Oct 20

Tiger, Tiger – Part Two

Yesterday, I wrote about how crafting words can influence the minds of observers. In the case of the poem, The Tiger, by William Blake, the reader has an image based solely on the words of the poet. We as performers have an advantage as we set the stage ourselves for our imagery. We do our best to provide props and stage settings to create an atmosphere of mystery. We can enhance that atmosphere by our words.

One of the concepts of directing our audiences’ attention is creating an inescapable box for them which doesn’t allow any retreat from where you led them in the mental sense. If we lead them through their own thoughts to a place that is derived by them in their own minds, there is no escape. The late Eugene Poinc, a master of wordcraft, was so skilled at this that the Learned Pig Project has memorialized his web site and will keep it alive as long as Marco allows his site to exist.

Let’s use an example based around a human skull. You can buy a plastic skull from a medical supply house or costuming shop just about anywhere in the world. Applying some makeup, paint and glue to attach some mosses, dirt, doll hair and bits of what looks like dried skin can take the skull from a clinical and sterile looking display item to a prop worthy of the association with the pure evil you wish to create. How creepy or disgusting you make it is up to you. Once you have the prop, the easy part is done. You now must impart some signifigance to it in the minds of your audience.

You can use a pedestrian, overly simple descriptive route and hope it sticks. That’s the easy way out and the one that most average performers use. Opening a box, removing the skull and holding it up while hoping for shock value falls far short of being entertaining by itself. “Behold, the severed head of Madame de Fronde brutally murdered by her lover.” Now, that might work for a group of 10 year old girls wanting to be scared (no offence intended towards 10 year old girls) but the highly sophisticated audiences we stand before today are used to seeing the special effects guys doing their best work on the wide screen and TV. Simply holding up the skull as if performing Shakespeare won’t cut it any more. It becomes a handbook of what not to do.

You must choose your plan, plot and words with the precision of an attorney who is trying to save his own life. You must lead your audience’s minds collectively towards a conclusion that appears to come from within them but which you have guided them to remorselessly.

The Hook: Dramatic license is very imporant here. A background of music being sung by a hauntingly beautiful soprano voice will help create the mood. Classical music sources abound with the voices you need. As a very low volume background you do a voice-over that begins with a bit of a reminicsence.

“The amazingly lovely song you hear was sung by a not so famous soprano nearly 80 years ago. We are priveledged to be able to hear it today, reproduced from old recordings. But she was more known for her spectacular end rather than her career in voice. You see, the beautiful lady lost her heart to a man.”

This sort of hook begins to set the story into the minds of the audience. The fact that it happened 80 years ago means they can believe themselves to be far more sophisticated than the singer. After all, she lost her heart to a man. How old fashioned is that?

The Lead: You must draw them further into your trap here. Remember, this is a cunning plan that you have laid out and you need to execute it ruthlessly or it fails. You continue your theme.

“In her thirtieth year of life she failed one night to appear at what was her most notable role. It seems she’d lost her head over the man who owned her heart. A body was found without a head near where she lived. She must have intended to appear as she was costumed for her part. Her lover never confessed and there was no evidence to convict. The crime remains unsolved today. Madame de Fronde died at the hands of an unknown fiend.”

Ok. We now have them waiting for the next part of the story. Everyone knows that cold cases can be solved – they see it on television all the time. It’s a natural place to which they have been led.

The Bite: It’s time to lead them into the box from which there is no escape.

“Last year, an old Victorian house on the same block where Madame de Fronde stayed was dismantled to make way for more modern structures. In the attic, this box, large enough for a hat but oddly perfumed with the scent of old lace and long dead gardenias. How this came to be in the house in which I lived so many of my childhood years remains a mystery but as the last remaining member of my family, it fell to my hands.”

Opening the box, you pause and look at the audience while reaching inside. Lifting out the skull, you continue.

“Could this be . . .? Is this our lovely voice? Can there . . . will there . . . be justice after all this time?”

The Illusion: I’ll leave this bit up to you. My thoughts run towards the Disembodied Head illusion where there appears a speaking head on a pillow inside a box resting on an ornate table. I’d place the skull back in its box, move it to the table and do a very spooky incantation to reanimate the head and allow it to speak to the audience for the first time since the day the woman was murdered. The means and execution of this are easy to accomplish and published elsewhere.

Getting from concept to complete routine is not done casually. In fact, something called a storyboard is needed to start the process which I actually finished here. Unfortunately, without seeing this process as I have described it here, a storyboard discussion is hard to follow. Thus, you get the cart before the horse with this installment.

On some future date, the storyboard will be described for you.

Oct 19

Tiger, Tiger . . .

William Blake’s immortal poem is a powerful example of how words can paint a picture that is undeniably real in the mind of the reader or listener. It opens like this.

The Tiger – By William Blake

Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry

The ruddy orange of the tiger’s body color and the supple moves of the tiger walking through the forests of Asia are burned into the mind’s eye by those words which do what a camera does today. Remember, this was written in the early 1800s for an audience who had only seen paintings of tigers. We have the benefit of countless tiger documentaries from which to draw our imagery and connect our memories to those words. The reader of the day had probably never seen a real tiger much less knew any real fear from the fierceness of the beast. When they started making their way into zoos and circuses, the images in the public’s mind started to match the words of the poem.

As magical entertainers, our words can paint a picture which we assist in making real by our props or performance. Who can ever forget the beauty of the effect and the powerful emotions the audience exhibits when watching The Artist’s Dream?

Our words can have a very high degree of influence on our audience and their perception of our performance. Call it what you will, misdirection or redirection, our words can box and frame the thoughts and perceptions of an audience just as quickly as they can ruin an effect. The old adage of “practice makes perfect” applies here most undeniably. We’ve all seen the most horrid magician in the world perform by saying, “I now place this silk into this ordinary box with two doors on the front and two holes on the side.” I don’t know about you but no box I ever owned had two doors on the front of it unless it was quite outside of the ordinary. Thus, the world’s best magician would frame words to the audience and box them into a believable situation for placing “a colorful cloth into this hand crafted, hand painted and exquisitely decorated box conceived as a ‘must have’ accessory for decorating your home.”

It can be something as simple as that which changes an ordinary trick into a routine that will completely captivate, if only for the moment, your audience. When dealing with the darker side of magic and your audience control, some very specific things need to have your attention. Tomorrow, I will give you some advice on this particular skill.

Oct 15

Chalk It Up

When is the last time you saw anyone use chalk in their daily life? Even school teachers are using whiteboard markers and dry erase pens today. Young children only know what it is because they still use it on sidewalks to play hopscotch or other games. How do we as magicians or mentalists justify the use in these modern times of PDAs and paperless offices? It’s a challenge, all right.

A couple of weeks ago, a good friend of mine came over and gave me a wonderful antique locking slate from his collection. My first thoughts after thanking him profusely for this wonderful gift was to wonder what I was going to do with it. I don’t know about you but I can’t simply have one of these in my possession and not use it at least once. Ideally, I would incorporate it permanently into a routine that I could use when the mood was just right. The only sticking point was how to introduce the chalk in a practical and natural manner.

I remember as a child my father marking my height against a door jamb in our family home. To not damage the paint, he used chalk which somehow miraculously stayed on the pastel green paint for years and years. There were four sets of marks for all of us and somehow we all knew which marks were ours. It was great fun and makes a great anecdote but it’s not a practical use of chalk today.

Doodling on the slate, I started playing Tic Tac Toe and the image reminded me of playing darts at the local pub, keeping score on a . . . hold on! The score was being kept on a chalk board! That was my answer! All I had to do was move the discussion and patter I used into the area of a venerable, old fashioned game of darts. It would even be quite fun to have a spectator throw darts on stage and have their score predicted on the slate and sealed in an envelope. The ideas are starting to come now and it won’t be long before I have a routine in place that will make use of this aged but still useful piece of magic apparatus. I’m going to heat up the kettle and have a cup of Earl Grey while I contemplate the rest of this possibility.

And then I’m going out to my storeroom and rummage around in some old trunks I haven’t been in for years. What fun!

Oct 15

Neurolinguistically Speaking

I can’t really say enough about this well known but often misunderstood branch of psychology. Neuro-Linguistic Programming has been around for centuries but it took two men, Bandler and Grinder, to codify and explain the reasons for the use and the workings of NLP. If you don’t have a copy of Frogs Into Princes on your book shelf, you’ve simply missed the start of it all.

Stage performers, production directors, stage managers and floor managers at performances have all innately understood the use of psychology in ensuring that their audiences were in exactly the right place mentally and emotionally during performance. Anyone who ever saw the great Harry Blackstone, Sr perform has seen the practice of NLP carried to the perfect level encouraging, no – forcing, the audience to believe for just a few moments that real magic was happening in front of them. His words and actions were a perfect marriage of control that engaged spectators at a fundamental, root level which gave them no choice but to be in awe of what they witnessed. They used to call it showmanship. Those who know better define it as the rudiments of NLP.