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This past June marked the completion of another excellent “Wizards of PRCH” workshop in New Haven. The Wizards of PRCH Project—a collaboration between the Yale Program for Recovery and Community Health (PRCH), the Yale Magic Society, and Magicians Without Borders—brings together adults recovering from drug abuse and mental illness to study the art of magic and perform throughout the New Haven community. Now in its third year, the initiative aims to help participants develop self-confidence and public speaking skills, promote creativity and self-discipline, equip participants with a remunerative trade and entrepreneurial skills, and inspire hope that the seemingly impossible is possible.
Present at the workshop was Tom Verner (President of the Magicians Without Borders), Alex Posner (fmr. President of the Yale Magic Society), Richard Youins (from PRCH), and over 15 members of the New Haven community studying the art of the magic as part of their personal paths to recovery. For the wizards in training, their pasts have been dotted by drug abuse, prison time, mental health challenges, and more, and each participant arrived eager to see what studying magic could offer.
To kick off the intensive workshop, we held a special performance at Regal Care New Haven, a nearby convalescence home. Many of the workshop participants were veteran members of the Wizards of PRCH program and joined us on stage for the show. Along with magic, we were lucky to perform alongside a gifted New Haven singer and the multi-talented Richard Youins (from PRCH), who serenaded the crowd on his keyboard. The show served as a great kick-off to the weekend and gave our first-time participants a taste of what effective magic and showmanship looks like. Not to mention that the performance brought countless smiles to the residents of Regal Care.
Following the show, we dove straight into the study of magic. Over the course of the two-days, each participant learned five new magic routines, including two card tricks, the needle through balloon illusion, the ball and vase trick, and the famous jumping rubber bands. More than that, every participant had a chance to practice and develop their stage presence and public speaking skills, and to perform in front of the entire group.
Undergirding the teaching we do at Magicians Without Borders is the recognition that magic has a unique capacity to cultivate self-confidence, emotional intelligence, and creativity. In the words of KIND Snacks CEO (and magician) Daniel Lubetzky, “Magic forces you to lead, to stand up in front of an audience, and to have the confidence to do so. Also, in magic you learn a lot about human psychology…you learn so much about fundamental human relations and how to relate with [others]…[magic] helped me be a creative person in life.”
Empirical research increasingly supports these insights. A recent study from Michigan State University that found that Nobel Prize winning scientists are 22 times more likely than typical scientists to be amateur magicians. This doesn’t mean most students of magic are destined to win a Nobel Prize (although you never know!), but it does reflect magic’s ability to both attract and enhance creative and inquiring minds.
In addition to its skill-building merits, magic is also filled with metaphors of hope that can empower individuals to persevere in the face of tragedy. As Harry Houdini put it, “In certain circumstances, magic not only amazes and amuses but inspires hope that the impossible is possible.”
For the Wizards of PRCH, this quickly became evident. At the conclusion of the two-day intensive workshop, each participant had a chance to reflect on the experience:
“I want to thank you guys…you’re like a mentor to me. Each and every time I come, I’m learning something. When I was a kid, I grew up too fast. My kid life was taken away from me. So what I didn’t know when I was a kid I know now, and the fact that I can give back to my community…I’m learning more and more. I want to continue showing love and being happy, and letting people know that whatever you’re going through, you don’t have to be alone, and that we can enjoy life to fullest. It ain’t about me no more, it’s about making other people happy…With magic I’m learning how to be happy and make other people enjoy life to the fullest.”
“I really pushed past some barriers in this workshop. This experience has been very, very valuable…I now have something that I can share with other people wherever I go—whether I’m at church or with a group. I have magic I can share. It’s about having something more to offer than just a gory story from my past…It’s something I’ve never done before: take something I’ve learned and share it with the community.”
“I had the ball and vase trick when I was a kid…I just drifted off as I got older and got more into the streets and life in general, and lost my way with entertaining…You gave me something that was positive to put in my toolbelt to make somebody else smile and laugh. That’s something I love to do…You made it possible to see and achieve something that I thought was impossible…You made the impossible possible.”
“I appreciate you having me here. I truly appreciate how you tried to build on everyone’s stage presence. It’s not just about the tricks, but also how you present them. How we go about it, how we introduce ourselves, and how we interact with the crowd.”
“I want to thank you for inviting me and for giving me the opportunity. I want to thank you for being here…I’m going through some things personally, and this got my mind away from all the craziness. It also got me thinking about my own future…I’m really interested now. I want to continue researching and doing more.”
“Everybody inspired me here…I’m staying positive, I’m on the right path, and I’m staying focused on what I have to do on my recovery. I am determined this time.”
At the conclusion of the workshop, Richard Youins of PRCH shared a few words and praised all of the participants for their focus and determination throughout the action-packed weekend. “Many us have not applied ourselves to anything in a long time from the beginning to the end,” he said, “And you finished it. You lasted two days. It may seem small to someone else, but if you can do the two days, maybe you can do a month doing something—maybe going back to school or doing a per diem or part time job. We all have those capabilities. It takes a lot for some of us just to show up, so this is the beginning of a lot of things. I really cherish this time we’ve been together, and I really appreciate y’all.”
This moment also gave us a chance to share how much we appreciate Richard, who has been a key collaborator since the get-go. His indefatigable efforts to assemble the participants, coordinate all meals, and ensure the program is a continued success have been invaluable. We so appreciate his buoyant spirit, care and support of others, and wise and witty reflections on life.
In sum, the workshop was a great success and one of many such workshops we have organized in New Haven over the past three years. In addition to these weekend intensives, we have also organized bi-monthly meetings at PRCH run by the talented members of the Yale Magic Society. These sessions sustain and build upon all of the work we do during the workshop and will continue this fall with the start of the school year.
We feel so lucky to have found such wonderful collaborators in the New Haven community, and such spirited and dedicated wizards in training. Their passion and determination, even in the face of life’s darkest and most trying moments, continues to inspire us.