The Malta Independent 26 February 2024, Monday
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Watch: ‘The best trick is making sick children smile’ - Alfred Mifsud, The Balancing Magician

Neil Camilleri Thursday, 24 December 2015, 09:30 Last update: about 9 years ago

Alfred Mifsud has practiced balancing acts and magic tricks for many years, picking up new skills along the way. He has performed in Malta and abroad but says that the biggest satisfaction comes from making a sick child smile. ‘That is something money cannot buy,’ Mr Mifsud tells Neil Camilleri.

 

“I once made smile a girl who had a medical condition which meant she could not laugh. On another occasion a sick boy who was in a very bad state made his very first movement after I gave him a balloon animal. These are things money cannot buy,” says Alfred Mifsud, who is best known as Malta’s Balancing Magician.

Mr Mifsud has practiced magic tricks and balancing acts for decades, even as a job, but he insists that he does is mainly because he loves seeing people have fun.

Alfred, 62, discovered his passion for balancing things on his face as a young boy living in Rabat. “I would go to Buskett and I would pick up a twig and balance it on my nose, chin or foot. By time I got better and the tricks became more elaborate. One day I went to a circus in Santa Lucija where I saw a professional balancing act for the first time. I learnt from that experience and I eventually started taking part in shows where I would balance a variety of objects.”

His skills improved over time. “One day I was given a billiard Rest and I would balance a tray filled with glasses on top of it.” His growing experience allowed him to turn his passion into a job. He remembers fondly how he once found an old magic book – a threaded manuscript written in Italian which contained scientific explanations. This, he said, helped him through his school days as studying was not his forte at the time. Yet he became a teacher and, eventually, a head of school. “I would organise activities and took part by performing balancing acts.”

His “breakthrough” came through in 1978 when visiting the Circus Demar in Manoel Island. “I had taken a few pictures of me performing and I spoke to Marcello, the director. To my astonishment he told me to start the following day. Me and my late wife went home and decided on our routine. I would balance an old half a pound note, swords, a newspaper, glasses and a rope, among other items.”

His stage work led to TV appearances and Mr Mifsud also started performing at children’s parties. He still performs at a number of hotels, parties, schools.

 

The boy’s fingers moved when I gave him a balloon

Mr Mifsud has also taken part in all the major fund raising marathons. “Satisfaction does not only come from success but also from the effect that the show has on your audience. I remember one time I was in hospital, visiting child patients. There was this boy, who was being seen to by a specialist. I gave him a balloon and he moved his fingers just a little bit. Even the doctor was astounded when he saw the child move. I could not believe that such a simple gesture could have such a big effect. I was happy to learn later that the boy’s condition kept improving.

There was another case – a man came up to me after a show and wanted me to go for a drink with him. He told me that his daughter suffered from a condition which left her unable to laugh but she smiled during one of my shows. This man was astonished at what had happened, at seeing his daughter smile for the first time. You cannot put a price on something like that.”

Some memories of Alfred’s are, unfortunately not so happy. His wife, who used to act as his assistant, passed away in 2001. As a result he had to scale down his performances. “You cannot do the same things without a partner. She would be one step ahead of me during shows, as if she could read my mind.”

Yet Mr Mifsud never lost the passion for magic. He learned more tricks and introduced them into his performances. Alfred can balance one chair, three chairs, a bicycle and countless other objects. “Three chairs are quite heavy to lift on your chin. Some people prefer to see me lift heavy objects while others think that balancing a newspaper page or a banknote is more of a challenge.” The last two are the most difficult of all the acts he performs. He explains how he simply folds one of the corners in a particular way, giving the paper some rigidity, while the rest is ability. Mr Mifsud in fact showed us how he does it during the interview, not with a newspaper he brought from home but one we produced. He repeated it the act with a €50 euro note.

 

Guinness World Record

“I came up with these two tricks on my own. Other magicians started doing something similar acts over the years, even if they do not use the exact same methods.”

Alfred told us these two tricks of his managed to amaze several other magicians during a recent competition held in Italy, during which he was part of a group which broke a Guinness World Record.

“Last year a record for the most magicians in a magic show was broken in England, with 127 magicians. The Italians wanted to break that record and I was invited to the event, which was held in Rimini in the Summer. There were 134 of us and we had not more than two minutes each to perform our best tricks. I balanced a newspaper and a €50 note and, although there were over 3,000 magicians there, some of whom are world famous, my tricks were very well-received.”

Mr Mifsud also does a number of magic tricks, including producing a rabbit or a pigeon “out of nowhere,” card tricks, rope tricks and many others. Naturally, this requires a huge equipment inventory.

 

People enjoy magic because they don’t understand it

“The best thing is to see people trying to figure out how the trick was performed.” He says that this is in fact why people are always fascinated with magic; “They are seeing something they enjoy yet they cannot get their heads round it and figure out how you are doing it.” And magicians never reveal their secrets, he added.

Alfred does not necessarily need to go to international conferences to perform his magic and balancing tricks. “One of my grandsons is very curious and asks a lot of questions about magic. I hope he will become my assistant when he grows older,” Mr Mifsud chuckles. “Coming from a large family I also have many nieces so I always perform at their birthday parties.”

Mr Mifsud says a magician has to come prepared with a bagful of tricks and choose his repertoire on the type of audience before him. “Different tricks have different effects on people. Also, you might be performing to children, adults or mixed groups. You have to offer people variety and choose the best tricks for that particular crowd.” 

 

What makes a good magician?

So what elements does a good magician need? “Misdirection, slight of hand, equipment and presentation,” Mr Mifsud says. “You have to direct people’s eyes to where you want them to – that is something you get through experience. Presentation is also very, very important.”

The Balancing Magician says one of the most difficult illusions a magician can perform is levitating a person or an object. He does not do it, yet. “Foreign magicians can do all sorts of tricks but they would need equipment and abilities that cost huge sums of money. €40,000 for a single effect is too big a sum for many local magicians. To put you in the picture, David Copperfield has some 100 assistants on his team.”  

Mr Mifsud says David Copperfield is one of the best illusionists in the world but often, the most impressive work is done by lesser known magicians. Others might be less skilled but have pumped up their image maybe more than they should have, he says, referring to magicians such as Dynamo, whom he has met. “David Copperfield was the first one to have started larger-scale spectacles by using the experience of other magicians and adapting them to modern times.” Mr Mifsud points out that such spectacles need a big set up and cannot be carried out just anywhere. “You cannot walk on water anywhere. No one is supernatural.”

He says that there are people who are involved in the occults and who use this “to their advantage” but this is not usually done during shows. In any case many magic organisations, such as the International Brotherhood of Magicians, which Mr Mifsud has been a member of for over 25 years, forbid such a thing.

Pictures: Mike Camilleri/Alfred Mifsud


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