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MORE NOVEL NOTIONS FOR

Magical

Entertainers.

BY

ROBERTSON KEENE.

LONDON:

A. W. Gamage, Ltd., Holborn, E.C.


MORE NOVEL NOTIONS FOR MAGICIANS. AUTHOR'S PREFACE.

It is more than a year ago since I laid down my pen, having written " Finis " to my first literary effort in " Magic." Since the publication of " Novel Notions," I have received so many letters, etc., in praise of an effort'which fell far short of the author's ideals, and which was incomplete and faulty in many ways, that I am encouraged to once more put pen to paper, in the hope that the present volume may be able to satisfy the request of the many who have asked for a companion volume to " Novel Notions," and perhaps be some compensation also for the shortcomings of my first venture into a field of literature already somewhat overcrowded. It has always seemed to me to be a pity that, with all the vast sea of conjuring literature so eagerly sought after and read by the magical fraternity, there should still be a crying want for originality amongst it all ! Magical literature, upon the whole, presents a wearisome sameness to the advanced performer, even the best books consisting of little more than a fresh exposd of fairly modern (and, sometimes, alas ! very ancient !) tricks and methods, comparatively well-knowrj to most professionals and often to the majority of amateurs, but which have not been sufficiently " done to death " to make them the universal property. I have attempted, therefore, to embody in my writings ideas, original with me, and to treat them in an original manner. Of the crudity of the effort I am painfully aware, yet the appreciation it met with at the hands of many modern performers has encouraged the endeavour to do something better in the present volume. At the risk of incurring • the disapproval of those who prefer a book of explanations merely to a book of more literary style and pretensions, I am again prefacing my " Notions " with a talk upon magic and magical methods. I am the more encouraged to do so by the letters of some of my readers, who state that these introductory remarks were alone " worth the price of the book." That this is an over-estimate I am only too sure, but, taking it for what it is worth, I have determined to continue in the present volume the remarks commenced in its predecessor, in the hope that to those sufficiently interested to read them they may prove both entertaining and instructive ; and that to those who prefer to " cut the cackle and come to the 'osses," the remaining and more practical part of the book, as representing those interesting quadrupeds, may prove sufficiently long and valuable to compensate for the space occupied by the " cackle." ROBERTSON K E E N E .


CONJURING CACKLE. BEING A FEW INTRODUCTORY REMARKS.

It may almost be said that in the last year or two there has dawned a new era in magic. Except in big illusions and stage effects, mechanical aid is largely being replaced by " brainy " ideas, of which subtlety is the principal factor. Apparatus of an elaborate and showy nature is being more and more placed " upon the shelf," and the lengths to which a clever performer may go, in the matter of submitting his utensils to critical examination is a revelation to some living performers, and must surely cause to turn in their graves many of the old school long since passed away ! But although we have got far beyond the obvious trickery of the " pull the string and the model works " order, it is still found necessary to tickle the public palate with a showy and brilliant act. Wisdom and advancement, however, have taught us that this is best done by means of handsome and tasteful stage setting, rather than by the fearful and wonderful contrivances which in a past age stimulated an audience to wonder and amazement, where now it would be productive of nothing but languid interest and often ridicule. Now as touching this matter, the pendulum of public opinion has swung completely round, and where a few years—I might almost say a few months— ago card and coin manipulators, led by Howard Thurston on the one hand and Nelson Downs on the other, occupied the boards to the exclusion of all other magical turns, to-day card and coin manipulators are at a discount, and manipulative acts of any kind are no longer appreciated or required. , I have repeatedly witnessed a performer of the greatest excellence giving a display of card manipulating, etc., for fifteen minutes or longer, during the whole of which his audience betrayed not the faintest interest or wonder, and I am fairly persuaded that many of the spectators had little or no idea what the performer was doing, and that the remainder were not in the least taken in, however much the skill of the performer may have impressed them. The fact is that card manipulating—by which I mean the reverse palm— cannot be presented by itself as a manipulated act to deceive, for the mere reason that this type of card conjuring is not really conjuring at all—as it has been presented of late years—but simply a juggling display, which is wanting in the chief element of conjuring, namely, misdirection. •I do not care how skilful a performer may be, he cannot hope to continue a display of this kind for any length of time and keep its secret intact, even though the spectators may not more than suspect the true position of the cards ; that suspicion is fatal to the effect of the performance. It is not to be wondered at, then, that the purely manipulative turn has lasted just as long as its secret kept it a novelty, and that when its novelty had worn away, there should be a falling back to the more legitimate entertainment of miscellaneous sleight-of-hand. Other things being equal, it may be taken as an axiom that—upon the big stage, at any rate—the public like something to look at. The average audience look upon a modern conjuring performance upon the stage as more or less of a spectacular affair. Too much patter ; too much gesture; too much "hanky panky"—to use an old showman's expression—tires an audience who have come in and paid their seat-money and expect to get the best value for it. Sleight-of-hand, pure and simple, whilst very effective under some conditions, upon the big stage, not only loses much of its effect owing to distance, etc., but often an otherwise smart trick is belittled if not entirely eclipsed by the magnificent surroundings, lighting, etc. No one can imagine, unless they have seen it for themselves from the auditorium, how futile and even ridiculous, small sleight-of-hand can appear upon a big, well-lit and finely-set stage and before an audience who have come expecting to see a show a la Horace Goldin. Lamentable as is the fact, a fact it still remains, that skill per se is at a discount upon the big stage, and effective display at a premium. Unflattering as it is to a man of high abilities to find his cleverest work unappreciated, and a perfectly and in every sense of the word " tin-pot " trick received with acclamation, it is still the humour of the public ; and as


it is the public he works for, and who, indirectly, are his paymasters, if he is. a wise man he will bottle his chagrin and his sleights together, and give them, brilliant display—and plenty of it ! Now in this matter of stage setting, it is often a sore trial to a beginner to know what is necessary to be used and what is not under the several conditions pertaining to conjuring as a profession. The difference in providing a suitable programme and setting for concert, drawing-room work, and the big stage—to say nothing about al fresco, etc.— can only properly be appreciated by one who has had an all-round experienceof them all. In the drawing-room the facts as given above in the case of the big stage are exactly reversed. In such close quarters as are necessitated by a drawing-room performance,, the big and effective apparatus used to bolster up a stage show is not only out of place and in bad taste, but in the majority of cases quite impossible,, owing to the nature of the apparatus itself. As an elaborate stage setting, such as one admires upon the stage proper,, would also be in bad taste, and, without the glare and heightening effect of stage scene and lighting, would look extremely tawdry as well, it is. obvious that one must arrange a style of show upon quite different lines to. those employed in arranging for stage and concert work. As regards setting, nothing can be better for close work than two, or at most three, small tables built upon " Black Art " lines. In fact, I am so fully persuaded that this principle of "Black A r t " is capable of considerable extension and improvement in many directions, that I have devoted a chapter of this book entirely to the subject at page 75. The ornamentation must be carefully carried out upon these tables so as. to serve the purpose without appearing too theatrical, and the lighter and more obviously unprepared the tables themselves, the better. Armed with sufficient skill in sleight-of-hand, and two or three of those big effects of which subtlety is the chief feature, allowing of close scrutiny and capable of being used even when the performer is surrounded with spectators (as in six cases out of every ten he most certainly will be !), the artiste is in a position to uphold his reputation almost anywhere, as far as. this class of show is concerned. Concert work comes just between the two, and a judicious mixture of a drawing-room show and stage setting should meet the occasion for all general purposes. In " Pavilion " work one meets with a class of show which comes just between the music hall and the concert platform, and these places of amusement form the happy hunting ground, during their season, of both music hall, and concert artistes—this latter being a convenient title for those drawingroom workers who in the slack season leave the towns for the coast, and,, with perhaps a temporarily enlarged " show," seek their fortune in the " pavilions," or al fresco shows which abound now-a-days at every resort of any consequence. That " the early bird catches the worm " is, I think, more true in this-, class of work than in any other. In the migration of artistes to the coast en bloc, from April onwards till the end of the season, no entertainer will stand much chance unless he sends in his circulars, etc., months beforehand. About those same circulars, by the way. I suppose nothing militates, so much for or against success in this class of work as the printing sent and. the way in which one sends it. Necessarily cut off by perhaps a hundred miles or so from direct personal knowledge and communication with the people whom he proposes to engage, a manager has only two things to guide him in his selection of an artiste." First, the artiste's knowledge of " the ropes," and, by inference, of his. business, as shown by his letter and manner of application for the engagement. Secondly, by the photograph of himself, and the wording and " get u p " in general of his circular. Assuredly he will first of all give preference to someone who has worked with him before, and whose ability and personal character he is well acquainted with ; but, after that, his preference can only be guided by the abovementioned considerations. Now, when one comes to think of it, the only guide which he has from.


an artiste's circulars as to the artiste himselt, is the good taste he has displayed (or his printer for him !) in their "get up," and of the money which seems to have been expended upon it. That money makes money is almost fatally true in an illusionist's business. A manager will look at a poorly got up circular, with a second-rate block upon it, and with little consideration will •consign it to the waste basket. The artiste who sent it may be a good fellow •and a decidedly clever one in his line, but his circular doesn't tell him so, and he cannot spare the time and money for experiments which may be fruitless, •and perhaps disastrous ! Poor printing spells economy, and economy speaks of ill-success, and ill-success is not a recommendation to a manager. Again, if the photograph contained in your circular—and you might as well send nothing at all as send a circular without one !—is only secondrate and indistinct, how can he judge of your actual appearance ? Managers, too, are by nature of their business shrewd character readers, and a block, if a good one, will often tell them all they want to know about you, whereas an indistinct, badly-made and printed photograph will obtain no consideration at all. The first thing wanted in a good pavilion is smartness and orginality, and the second is " classiness." Turns which might do for the average music hall would very likely have no chance whatever in a " shop " of this kind. The pavilion is much frequented by children and the visitors of the better class, and the entertainment must be clean as well as merely clever. As to the conjurer's show at such a place of entertainment, it should be varied, and, where possible, recourse to the audience for borrowing, etc., is to be avoided, unless you are giving the whole show. It is not at all usual to find a " run down" at these places, and the bother of fixing one up for your convenience is not always appreciated ; beyond that, it is not often permissible for an artiste to employ part of his " turn " in running to and fro, when he might be giving a " straight along " show. The " run down " uses up a vast number of minutes in a manner which does not amuse an audience at all, and I am quite convinced that not only do the average audience feel it a bore to be asked to " take a card," or some such thing, but in my own experience I have had them absolutely decline to do anything of the kind ! As to borrowing articles, nine times out of ten, although your appeal may be, and probably is, to a person totally unknown to you, the audience will obstinately determine in their own minds that " it was all arranged beforehand," a conclusion which nothing will ever rid them of; for this and the " up his sleeve" idiocy are two unalterable convictions which no demonstration to the contrary will ever uproot. It is usual to find upon your contract, or a letter accompanying it, an intimation that you are " called for band rehearsal at 12 p.m. sharp, etc." As a matter of fact, I always consider this business of rehearsal an unmitigated nuisance, and a piece of tomfoolery into the bargain. Nine times out of ten the extent of a conjurer's " band " requirements are compassed by a " chord on " and a little soft waltz music, with, perhaps, a strong " dramatic chord," or " drum effect," to intensify some more than usually startling illusion, all of which could just as well be given to the band leader ten minutes before the " show " as at a rehearsal in the forepart of the day, which will very likely necessitate the performer's travelling by an inconveniently early train and upsetting his arrangements generally. Should the performance, however, be sufficiently " smart " to allow of special instrumental music and effects, then, obviously, full band parts must be carried, and a rehearsal becomes not only a necessity, but a matter of real importance. I need hardly point out that if such band parts are carried thev should be carried in full, as the orchestras of the various theatres and p vilions which one meets with from time to time vary considerably in size, and it is a great nuisance to a conductor to find himself required to rehearse his orchestra with a strange selection of music, of which two or three of his instrument parts are non est; and the excuse that " they didn' t use a clarionet, etc., at the last show," is not calculated to allay the irritation. Undoubtedly, the carrying of your own music is an advantage. Nothing is so sure to increase the value of a " turn " as good music specially composed to suit the nature of the performance. However willing the orchestra may


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