Kid's tricks hardly hocus-pocus

Twelve-year-old amazes old, young with the impossible

July 02, 2008|By Jasmine Jernberg | Jasmine Jernberg,Sun Reporter

As temperatures reach the century mark, the line in front of Hawaiian Shaved Ice in Glen Burnie stretches 20 feet down to the street.

The sweaty evening crowd, here to buy rainbow-colored snow-cones that will stain their lips and tongues, is the unlikely audience for a magic show.

Twelve-year-old Josh Schmid, his round cheeks flush with heat and his tousled bowl-cut hair dampening, executes one of his favorite tricks, the Zombie Ball. The silver orb floats effortlessly, dancing around a black scarf.

Some spectators are mesmerized, some are perplexed. A man on a bicycle cranes his neck as his pedals by, bewildered by the performance in this unlikely venue. Others, more accustomed to seeing Schmid manipulating tricks aside the gravel parking lot, crowd closer to the magic stand, attempting to sneak a glance at the secrets held within. They "ooh" and "ahh" at his feats.

"He always amazes me," Hawaiian Shaved Ice owner Darin McGill says.

Josh, a home-schooled seventh-grader, is working the little-known snowball-stand-and-hospital-circuit, practicing his tricks, showmanship and wit in besting a few hecklers as he aims for a grown-up career in Vegas someday.

Josh got into magic at age 4, when his grandfather bought him his first set of "kiddie tricks," as he now calls them. His first tricks included balls that could travel through cups and handkerchiefs that would disappear into top hats. At age 10, he began practicing regularly and now includes an hour of magic in his home-schooling curriculum each day. Schmid watches magic tutorials to pick up more "tricks" of the trade, like the Mouth Coil, in which he extracts a 24-foot streamer from his mouth.

Josh also performs for free at the Baltimore Washington Medical Center, as well as an occasional church function or fundraiser. He wears his custom-made ballcap and T-shirt, often with the Indiana Jones soundtrack playing behind to build suspense. Though Josh takes his craft seriously, many underestimate his talent because of his age. "When we first started going to the hospital, nobody expected him to be any good," said Josh's father, John. "And at the end, the staff was all trying to peek in the room."

Josh began performing at the hospital in March 2006, after contacting his Aunt Debbie, an administrative assistant in the hospital. At first they did not think the hospital would allow him to perform because of his age, but after meeting the hospital's recreational therapist, Caroline Shear, she encouraged the hospital to allow him to come in.

Josh now arrives every Friday morning at BWMC to a list of patients eagerly awaiting the bedside routine.

Within the past year, Josh initiated a correspondence with famed Las Vegas magician Lance Burton and now exchanges e-mails with him once a month. Josh particularly enjoys Burton's illusions, showmanship and the way Burton tells a story with his magic.

"To me, those are the best things to look for in a magician," Josh says.

Burton has encouraged him to continue his work in magic, though he stresses the importance of a well-rounded education. Burton invited Josh to visit him if he were ever in Vegas, and the Schmid family plan to see Burton at the Monte Carlo this month.

Josh also has something of a mentor in former Baltimore police officer and magic enthusiast James Moser. Moser found out about his volunteer work and was interested because Moser himself performed at Johns Hopkins in the 1960s. He remembers first seeing Josh at BWMC and thinking to himself, "Boy, that kid has good hands!"

"He's very good, and I've taken an interest in him," Moser said. "He's a great kid, I really admire him."

Moser has since asked the young magician to join him in teaching beginner's magic to 8- to 12-year-olds at Howard Community College this summer. Both think he can inspire students, showing them what they can accomplish with hard work.

"They think only adults can do a certain skill, but that's not necessarily true," Josh said.

At the Hawaiian Ice stand at Quarterfield Road and Crain Highway, Josh does sleight of hand tricks, dons his black and white mask in his mime routine, and juggles his fluorescent lacrosse balls.

Though McGill can pay only in snowballs (which suits Josh fine), he says he loves what Josh brings to the place.

"He adds more of a family dimension," McGill says. "You have a 12-year-old magician - it doesn't get any more wholesome than that."

Josh recognizes not everyone is receptive of his craft and declares there are four types of people: those who enjoy magic, those who don't, those who are unsure, and the hecklers.

Josh doesn't like the hecklers, but he doesn't let their negativity bother him. He remembers his first magic show as a young child, when his cousin tried to uncover the tricks of magician Jack Julius. Julius offered the young heckler a chance to come on stage to do the trick himself, since he seemed to know it so well. Josh says it promptly quieted his cousin, and he now uses Julius' technique in his own performances.

When people are able to reveal his tricks (typically arrogant guys trying to impress their girlfriend, he says) he will congratulate them for besting a 12-year-old kid.

Josh is also quick with a witty return. When a bystander challenged him to turn his $10 bill into a $20, Josh came back that he wasn't able to do it, but he could make it disappear.

"I think he's learned how to deal with the public really well," said his mother, Barb Schmid.

Josh foresees extending his act to include live doves and greater illusions. Schmid also hopes to have a big production one day, ideally in Vegas, though he stresses his desire to keep his shows reasonably priced so everyone can enjoy.

Moser and Josh's course, "Performing Magic," will be held July 14 to 18 and Aug. 4 to 8 at the Hickory Ridge Building on the Columbia campus of Howard Community College. The classes are full.

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