Eric Cicora can do something that some teen-agers think only their parents can do. He can make money appear out of thin air.
At age 16, the Columbia resident is an accomplished magician who performs shows in the area. Cicora won first prize in the junior stage competition in August at Tannen's Magic Camp in New York and was named Stage Magician of the Year in June by the Columbia Society of Young Magicians.
For Cicora, who is scheduled to perform Sunday at the "Stars of Tomorrow Magic Show" at Kahler Hall in Columbia, the accolades are the result of hours spent studying and practicing magic.
"You have to practice - a lot," Cicora said. "And you aren't just practicing the trick. You have to practice what you say and how you set up the trick. It's a lot of work."
In an age of Harry Potter mania and prime-time magicians, the art of magic is attracting more and more young people like Cicora.
Steve Burton of Houston, chairman of the youth committee for the St. Louis-based International Brotherhood of Magicians, said the group has about 500 members between ages 12 and 18. Performing magic can give youngsters confidence and help them "find out who they are," Burton said. "Magic is an art form and like any art form allows you to express yourself."
His organization has about 15,000 members in 73 countries. "It's an outlet for them to express their feelings, hopes and dreams," he said.
Tannen's Magic Camp, which is sponsored by Louis Tannen's Magic in Manhattan, N.Y., is well-known in the magic community, Burton said. Although he has never seen Cicora perform, he said the youngster would have to be skilled to win his division."[Cicora] must be good," Burton said. "There is a certain amount of gratification in being able to do the seemingly impossible, and that's what magic is."
A trip to Florida at age 9 launched Cicora's career. While there, his parents bought an inexpensive magic kit to amuse him and his older stepbrother.
"My stepbrother and I were doing tricks for the stewardesses on the plane home," Cicora recalled. "Later on, we put on a show for my grandparents."
His father, Scott Cicora, gave his son a magic book and challenged him to learn 10 sleight-of-hand tricks before he would buy Eric more magic materials.
"Kids pick up something one day, and then they are on to something else the next week," Scott Cicora said. "I wasn't going to invest any more money until he showed me that he was serious."
It took the younger Cicora a year to learn the tricks, and he was off and running from there. Since then, he has performed at company picnics, political events and birthday parties.
In the basement of his home, Cicora showed the smooth sleight of hand that has gotten him gigs. After running through a fast-talking story about an unscrupulous friend who tried to cheat him out of money, Cicora converted $4 to $18.
"Are you sure there is only four dollars?" Cicora asked as he laid out what was originally four $1 bills. "I see a $10, a $5, a $2 and $1."
Now a junior at River Hill High School, Cicora is a typical teen who loves acting in school plays. Although he hasn't managed to figure out how to make his homework disappear, Cicora is putting in long hours studying every aspect of magic.
His room is filled with books on everything from the psychology of magic to the business of the magic industry. There are posters of some of his idols and his award from Tannen's, which was autographed by David Copperfield.
Terri Cook, one of the camp's directors, said Copperfield offers a scholarship to the camp, which was started more than 20 years ago, and invites 110 youngsters from all over the world to attend the annual event on Long Island.
"We never have a problem filling the camp, and we have a waiting list," Cook said. "The kids who come to our camp are very serious about learning magic."
Performer Hiawatha met Cicora two years ago at the camp and said he was impressed by his devotion to the art. Hiawatha, who teaches classes at the camp, said Cicora is advanced for his age.
"He is already beyond just figuring out how to do the trick," Hiawatha said. "Like any other art form, there are some who get deeper into it than others."
Wayne Miller, group leader of the Columbia Society of Young Magicians, said Cicora's personality helps his act.
"He smiles very easily, and audiences warm up quickly to a performer who is easygoing," said Miller, whose organization has grown from a few members to about 40 since it began in 1994. "He's a great kid."
Cicora said he plans to study marketing and hotel and restaurant management in college in the hope of opening a magic-themed restaurant. Until then, he has much more to learn and do.
"I always keep a deck of cards with me. ... You never know when you might have to do a trick," Cicora said.
The "Stars of Tomorrow Magic Show," sponsored by Harper's Choice Community Association and Magic Carpet Entertainment, will be held from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at Kahler Hall in the Harper's Choice Village Center. Tickets are $6 for adults and $3 for children younger than 16. Refreshments will be served. The audience is invited to wear Halloween costumes. Information: 410-730-0770.