JUGGLING THREE battle axes in the air blindfolded and lighting torches with a flaming tongue are perilous feats that feed the adventurous spirit of Baltimore magician Chuck Bollinger.
A former member of the once popular but now-defunct All American Mini Circus, Bollinger mixes comedy with his various magic acts, a combination which has earned him praise from many circles and the opportunity to perform in the infield Saturday at the Preakness celebration.
"There will be corporate tents set up . . . hospitality rooms," said Bollinger, born and bred in Baltimore's Hamilton and East Baltimore neighborhoods. "I will be doing close-up magic with coins, pulling balls out of people's ears and a bit of mentalism. Patrons will pick cards out of a deck which I will later mysteriously reproduce."
Bollinger's presentations can be geared to any audience, but family entertainment is the strong point of his shows, which he has taken to Europe, the Mediterranean and Caribbean for the U.S. Department of Defense, appearing before thousands of American service men and women overseas.
A member of the Society of American Magicians and the Maryland Wizards, Bollinger performs at schools, birthday and holiday parties, conventions, company picnics, festivals up and down the East Coast, grand openings, weddings, night clubs, awards banquets, fund raisers, fairs, special promotions and bar and bat mitzvahs.
"You name it, I do it," he said. A typical magic program will feature "mental telepathy," in which he reportedly reads people's minds. "I make things occur through magic," he said, "but it is all tricks."
Bollinger was bitten by the "show biz" bug when he participated in the Poly Follies -- annual show produced by Baltimore Polytechnic Institute students -- as a teen-ager. The budding performer acted in little theater productions in Baltimore as a young man and helped develop the Baltimore Neighborhood Arts Circus at Theatre Project. There he honed his skills as a magician, comedian, juggler, and fire eater.
From this base he and two other performers, unicyclist Rick Schmitker and mime Daniel Anderson, formed the All American Mini Circus to coordinate their special talents. During the trio's successful career, the three picked up two sets of axes in Spain while on a U.S.O. tour and incorporated them into their act.
Eventually, the three went their separate ways. For the past five years the 41-year old entertainer has been a solo act with his Magicomedy of Chuck Bollinger show.
A certified hypnotist and member of the National Guild of Hypnotists, Bollinger encourages the audience to experience the hypnotic state for the fun of it. "Anyone can be hypnotized," he said. "It is the power of suggestion. It depends on the person's state of heightened sensibility."
A highlight of his show is the battle-ax juggling feat, done whilblindfolded, followed by the grand finale -- the fire-eating demonstration.
He admits the danger and excitement of the feats are whaappeals to him. "It wows the audience," he said. "Ax juggling is not as dangerous as it looks. It is second nature to me now. Occasionally I have missed so I let it hit the ground." He laughs. "The better part of valor is to move back.
"The biggest hazard of fire eating is not to inhale," he warns, "othe flame will go directly into your lungs. That is trouble."
Bollinger not only eats the fire but lights his fingers with thflame of one torch to light the other. An even wilder trick is inserting a torch into his mouth and lighting it with burning liquid he has laced on his tongue.
"I have never been burned," he said. "Occasionally my eyebrows and hair have been singed if I am outside performing and the wind changes. With fire, you can't sluff it off," he said. "You have to pay attention always. It is easy to make a serious mistake."
Recently called upon by the Baltimore City Health Department, Bollinger has volunteered his services as a magician to meet with seventh-graders in the Baltimore City Public School Middle Schools for a series of Teen Forums on the subject of adolescent pregnancy prevention.
"The theme of the forums is 'Do The Right Thing,'" he said. "My act is a 10-minute attention getter which precedes professional speakers. They discuss the topics of responsibility, decision making, manhood and peer pressure . . . all the things involved in at-risk behavior of early sexual activity.
"I give a message of self-improvement," he said. "I tell them they can be whatever they want to be through juggling and small magic. The point is -- if you do the right thing in life a pleasant surprise will come your way."