FOR THE KIDS : Presto! It's a Snap to Master Tricks of Trade : Clubs, shops and rec centers offer young magicians ways to learn the age-old craft.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Shawn McMaster told the seven boys in his magic class: "I'm going to make a prediction. I'm going to guess which card you'll pick." Then he wrote down the card and folded the paper.

After he made a few quick moves with a deck of cards, the boys unfolded the paper to find written down--the three of diamonds--the very one they singled out.

"How'd ya do that?" one kid marveled. You tell me, countered McMaster.

Lasers, one kid offered. Nope. A special machine hidden in the chair, another theorized. Wrong again.

They found out it involved more math than magic. But one of the things the boys in McMaster's magic class also learned was that you never reveal to your audience how a trick is done.

The boys, ages 7 to 14, were in a beginning magic class offered through the Conejo Recreation and Park District. The four-week hourlong class will be offered again beginning Oct. 24.

"Magic is on an upswing," said McMaster, a professional magician who also teaches in several locations.

Maybe that's why mega-magician David Copperfield's two shows in December at the new Civic Arts Plaza in Thousand Oaks sold out the first week that tickets went on sale in July.

For kids intrigued with magic, a class is one way to learn some basics. In McMaster's beginner class, he teaches tricks with cards, coins, balls and ordinary household objects--such as forks and spoons, string and cups.

In his first class of the ongoing series, the children learned three card tricks, including one in which the magician appears to detect a chosen card by the way it feels.

One of the boys in the class, 14-year-old Casey Patterson, already had a small repertoire of about seven card and coin tricks.

"My friends and I are really into it," said Casey, who does tricks when he gets together with friends or goes to Boy Scouts.

McMaster, 31, got into magic at the age of 6 when someone gave him a magic kit. As he got older, he performed tricks for his parents, friends and at parties. Now, in addition to teaching, he performs at restaurants and comedy clubs.

Aside from classes, there are other ways for kids to learn magic. McMaster said that as a kid, he went through "an entire shelf" of books on magic at the library. One he and other magicians recommend is "Mark Wilson's Complete Course in Magic." Henry Hay's "Learn Magic" is another. Bill Severn also has written several magic books appropriate for children.

For books and magic supplies, kids can go to Merlin's Mystical Emporium in Ventura and Camarillo. For several dollars, they can buy simple tricks.

Another source is the Society of American Magicians, the oldest magic group in the country. SAM's local chapter meets monthly in Oxnard and welcomes older kids who want to sharpen their skills and knowledge. They can sign on with SAM's Society of Young Magicians and receive a monthly newsletter that gears magic to a younger level.

For the kids who become skilled at magic, performing at the venerable Magic Castle in Los Angeles is not an impossible dream. The private club sponsors a junior group of magicians, ages 13 to 20. The group meets monthly, usually at the club, where the young magicians learn performance skills in a workshop setting and can browse through the extensive library. However, admission to the group is by auditions, which are held only twice a year.

Magician Paul Dwork, owner of Merlin's Mystical Emporium, has some advice for would-be magicians: "Start slow. You don't have to spend a lot of money. Most magic has been around since the beginning of time." For kids, he said, magic is a good way to boost self-confidence, self-esteem and communication skills.

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When San Francisco's Overland Dance Company performs "The Velveteen Rabbit" in Oxnard in November, there will be some young local aspiring dancers on the stage as well.

Boys and girls between 7 and 12 years of age can audition for the roles in the production at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at The Performance Studio, 34 N. Palm St., Ventura. Children selected will participate in about 10 rehearsals before the Nov. 17 and 19 performances. For information, call 643-5701 or 648-4767.

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Kids entertainers Lori Richards and the Happy Crowd are performing Sunday to raise funds for the community mega-playground planned in Ventura.

The show is at 4 p.m. at the Ventura Theatre, 26 S. Chestnut St. Tickets are $7 for adults and kids; children under 2 are free. Tickets are available at various locations around Ventura including the YMCA, Adventures for Kids, Heck Music Center and Lucy in the Sky. For information, call 641-5409.

The playground is a grass-roots community-based project, similar to one in Santa Barbara. As in Santa Barbara, the residents here are not only raising the money for the playground but they also will build it themselves.

So far, $20,000 has been raised. A total of $100,000 is needed before the playground will be constructed this spring at Blanche Reynolds School in Ventura.

Details

Here are a few locations where kids can take magic classes:

* Conejo Recreation and Park District, Thousand Oaks Center, 2525 N. Moorpark Road. Four-week class begins Oct. 24, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. Mondays, for ages 7 to 14. Cost is $22. For information, call 492-2461.

* City of Moorpark, Arroyo Vista Recreation Center, 455 Tierra Rejada Road. Six-week class on Wednesdays begins next week; ages 6 to 8 meet 3:30 to 4:15 p.m.; ages 9 to 12 meet 4:30 to 5:15 p.m., and 13 and older meet 5:30 to 6:15 p.m. Cost is $30. For information, call 529-6864, Ext. 231.

* Ojai Recreation Department, 510 Park Road. Six-week class begins Oct. 11, running 4 to 5 p.m. Tuesdays, for ages 9 to 12. Cost is $25. For information, call 646-1872.

* Merlin's Mystical Emporium, 828 Arneil Road, Camarillo. Five-week class meets Wednesdays, beginning next week. Beginner class 6 p.m., $65; intermediate class 7:15 p.m., $75, and advanced class 8:30 p.m., $75. For information, call 388-7669.

* FYI: The Society of American Magicians meets monthly on Sundays at St. John's Regional Medical Center, Room 2, 1600 N. Rose Ave., Oxnard. The next meeting is 7 p.m. Oct. 9. For information, call 984-8185.

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