Magic (Ellis Stanyon)/Chapter 1
There are one or two leading principles to be borne in mind by any one taking up the study of magic. The first and foremost is, Never tell the audience what you are going to do before you do it. If you do, the chances of detection are increased tenfold, as the spectators, knowing what to expect, will the more readily arrive at the true method of bringing about the result.
It follows as a natural consequence that you must never perform the same trick twice in the same evening. It is very unpleasant to have to refuse an encore; and should you be called upon to repeat a trick study to vary it as much as possible, and to bring it to a different conclusion. There will generally be found more ways than one of working a particular trick. It is an axiom in conjuring that the best trick loses half its effect on repetition.
Should a hitch occur in the carrying-out of the programme by the accidental dropping of an article, or from any other cause, above all things do not get confused, but treat the matter as a good joke, and meet the difficulty with a smile, making use of some such expression as the following: "Well, you see I put it down there to show that it would go. It is perfectly solid and does not stick." By this means, instead of spoiling the entertainment, you add greatly to the amusement of the spectators.
Do not cultivate quick movements, at the same time it will never do to be painfully slow; but endeavor to present your tricks in an easy-going, quiet, graceful manner. It is generally understood that "the quickness of the hand deceives the eye," but this is entirely erroneous. It is impossible for the hand to move quicker than the eye can follow, as can be proved by experiment. The deception really lies in the method of working the trick, and in the ability of the performer in misdirection, as will be seen from a perusal of the following pages.
A little well-arranged talk as an introductory to an entertainment will be found to put you on good terms with your audience. A few words, something like the following, will suffice: "Ladies and Gentlemen, with your kind attention I shall endeavor to amuse you with a series of experiments in legerdemain. In doing so I wish it to be distinctly understood that I shall do my best to deceive you, and upon the extent to which I am able to do so will depend my success."
At the close of an entertainment a little speech, of which the following is an example, will be found to prove a good finish: "Ladies and Gentlemen, in concluding my entertainment I have only to say that, apart from deceiving you, which was but a secondary consideration, if I have been able to afford you some slight amusement I feel amply rewarded."
In concluding these remarks I must enforce upon the novice the necessity for constant practice, without which the clearest instruction would be useless. This applies, not only to conjuring, but equally well to any form of amusement, so the would-be magician may congratulate himself on the fact that the difficulties to surmount are not in excess of those of any other form of entertainment.
Before proceeding to describe the various tricks it will be well to notice one or two appliances of general utility.
The Dress.—The usual attire of the modern magician is the conventional evening dress, but I have known performers of the present day to adopt various fancy costumes.
Where the ordinary dress coat is used, each tail is provided with a large pocket, known as a profonde, the mouth of which is on a level with the knuckles, and slopes slightly to the side. These pockets, which are usually seven inches square, are lined with buckram, and sewn on rather full, to keep them constantly open. They are used to contain "loads" for hat tricks, etc., also to vanish articles, such as watches, eggs, or balls.
In addition to these pockets, two others, known as pochettes, are used on the trousers. These are sewn on rather full at the back of the thigh, on a level with the knuckles, and covered by the tails of the coat; they are useful to contain rings, coins, or other small articles required in the course of the performance.
There are also two pockets known as breast pockets, one in each side of the coat. These should be of a size large enough to contain a dinner plate, and should be made with the bottom sloping a little toward the back, to prevent articles placed in them from falling out. The opening should be in a perpendicular position one and a half inches from the edge of the coat. These are loaded with rabbits, doves, etc., or any large or cumbersome article required for magical production.
In the case of fancy costumes the pockets, if required, must be arranged as the attire permits. If you perform in a dinner jacket, the ordinary side pockets can be used for producing or vanishing the articles. The breast pockets, as already described, can be retained.
The Table.—There are a great many tricks which can be performed without the aid of a special table; in fact, tables of any description are very secondary articles in the stage settings of conjurers of the present day. Where they are employed they are usually of the small round tripod pattern, fancifully made for show, and are used only for the purpose of an ordinary table.
Tables with traps and other mechanical appliances are almost, if not entirely, out of date, no performer with any pretensions to originality making use of them.
A neat little table can be made from a piece of board eighteen inches in diameter, covered with red baize, and hung with fancy fringe to taste; the legs taking the form of an ordinary music stand. The under-side of the table is fitted with a brass plate holding a pin, about two inches long, to fit the socket of the stand. This forms one of the most compact tables possible, and is greatly in vogue, as the stand can be folded up into a small compass, and placed, together with the top, in a black canvas case for traveling. Two of these tables will occupy very little more room than one, and they look well in pairs. They will generally be found to afford sufficient convenience for an evening's entertainment.
The Servante.—This is a secret shelf behind the performer's table, on which are placed articles to be magically produced in various ways. It is also used to vanish articles as occasion may require.
In the absence of a specially prepared table a servante can be readily devised by pulling out the drawer at the back of any ordinary table about six inches, and throwing a cloth over the whole, the cloth being pushed well into the drawer so as to form a pad to deaden the sound of any article dropped into it.
If a table with a drawer cannot be obtained, a servante, which will answer every purpose, can be arranged by throwing a cloth over the table and pinning it up behind in the form of a bag.
In the case of the small round tripod tables, a small drawer, made from a cigar box, can be attached to the under side of them, and pulled out as required. The fringe decorating the edge of the table will conceal the presence of the drawer; but if the whole of the under side of the table, drawer included, be painted black, it cannot be detected at a few paces.
There are various forms of portable servantes for fixing to the back of a table or chair. A description of one for use on a chair will be sufficient to give a clear idea of the construction of others, which can be arranged as required by the ingenuity of the performer. A piece of one-half inch board, seven inches by five inches, is covered with green baize, and slightly padded on one side with cotton wool, to prevent injury to any fragile article that may come in contact with it in the course of the performance. To this is screwed an iron frame (Fig. 1) of the same dimensions as the board. The frame, which carries a network as shown, is screwed to the board in such a way that it will fold up flush with the same, the whole being, when closed, under one inch in thickness. The frame carrying the net-work is prevented from opening too far by an iron bar screwed to the back of the woodwork, the sides of the frame being extended under this as shown. The board is fitted with two brass
Fig. 1.—The Servanteeyelets for attaching it to the top rail of an ordinary chair by means of two screw eyes or stout pins. To conceal the servante throw a fancy cloth over the back of the chair.
The Wand.—This is a light rod about fifteen inches long and one-half inch in diameter, usually of ebony, with ivory tips; a plain rod, however, will answer the purpose equally well.
The use of the wand is regarded by the uninitiated as a mere affectation on the part of the performer, but such is far from being the case. Its uses are legion. In addition to the prestige derived from the traditional properties of the wand, which has been the mystic emblem of the magician's power from time immemorial, it is absolutely necessary for the successful carrying-out of many experiments, as will be seen in the course of the present work. For instance, having palmed a coin, say in the right hand, you lower that hand and take up the wand, which effectually conceals, in a perfectly natural manner, the presence of the coin. The wand is now passed once or twice over the left hand, which is supposed to contain the coin, and on opening the hand the coin will be found to have vanished. It will thus be seen that the wand is of the utmost importance.
Concluding Observations.—The arrangement of the stage is now to be considered by the amateur. If the performance is to be given in a parlor, a space must be curtained off at one end large enough to accommodate the magic tables, and allow sufficient room between them and the audience to enable the conjurer to execute the various exchanges, etc., necessary to the successful accomplishment of particular tricks. When called upon to give an entertainment in a house, where there are two adjoining parlors, separated by folding-doors, the magician can seat his audience in the front parlor, and use the back one for the stage, the folding-doors making an admirable substitute for a curtain. Now as to the placing of the tables (Fig. 2). It is customary for the large table to occupy the centre of the room, beneath or just back of the
Fig. 2.—Placing of Tables
chandeliers, flanked by two small tripod tables or gueridons. A couple of wax tapers in silver or brass holders, placed on the centre table, gives a fine effect to the whole. The amateur must take care that there are no bright lights behind his tables, or worse still a mirror. Behind the scenes provide a table to hold the apparatus to be used in the various experiments. In arranging tricks for the programme very little information should be afforded the inquisitive spectator as to the real nature of the illusion to be performed; this caution being in accordance with the conjurer's axiom: Never tell your audience beforehand what you are about to do. For example, if you are to exhibit the "rising-cards" call it on your programme the "Cabalistic Cards," or the "Cards of Cagliostro." This will give no clue to the trick. And so with other illusions. Robert Heller, a clever entertainer, described his experiments somewhat as follows:
- With a watch.
- With thirty pieces of silver.
- With a candle.
The late Alexander Herrmann—"Alexander the Great"—was equally non-communicative. "Thirty minutes with Herrmann," "A bouquet of mystical novelties," etc., sufficed to describe a dozen or more brilliant feats of legerdemain. Arrange your magical novelties in groups, e. g.: two or three coin tricks, three or four handkerchief tricks, etc., and not a coin trick, then an illusion with a handkerchief, followed by another feat with a coin. Lead up to the best trick in each group with several smaller feats of a more or less similar nature. This is well illustrated in the "Magical production of flowers," explained in Chapter IX.
In addition to the programmes intended for distribution among the spectators, the performer must have a private programme of his own, stuck up in a conspicuous place behind the scenes. Upon this stage-programme is a list of the tricks to be performed during the evening, with the articles used in each trick. This is to prevent confusion. It is impossible for the performer or his assistant to always keep in mind the multifarious articles that go with each magical feat. When you retire behind the scenes after each group of tricks, you consult the "prompt-programme" to see that you have everything in readiness for the next series of illusions — for example an egg secreted under your vest, or a coin in your pocket. On one occasion, I saw the celebrated Herrmann completely bewildered and nonplussed because he did not have such a little thing as a pin stuck in the lapel of his coat, intended for use in the cornucopia and flower trick. This occasioned an awkward hesitation injurious to the effective performance of the feat. Herrmann had failed to examine his prompt-programme behind the scenes, hence his embarrassing situation.
Each trick should have an appropriate verbal accompaniment, technically known as the "patter," or boniment, written underneath it, which should in every case be learned off by heart. This, especially to the beginner, is a necessity, and very few, if any, of the best performers work otherwise.
Having once become accustomed to a programme, it should never be changed, in its entirety, for a new one. If it be desired to vary the mode of procedure, this is best done by the introduction of a new trick and the removal of an old one. By such means the performer saves himself a lot of trouble and anxiety, and is just as likely to give satisfaction from the point of view of an audience. This is the custom of professional performers, who very rarely alter their programmes; it also accounts in a large measure for their skill.
It is a weakness with young performers to endeavor to crowd too many tricks into the time allotted to their part. This is a mistake, and is bound to lead to disastrous results. Each trick requires its proper time, which is best found by experiment, and the entertainment should be arranged accordingly. "A little and good" is better than "a lot and bad."
A word or two as to nervousness may not be out of place. If the performer can bring himself to imagine, for the time being, at any rate, that he is the most wonderful individual in creation, his success is assured; that is, if everything has been rehearsed in private, and he knows his part thoroughly. A dull, nervous, or morose performer, however clever he may be, is sure to make the spectators feel uncomfortable, and thus spoil their enjoyment; therefore always endeavor to cultivate a cheerful manner, even under difficulties, and you will find your audience similarly affected. Apart from taking every advantage for repartee, always avoid being personal, and every possible opportunity for increasing the effect of a trick, the performer should be totally oblivious of all his surroundings and think only of himself and what he is doing. Once this is acquired, nervousness will be forever dispelled.
Not a little benefit may be derived from attending entertainments given by other conjurers, and every opportunity of so doing should be taken. In this way, by listening attentively to the remarks of other auditors, you will gain many points, not only as to how a trick may be improved, but also as to what movements in the execution of the same are unnecessary or awkward, and consequently to be avoided. Under these circumstances you will be able to realize the full force of Burns's well-known words, "to see ourselves as others see us."