Magical Experience Design & Collateral Magic

Dear Friends:

Our guest columnist this month is Cyril “C.J.” May, aka Cyril the Sorcerer. You’ll learn just a bit more about him a bit further down the page. But for now…enjoy his story!

Magical Experience Design & Collateral Magic
One of the greatest magical experiences I have had in recent years took place in my car. It happened both by accident, and by design. The magic show was of such scope, it encompassed an entire town.

Many summers ago, my family and I passed through a small New Hampshire town on our way to my wife’s family home in Maine. The sight of strangely dressed villagers caught us off guard. We were nowhere near Halloween on the calendar, and yet witches and wizards walked the streets. As I took in ever more “wizarding folk,” I began to have a Rod Serling moment….where were we?

The moment quickly shifted to a JK Rowling moment:  could we have fallen through a veil into a wizarding community like the Hogsmeade Village depicted in Harry Potter?  A van passed us driven by a wizard. The witch in the passenger seat was tending to the young witches and wizard in the back. The hair on the back of my neck was now full rise. This was all so very eerie and yet delightful at the same time. We had been transported to some place or time truly magical. The rest of the world was gone. 

This magic show finished in part, when we learned from the scores of witches and wizards in the restaurant, that they were dressed for the screening of a Harry Potter film at the local library. The film was being shown in celebration of the release of one of the final Harry Potter books. It all made sense now.  But the experience had been one of true magic.

And so I was determined to recreate this magic for myself and for as many as I could by the creation of Waterbury Harry Potter Day. In 2019, the Waterbury library and I expanded upon the small scale Harry Potter activities we had offered in previous celebrations of the fictional boy wizard’s birthday on July 31st. To create a true “magical experience” we spilled out onto the streets. Local restaurants and other establishments joined in by adding wizarding food to their daily menus.  Starbucks added four Hogwarts-themed potions plus Butter Beer. The used bookstore would crank out Dragon’s Blood Cupcakes and the Barnes & Noble would host shows, trivia and other Harry Potter specials. The bank purchased Harry Potter coins and the local congresswoman’s office would hold wizard school classes. The players were geared up…but would there be an audience?

By 9:00 am, witches & wizards were pouring into the downtown copy shop that had offered to serve as provider of the event maps. They had to run another batch because the maps were gone by noon. Witches & wizards coursed through the streets, visiting venues, showing off costumes, enjoying the transformation of a “Muggle” downtown into a “Wizarding” city.  The magic was happening.

Collateral Magic
While happy that those who came to downtown Waterbury for the event were enjoying themselves, I must admit that I was most interested in creating “Collateral Magic.”  One obvious stream of Collateral Magic was that flowing into the venues.  Starbucks went through more butter beer ingredients than ever before. The costume shop sold out of all its witch hats by noon…and made its monthly income quota because of it. The other flow of Collateral Magic went to the pedestrians who may have felt some of the Rod Serling/JK Rowling moment that I had experienced so many years ago. What is happening?  Where am I? Why is Grand Street awash with witches and wizards? Without even attending, they were part of the show.

Some magicians are probably asking “were there any actual ‘magic shows’ during Waterbury Harry Potter Day?” Yes! Slipping back into my role as Refuse/Recycling Coordinator for the City, and “Wizard of Waterbury,” I performed an enviromagic show at the library to a crowd draped in capes, and sporting many a pointy hat. Members of the local SAM Assembly also joined in, providing a fitting finale to the day with their show at the Barnes & Noble. The day was an ensemble show on a municipal scale.

Further Down the Rabbit Hole

We are hoping to take future attendees and sidewalk passersby further down the rabbit hole of magic experience design. A great starting point for research has been the book AMAZE, by friend of the Mystery School  Ferdinando Buscema. This book on “magical experience design” offers a great look into how magicians and non-magicians alike can create magical experiences. The book is now available here: For now, however, we are looking for our next in-person WHPD to include…

  • Fire-breathing and magic by Daniel Greenwolf
  • Street theater performances by local youth
  • A time-flexible Question Quest scavenger hunt that better accommodates individual family schedules
  • Buses to bring far-flung and under-resourced youth groups to downtown

Eugene Burger once famously said “we need bigger dreams.”  I encourage us all to think beyond our typical magic frames of move, effect, routine or even show. Think bigger. What magical experience can you create? What bigger dream would you like to bring to an audience that flows beyond the limiting walls of stage and theater? 

Cyril John “CJ” May wears both a recycling hat and a wizard’s hat in his roles as Recycling Coordinator and “Municipal Magician” for the City of Waterbury, CT. For more about his work for professionals and other adults visit For his independent work for all-age audiences as Cyril the Sorcerer visit He also has a smattering of environmental videos at Reach Cyril at

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