Conjuring at the Capital

Dear Friends:

I’m delighted to introduce you (though I expect many of you already know him) to our guest columnist for this month. He is our long-time friend Cyril John May – The ReSourcerer! I first met CJ almost 20 years ago, when he was head of recycling for Yale University, and wanted to see if we could arrange for Jeff McBride to visit and lecture there. After several years of work, we did make those arrangements, and CJ has become a good friend, both personally and as a friend of the Magic & Mystery School. He is an amazing performer, who uses his magic to further the cause of our environment, and, particularly re-cycling. I think the piece below will really make you think…and perhaps consider ways you can use your own magic to further a worthy cause. Without further ado…Cyril John May!

Using magic to lobby legislators is a double-edged sword. It can help you win their hearts and minds.
It can also get you arrested.
by Cyril John “CJ” May

Magic has more power than even magicians think it does. It can change the laws of the land. On many of my occasional trips to legislative bodies to give testimony on environmental issues, I have used magic. The power to entertain and capture attention is in full play. It pulls bored legislators out of the stupor brought on by hours of mind-numbing, fact-swollen statements read by droning lobbyists, citizens and others. Lawmakers wake up, smile and thank you when you interject fun and creativity into their day.
But magic also is an exclamation point. It does not merely entertain. It helps you emphasize what you are trying to say. Testifying before the New Haven Board of Alders as they considered whether to discontinue the purchasing of bottled water was vastly improved by magic. Producing a stream of smoke from a previously empty bottle made my point: polluting trucks must drive bottled water to its destinations. This use for magic adds pleasing and easily rememberable visuality to important facts. This can lock your message into the memories of the lawmakers and help win your case.
It might also get you arrested.

Controversy over the question of whether the local utility should close a coal-fired plant brought me to Bridgeport, CT with a trick, literally, up my sleeve. A sharp-eyed plain-clothes Federal Marshall, hyper vigilant in the days following 9/11, noticed something suspicious. He briskly whisked me out of the room, gave me a once over, a tongue lashing and the boot from the building. No testimony…but at least no handcuffs.

Like any good show, testimony requires preparation, waiting, and on-the-fly adjustment. I was recently called to Hartford, the capital of Connecticut, to speak about issues related to recycling and plastic bags. I scripted myself for the 3 minutes (maximum time allowed), rehearsed it with props, and packed and arrived early. I knew the venue, and was not at all surprised that even checking in way before the 10:30 am start time, still resulted in my testifying at 3:00 pm. By that time the lawmakers were zoned out. They woke up, however, when I made a bottle levitate. They laughed when one plastic shopping bag became a daisy chain that spanned half of the caucus room. In the four hour wait, I had also realized that they might ask me about the current crisis in recycling markets, and whether we should stop recycling. Fortunately, I had been carrying the right magical answer to that question for several weeks. I was able to display five 5-dollar bills to demonstrate that my employer, the City of Waterbury, still saves $25 for every ton it recycles. And the alternative…? The $25 instantly became $80 to represent what it would cost per ton to trash all those cans, bottles, paper and cardboard. This got exclamations, requests for me to do the same trick with their money, laughs and, most importantly, a point firmly-made.

Magic is powerful.  It can change the world not only by the sense of wonder it provides, but also by the messages it can deliver to audiences in a theater or a government conference room.

Cyril John “CJ” May wears the hat of a sorcerer as well as that of a sustainability professional. He performs “enviromagic” shows for children and families as “Cyril the Sorcerer” ( When presenting on environmental topics to professionals and other adults he is “The Resourcerer” ( He has worked in recycling for more than 30 years and currently serves as Refuse/Recycling Coordinator for the City of Waterbury. As Waterbury’s “municipal magician” he regularly performs magic on environmental topics at City schools, library, events and civic meetings.

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