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Conjuring Curiosity: The Thrill of Magic
CHESTERTOWN, MD—Ian Flinn ’16 is both a Washington College student and an accomplished magician who has amazed and entertained audiences across the country. He brings his talent and knowledge of magic to a special performance on Tuesday, March 24, at Decker Theatre, Gibson Center for the Arts, on the college campus. The show, which includes audience participation, begins at 7:00 p.m. and is free and open to the public. A post-performance reception will be held in Underwood Lobby.
A junior majoring in Clinical Counseling and Psychology, Flinn received a fellowship from the college’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience to research the history and psychology of magic. His findings will be incorporated into his show, which is sponsored by the Starr Center and the Gibson-Wagner Psychology Department Fund. “My interests are in the psychological aspects of magic, not so much the props and the tricks, but what goes on in the mind of the magician and the audience that makes magic work,” Flinn explains. His research explores what magic is, why people like it, and how they are fooled by it. Part of his fellowship has been spent discovering how magic in America has evolved from being considered a form of witchcraft to being enjoyed as popular entertainment.
Magic has been part of Ian Flinn’s life for more than a decade. His first encounter with magic was at the age of 7 when he saw an entertainer at the Philadelphia Airport perform a sleight of hand trick with a floating dollar bill. Flinn was entranced, and begged his father to buy the trick for him. Soon he became absorbed in the world of magic, dabbling with tricks purchased at magic shops and performing for family and friends. At age 12, he began attending Tannen’s Magic Camp, the world-famous camp where David Blaine, Adrien Brody, and David Copperfield honed their skills. The camp made a lasting impression. “There were hundreds of little kids with a keen eye for a unique talent, fiddling with cards, coins, rabbits, and silks.” Flinn will return to camp this summer as a counselor, hoping to instill in his campers the character and self-esteem he found there.
“I discovered literature — magic books and magazines — that took me into the minds of the magicians that created the tricks,” Flinn says. He spent this past January exploring the Conjuring Arts Research Center, a hidden library in New York City, and has also delved into the magic collection at Washington College’s Miller Library and historical newspaper databases. Under the guidance of George Spilich, the John Toll Professor of Psychology, Flinn also undertook research on human subjects, tracking their eye movements as they watched historical footage of magic performances. He is receiving academic credit for his work as an independent study project.
“Ian’s project is a fascinating one, because it’s really about the history of human perception,” says Adam Goodheart, Hodson Trust-Griswold director of the Starr Center. “He’s studying not just the evolution of what magicians have done, but also how viewers have seen and described it. I think the audience will leave his performance enlightened as well as entertained.” Goodheart is supervising Flinn’s research together with Spilich.
What does the future hold for Ian Flinn? He’s not heading to Vegas any time soon, he says. “I’m not sure yet what I will do, but magic will always be part of me,” Flinn muses. “Magic is special. In the reality of a messed up world, you can find hope in the simple things. Magic lets you find the possible in the seemingly impossible.”