Ed the Wizard entertains with magic while promoting reading and comprehension skills

Special to The Recorder

Ed the Wizard puts one end of a piece of string through a ring and ties a knot. He turns his hand, speaks some words and, Voila! The string is no longer tied around the ring and he’s waving the full length of untied string. His young audience gasps in amazement. Magic! You bet. But for all those doubters, the magician does the same trick only using a ring provided by a member of the audience with the same magical result.

With a long beard, traditional pointed hat and long purple robe, Ed the Wizard, known privately as Edward Cope of Orange, looks and acts like his mystical persona. But magic is only part of his presentation. At the beginning of each performance called “Reading is Magic,” Ed the Wizard explains to his young audience that all the tricks he will perform come from books he found in the library they are in or the students’ school library. “I have always been interested in magic,” Cope said. “When I was in preschool, kindergarten, as far as back as I can remember, I knew this is what I wanted to do.” At first, he did what most youngsters do, ask parents to close their eyes as an item “disappears” from the hand. But that all changed when he was in second grade. For his birthday, his parents gave him the book, “Tricks Every Boy Can Do” by Joseph P. Todd. “When I mention that at schools and libraries, I tell the ladies not to get upset, because we all know that Hermione Granger (of the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling) is the smartest one of the bunch,” he said with nod and wide smile.

From the birthday book, Cope said he learned his first real trick. “I learned how to break a pencil in half with a folded piece of paper. A volunteer holds the pencil and I take the piece of paper and I fold it in half and fold it in half again and I slice the paper through the pencil.” He said, “I grew up as the brother, the cousin, the friend and eventually the father, the uncle that knew some magic. Very much an amateur and very much an amateur’s amateur.”

After military service as a crew chief in the Air Force and toolmaker at the L.S. Starrett Co., Cope turned to self-employment. He was a guide for river rafting, rock and ice climbing, and mountaineering, as well as a professional woodcarver of marine art, such as whales, dolphins, birds and other wildlife, he sold up and down the East Coast. In the late 1990s as a white water river rafting guide, Cope met another guide with an interest in magic and his interest in prestidigitation was re-kindled. “I started to read more,” Cope said. “I took out my old (magic) books and started paying more attention to other magicians. I saw magicians at a Renaissance Faire perform a trick and I said to myself, ‘I know what he did.’”

Eleven years ago when the first Harry Potter book came out, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” “that’s when I said to my wife I’m going to be a wizard,” Cope said.
“I was inspired by Dumbledore, the headmaster, not by Harry. With my renewed interested, I started to teach myself.” In 2001, Ed the Wizard gave his first show. It was at Erving Elementary School at the end of an eight-week student read-a-thon. “I told the kids that everything I was going to do that night came from the books in their school’s library,” he said. That program led the magician to develop “Reading is Magic.” “I tell the students how I was inspired by a character in a book and my goal is to inspire them to read more and to help them to understand the importance of reading and comprehension skills,” Cope said. “If you have reading and comprehension skills you can do what I do, you can learn to teach yourself how to earn a living.” His mantra to the audience is, “The more you read, the better you get. The better you get, the more you read.” The variety of magic books found at his performance venues is always interesting, he said. But he was totally surprised at one school to find the 1948 edition of “Tricks Every Boy Can Do.”

During each show, Ed the Wizard weaves information, the library’s use of the Dewey Decimal System to number every book, for example, and encourages the audience to pick one of their interests and go find a book on it, while mesmerizing them with the fascination of magic. It’s quite a trick - but it works, according to the returned questionnaires from each show.

After each performance, the magician presents a magic book for the library. This year it’s “Hocus Pocus” by Paul Kieve. It’s the story of a magician getting ready for a show. He is surrounded by posters of old magicians. Each magician comes out of a poster and teaches a trick. The book’s introduction was written by Harry Potter actor, Daniel Radcliffe.

“When I first walk in and start the program, I’ll ask the students what is the most important thing they need to learn while they’re in school,” Cope said. “Some say math, or social studies, others say geology. Then, I’ll tell them, ‘it’s reading.’ Not only is reading the most important thing to learn, it’s the easiest. “Because as in sports, everybody is different,” he continued. “Not everybody is going to be the top player, and somebody’s going to be the benchwarmer. But when it comes to reading, there’s no excuse for saying I have a hard time, because when you read for yourself you can read about anything you want. “And that’s the best way to become a better reader. Read about topics you enjoy. That’s where you’re going to learn to read, not reading a homework assignment. “Read what you enjoy.”

When Cope was in school, he read “See Dick,” “See Jane,” “See Dick and Jane.” Today’s youngsters have a much wider and more interesting selection of books to read. He uses “The Magic Tree House” and “Merlin Missions,” two adventure series by Mary Pope Osborne as an example. Eight-year-old Jack and his 7-year-old sister, Annie, have a magic tree house. “They have an adventure set before them, and they go back in time and meet and learn about real people,” Cope said. One of the missions with Merlin is called, “Monday with a Mad Genius,” where they meet Leonardo da Vinci. “The end of the book has facts about (da Vinci) and his painting, the Mona Lisa,” Cope said. “He took that painting with him everywhere he went. He never sold it. When he died, he owned the Mona Lisa. I didn’t know that until I read a third grade book!”

During his shows, Ed the Wizard advises students to start with a topic they like and start with a small book. Then, he moves on to moms, dads, grandparents and guardians and encourages them to read to their child. “Five minutes. Ten minutes. Spend a few minutes every night reading to or with your child. That will help them become a better reader,” he urged. “Parents who read to their children as infants and toddlers will have children entering kindergarten and first grade having heard stories and are better prepared to learn to read,” Cope said. “I see the difference when I go to schools. I know which ones come from families of readers and those who don’t. “Students that read during school and summer vacations are better prepared when they come back in the fall or after spring break,” he said. “Students who read do better on MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) tests.”

At a performance, Ed the Wizard tells his audience, “Today is not my work day. Today is my day off. I’m here to have fun with you and perform magic and talk about reading comprehension skills. “The work was sitting at the desk trying to get the bookings, making the phone calls, sending out contracts, working on the web site, postcards, emails, newsletters and mailing lists. That’s the job. “Without sitting back there eight hours a day, five days a week, I don’t get to go out and have fun with you.” But, truth be told, his “office” has a wall-sized, painted mural of Harry Potter’s Hog Warts School with carved wood that looks like stone, costumes and a pirate ship used for birthday parties. One sign on the door reads: “Muggles beware - a wizard is at work.”

After Ed the Wizard speaks to the children about reading and how he became a magician, he chooses volunteers from each grade level and performs appropriate magic for the children’s various levels of understanding. About his routines, Cope said, “I don’t make people scream, I make people drop their jaws. People think magic is just for kids, but magic is for kids of all ages.” “The trick is in my skill.” On today’s magicians, he said, “How much is prop versus the skill of the magician.”

Cope teaches magic too. He said he finds lots of adults are sometimes taken aback when they can’t figure out how tricks are done. “Lots of 10-, 11-, 12-year-old kids figure it out right away,” Cope said. “They’re smart as a whip. If they’re wrong, I’ll tell them they’re wrong. But if they’re close (to figuring it out), I’ll tell them to go home and practice.” After two sessions, his students perform a magic show for an audience. For several years, Cope has taught a three-week course in magic at Elms College in Chicopee. Also, he performs at fairs, festivals and private events.

On May 8, Ed the Wizard will perform at the North Quabbin Family Fun Day.

You can learn more about him:

Magic Class