houdini
I'm a magician. I have made this claim since I was twenty-one years old. I'm also blind, and I have been now for a very long time.
I became blind several years before I even thought about picking up a deck of cards to perform a trick. It was the late 1980s, and I was a junior in high school. I knew I needed to finish school and go on. I didn't know where, but the clock was ticking. I was going to lose my vision in my thirties—there wasn't much time left.
It took another fifteen years before I discovered the Colorado Center for the Blind, the NFB, and a positive attitude about blindness. I made it to Colorado, finished school, and discovered magic. Now I am a member of the Academy of Magical Arts at the world famous Magic Castle. For over twenty years I have been performing magic at birthday parties and bar mitzvahs, in cabaret shows and burlesque, and on TV shows and commercials in Los Angeles, where I currently live. Magic is my passion.
Most magicians start as kids. I've never really thought of magic as something only for children; after all, card cheats and scantily clad women populate a lot of the magic shows out there today. I've always thought of magic as art, possessing a curious power in its unique ability to communicate. And art is for everyone—young, old, blind, sighted. I strive to practice and perform magic every day, ever since I was in my twenties, managing a magic shop inside a toy store. The shop was called The Wizard's Chest.
The Wizard's Chest in Denver, Colorado, was the laboratory where I conducted my magical experiments. Every day people showed up to see something. Whether I used cards, books, gimmicks, balloons, it didn't matter; I had the opportunity to show them anything and everything.
At that time I mostly used cards and coins—a type of magic called close-up. In close-up the magician either sits or stands and performs magic on a table. Often people are right up next to the magician. Close-up magic is incredibly impressive when done well. Watching magic in person, witnessing what is simply impossible—it's truly marvelous! It's transformative!
Every time I perform a trick, everything previously understood is now up for grabs. In that magical moment of "How did he do that?" people create a deeper understanding that anything is possible. In that moment people's minds are opened to new possibilities.
People usually think of magic as a visual art. I can understand where they are coming from, but the truth of the matter is that it's really an art form of the mind. Magic is about a transformation of thought. Blind people can imagine anything a sighted person can. As a blind magician I am able to reframe the perception of blindness in the people I meet.
So what's the trick? How do I do it? I deal with obstacles like other blind people do in their professions. People may not want to put me on stage because I might be a liability. Why take the risk? "This performer is amazing and blind, and the other performer is amazing and sighted. I'll take the sighted one." However, there are folks who seek me out because a blind magician is so unique.
Continuing to study the craft has its challenges as well. Magic is learned primarily from books, books, and more books. I access my collection mostly through human readers. I also use the latest reading app for print-impaired people called Seeing AI. It's a free Microsoft product, and in many ways it's given me back my library.
However, magic books contain a lot of diagrams that I can't access through an app. Luckily, I live about two miles from the Magic Castle, the premier magic club in the world. It's an easy fix to go there and find another magician to ask. Chances are that I'll also learn twenty variations on the trick in question, and there goes the night!
The greatest magicians on earth come to the Magic Castle to perform; it's the Mecca of magic. I've had the opportunity to spend a great deal of time there, studying and collaborating with many phenomenal magicians. My son in many ways is growing up there. Harrison is seven, the perfect age for some solid magical moments. He has a blind magician as a dad and thinks it's the most normal thing in the world. He also thinks invisible piano-playing ghosts are normal. The one at the Magic Castle happens to be named Irma, and she is an excellent pianist. Irma and Harrison are friends. Other than that, everything is normal, or as normal as it can be with a blind magician dad.
I couldn't imagine my life without magic. I hope this gives you some insight into the idea that no goal is too crazy, as long as you love it. Things seem impossible until they're not. As readers of Future Reflections, I know most of you are parents of blind kids. Expose your kids to everything and anything they imagine. That crazy thing your children find fascinating might be the thing they fall in love with for the rest of their lives. It's possible. No vision required.