Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Teen's sleight of hand earns him coveted scholarship to magic camp

by Jacqui Janetzko
Correspondent at Ocala.com

Magician Anthony Jones, 16, shows some of his card tricks near the Ocala Square on Friday, June 25, 2010. Jones is attending the Tannen's Magic Camp from July 10 to 17 in Penn., on a rare full tuition scholarship awarded by the Society of American Magicians. "He drinks, sleeps, walks and talks magic," said his aunt, Katie Dudley. "I feel we will see him in Vegas. He'll be one of the 'biggies'".

He's always in motion, and you'll want to watch his hands very carefully.

Anthony Jones, 16, flicks his wrist, hurriedly pushes up his sleeves, and constantly twitches his fingers in anticipation. But if you happen to blink, you may miss the trick.

Jones is a close-up magician, also known as an illusionist, whose favorite part of any trick is hearing the delighted gasps of the crowd.

“Oh my gosh! How do you do that?” said an astonished Kacy Stebbins, an employee at En.Ve Salon and Spa.

Jones stops by his favorite salon several times a week to practice tricks. The salon provides him with a captive audience of customers - and gushing female staffers.

“It's something we've never seen before and it makes our day go by faster,” said Christina Baker, a hairdresser who crafts Jones' bleached faux-mohawk. “You have to watch this kid.”

Jones became interested in magic at age 6 after seeing a performance by magician Rick Thomas in Las Vegas. He started watching videos and dabbling with hidden coins under shells.

Now he specializes in tricks with cards, money, rings and rubber bands. Most tricks take only a day or two to master, but a recently-learned card trick took almost six months.

He said he prefers giving impromptu performances at restaurants or shopping centers, using a fork or napkin, so he doesn't have to carry around as much stuff.

“I'll use pretty much anything I can pick up,” he said.

Originally from Virginia Beach, Vir., Jones has lived in Ocala for the past three years with his biggest fan and supporter, his aunt Kathie Dudley.

“He is so advanced and the way he manipulates cards is impressive. I can't even shuffle,” she said. “We go to the mall and I turn around and he has a crowd. He drinks, sleeps, walks and talks magic.”

Jones is so captivating he was one of three applicants selected, from the 25 who applied, for a scholarship from the Society of American Magicians to attend the Tannen's Magic Camp in Pennslyvania from July 10-17.

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Warren Kaps, a trustee and past society president, said Jones' application stood out because of numerous recommendations from local magicians and the Tampa Bay Magic Club.

“We don't want somebody who is into magic this week, stamps next week, baseball the next. We want someone to get good experience,” Kaps said.

He said the scholarship, worth $1,195, and which comes with a $250 travel stipend, is part of the society's Magic Endowment Fund, which was created 19 years ago to advance magic among children.

The society itself is 108-years-old, and Kaps said he didn't recall any other resident from Marion County receiving the scholarship.

“They only look for the most promising young people. This was the first person we felt was young enough and worthy enough for the position,” said Mark Byrne, president of the Tampa Bay Magic Club.

“He goes out and does his magic on a daily basis. He's not afraid to perform in front of people and is always testing new stuff,” he said.

Byrne said the club is more than 60 years old and currently has over 140 members. He said the camp will provide the proper exposure to start Jones' career.

“He'll get a tremendous amount of networking out of it, with magicians across the country. If you shine there, those people tend to remember you. He's a really good looking kid, and people want to watch other people with skills, personality, and [who] look good on stage,” he said.

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Camp Director Terri Cook said the magic camp, in its' 36th year, teaches up to 110 students between the ages of 7 and 20.

“We are the only camp of its kind. We have classes in the morning, lectures and workshop in the afternoon and performances at night. It is so intense you could almost call us a school, but you can't because its overnight. There are no sports, just magic, magic, magic,” said Cook.

She said the camp teaches students how to pick a routine and be comfortable in front of an audience, and also features a special class that explains how to perform at kids shows for certain age levels, how to keep in control of the children, and how to talk to the parents.

“A third of the staff are professional magicians making their income on magic, and the teachers even explain what they use in their acts,” she said. “Most of the kids that come, repeat. Because they realize there are another hundred kids who get what they are into. Students from 15 years ago still stay in contact with those they met at camp,”

Cook said famous performers from all over the country sometimes stop by, such as David Copperfield, Criss Angel and David Blaine.

“Performers will call to participate because it's a gift to perform in front of the energy of these kids,” she said.

Cook would not confirm or deny any celebrity acts for this year.

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Cook said the camp encourages finishing school or getting a degree, as most students will not become professional magicians.

“In college, it's a gift to be able to work a couple of hours a week [doing magic] instead of a full-time job. Lawyers will even use it during a trial to relax the jury or have a moment with the judge. It's a great little tool and could make the difference on a resume or getting into college,” she said.

Byrne said he expects great things from Jones, with or without attending the camp.

“He puts in a lot of practice and specializes in close-up magic, which requires lots of manual dexterity. Close-up magic is one of the more difficult ones, because it is right in front of their noses.

“He's constantly blowing me away, I don't even try to figure it out anymore. I say, ‘That looks good, thanks,' I don't let on that I don't know,” he said.

Dudley proudly agrees.

“He is going to go far with this. I feel we will see him in Vegas. He'll be one of the ‘biggies.' ”