Making dollars out of blank paper
A lot of people, especially the young, clamour to ‘learn’ magic. And, as Lt. Col. Ronald de Alwis, President of the Sri Lanka Magic Circle says, there’s a lot of good in learning it. "First, it looks impressive on your CV," de Alwis (also known as Ron the Magician) said. "In fact, when I went for my army interview, others had qualifications like scouting and cadeting over me, and I had only magic. The interviewers asked me, however, to ‘show a few tricks’. I said I didn’t have anything with me, so could I borrow a coin. I did lots of things with that coin, and finally made it vanish. I told them that even if I didn’t get the job, I had the bus fare home!" He got the job.
Being a magician also involves stage acting. So secondly, as de Alwis said, one develops a lot of confidence.
"Those who wish to join the Magic Circle," de Alwis warned, "must have obtained some knowledge of white magic at least through books, and satisfy an interviewer that he or she is capable of developing as a magician." Thereafter, you are admitted into a world of white magic secrets.
The circle holds a monthly workshop from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every last Sunday, and conducts lectures, demonstrations and teaching sessions at these workshops. For these meetings, the organisation has been given the Lyceum International School auditorium for the last six years. On an average, about fifty of the 170 members participate. Of the total number of members, 78 are life members and the circle has about 35 to 40 professional magicians, de Alwis said.
Formed as way back as in 1922, it may be the oldest artistic organisation in the country. One of its founder members, Gate Mudaliyar A.C.G.S. Amarasekera was President of the organisation from 1922 to 1984, followed by Ranapala Bodhinagoda and now, Lt. Col. Ronald de Alwis since 2001. De Alwis’s father, Lynden de Alwis, was a founder member. H.W. Holden, head of H.W. Cave & Co. was the backbone of the creative impetus for the party at its inception, de Alwis said.
The Magic Circle has performed for World War fund raising missions, and A.C.G.S. Amarasekera performed for soldiers in Dunkirk, France and Scotland. In 1951, with his return home, the Magic Circle grew in strength and performed at the Vihara Maha Devi Park festival held to honour the Queen on her visit of 1954. Following that, in the same year, the Magic Circle was affiliated to the International Brotherhood of Magicians, itself also formed in 1922.
"In 1957, as executive vice president and being the good administrator he was, Bodhinagoda commenced the ‘Magician of the Year’ contest to honour A.C.G.S. Amarasekera," de Alwis said. Since then, the Magic Circle has commenced the National contest (1972), Master Magician trophy (1988-to honour Bodhinagada’s ‘yeoman’s service’ to the Magic Circle), the Amateur Magician’s contest in honour of Lynden de Alwis, and the Young Magician’s contest (2002). This year’s Young Magician was Elmer Hamer, and last year’s Roshini Jayasekera, the first ‘Young Magician of the Year’. This award is in honour of the late Donovan Andree.
There are special categories of ‘white’ magic (as opposed to balck magic) such as card magic, silk magic, rope magic, apparatus, patter (talking to the audience), and slight of hand (magic without apparatus), with special awards for each of them. The Magician of the Year award can be won only once by a magician, and this year’s award went to Sumangala Silva, also National Magician by unanimous choice. Silva, who has won the best slight of hand award, a skill considered the highest test for a magician, performs in the Maldives. Differently abled Priyantha Gamage has received the Magician of the Year award and the National Magician’s award on six consecutive occasions. The circle’s magicians have performed in Malaysia, Singapore, France, London and the USA.
The Magic Circle’s objectives are to promote the art of magic and a professionalism that would produce magicians who can perform at an international level. They operate, however, in their own capacity, with hardly any government support. In fact, for the National Magician’s contest held in October, de Alwis said none of the officials of the ministry and department of cultural affairs, and the Tower Hall Theatre Foundation turned up. Only the minister sent his regrets, none of the others bothered to call. De Alwis is not pleased, to say the least.
Vice President (Administration) of the circle, Rohan
Jayasekera (known as ‘Wonder Ro’, NOT Wanderoo), and Ron the M performed a
few tricks for us when we met them. They produced silk from seemingly bare
hands, turned paper into dollars, made coins and cigarrettes disappear, and
two cut parts of a rope one again. They clearly enjoyed it, as much as we
did, for a magician’s primary pleasure would be that derived from
entertaining an audience.
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