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North Neighborhoods
Fund benefits from Aleppo teen's magical secrets

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

By Alisha Hipwell

No one in Joshua Walker's family, including Walker himself, is exactly sure how the Quaker Valley High School student became interested in performing magic.

But when he was 3 years old, Walker announced he wanted to be a magician. At 5, he insisted his mother sign a form swearing she would never reveal his secrets. And at 10, he got his first paying gig -- a children's birthday party for which he earned $50.

Now 17, Walker, of Aleppo, regularly performs as a magician and has mastered tricks and illusions performed by well-known magicians such as David Copperfield, David Blaine and Harry Houdini.

On Friday and Saturday, Walker performed three magic shows in the Quaker Valley High School auditorium to benefit the Children's Hospital Free Care Fund. The fund makes it possible for any patient at the hospital to receive care regardless of their ability to pay.

Walker is no amateur magician, clumsily pulling quarters from behind youngsters' ears.

The 1 1/2-hour performance was a mix of sophisticated large-scale illusions and card and mind-reading tricks, set to music and pyrotechnics and liberally sprinkled with jokes by Walker.

Walker has held an annual fund-raiser, not always a magic show, for the free care fund for the last four years. He became involved with the charity after his sister, Marissa, now 7, was born with kidney problems that required several months of treatment at Children's Hospital. Walker later went to the hospital's foundation, said he wanted to hold a fund-raiser and asked where money was needed. He was told the free care fund.

His mother, Lisa Trapizona, wasn't surprised her son took the initiative.

"He is constantly trying to complete tasks above and beyond his years," she said.

Walker said graduating from cheap toy magic sets to more sophisticated illusions requires persistence as well as money to buy tricks and instructions.

"You pay them and they'll tell you their secrets. ... It's interesting because secrets to the small tricks are no big deal, but as soon as you try to break into stage illusions, it's absolutely crazy. You have to pay for performance rights and the rights to build them," Walker said.

He estimated he has invested $8,000 to $10,000 in his hobby, though he has recouped much of that through paid performances.

Walker hopes he can transform his hobby into a full-fledged career. He performs regularly at birthday parties, festivals and at McKeesport's annual Oktoberfest, and he attends magician conferences and lectures.

"No matter what he is doing, he has every base covered," said Aimee Benedict, Quaker Valley High School nurse and sponsor of Walker's show at the school.

That includes having a backup career plan. "I also have to go to college in case this fails. My mother is insistent upon that," Walker said. He would like to attend New York University to study radio and television broadcasting.

Walker's favorite illusion -- and the most difficult-- is the substitution trunk illusion performed by his idol, Houdini. Walker performed it in last weekend's show. His assistant, Quaker Valley High School senior Stephanie Zugay, shackled him and locked him in a wooden crate. A curtain went up to hide the crate and when it came back down, Walker was standing atop the crate and the crate contained Zugay.

Kids in the audience loved a segment in which Walker made a child volunteer's shoe disappear and reappear in a box at the back of the auditorium.

The show also included a video segment called "Jaw Dropping and Close-Up," a takeoff of an act by street magician Blaine that captures "man-on-the-street" reactions to Walker's coin and card tricks.

Guessing the secrets behind a magician's tricks is a time-honored tradition. Levy Bower, 7, of Sewickley, declared after the show that he had figured out at least one of Walker's tricks.

"The girl didn't stick her head all the way in the box," said Levy, of a trick that involved sticking knives through a box encasing Zugay's head.

Guessing is OK with Walker. "If you figure out the secrets, I'm not going to cry," he said. "My purpose is to entertain."

Alisha Hipwell is a freelance writer.

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