THE CHINAMAN, THE GHOST AND THE CAT A Chinese Fantasy
In this lesson we will take up the art of pantomime in illusions. There is an excellent opportunity for the modern day magician to clothe his illusions with a pantomime story. In this way what might be used for an illusion lasting for a few moments can be lengthened to an illusion story, an act or almost an act in itself. Cabinets as commonly used in illusion work are employed to vanish, to make appear or exchange one or more people. A great deal more interest and showmanship could be evolved if the vanishing or "appearing" act could be the part of a story and worked into the dramatic. There are times when a speedy production or "vanish" is essential, but there is also occasion for a story worked out in illusion form.
Who will ever forget the interesting illusion of "The Watchman, the Sailor and Monkey" as performed by Kellar? Around one illusion cabinet a whole act was built, and a mysterious one. I was yet a boy when I first saw it, but I can never forget the lasting impression that it made upon me.
With a bit of thought and ingenuity a commonplace piece of apparatus can often be turned into an unusually interesting piece of entertainment. This is where YOUR individuality comes into play — there is no limit to what you can do - no limit to the big name and success you can make for yourself.
I have often looked over stage settings back of the scenes between shows and thought, - is it possible that by putting these things into story form and combining them with living people such an interesting show can be brought forth. What a difference just a lighting effect may mean, a bit of music, and the art of the players!
There is nothing particularly interesting in an illusion cabinet itself, but the interest arises in what you are able to do with it. The same cabinet might form the basis for a hundred different stories.
"The Chinaman, the Ghost and the Cat" was originally produced by me for a Chinese stage presentation in one of the larger moving picture theatres of Chicago. The stage was set with an orchestra or band, and I had to get some sort of a Chinese fantasy blended in in front of the orchestra strong enough to become a feature number. Of course, in the up-to-date moving picture houses there is a great chance to make use of the beautiful lighting effects.
One of the most successful effects I ever worked out was to have the orchestra start a Chinese number, and while they were playing have lights gradually dimmed into the blues and the pinks, and at the same time have two cabinets eased onto the stage, revolved around and placed about twelve feet apart on the stage. Gradually the orchestra was toned down with the lights, and cabinets brought out a bit. The larger cabinet was gradually illuminated with a spot light and the illusion started. As each figure appeared, it was followed by a different colored spot light. There were bands of light thrown across the stage to illuminate the figures as they appeared on certain parts of the stage. The result was a very colorful, fantastic illusion that was an act in itself and one of the prettiest pieces of color in the stage presentation. The fantasy seemed to evolve from nowhere and disappeared accordingly. Not a word was spoken. It could have been a dream.
For another stage presentation, I would redecorate the cabinets on outside and with a different story present an entirely different stage atmosphere. Naturally the position of the cabinets would vary and an extra piece of illusion material added as needed.
With the romantic picturesqueness of the many countries, beautiful pantomime illusions could be worked up. The principle can be utilized in so many effects. Perhaps in some instances the cabinets could be built to resemble small houses, tents, etc.
Audiences are hungry for novelty and it is a wise magician who will dress up his act with novel picturesqueness. This tends to put you in the PRODUCTION class where real money lies in the show business.
Here is a chance to use your IMAGINATION and build up a pantomimic novelty on picturesque lines.
In the meantime, let us go into the details of "The Chinaman, the Ghost and the Cat" and see how the illusion is built and how the various appearances, disappearances and changes are accomplished. You will also note that only three characters are used. I will first describe the effect as seen by the audience.
Two cabinets about ten to twelve feet apart are seen facing the audience. The smaller one at the left has a front door which is closed, while the cabinet at the right has no door, but audience can look inside. However, there is a curtain which can be closed or opened at will. The larger cabinet is empty. The performer enters, dressed in long cloak and hat with feather in it. He carries rather small treasure chest. He places this on floor. He removes from pocket of cloak a professional looking beard such as a doctor might wear, and slips it on. Then readjusts hat. Then revolves cabinet enough for audience to see rear and that nothing is concealed. He brings cabinet back to original position. He picks up chest and steps into cabinet. Suddenly the curtain starts to slowly close, screening the inside of cabinet. This is a weird effect, as no one is near to close it.
The curtain opens again and there stands a Chinaman holding a treasure chest. He gazes about, then quietly steps out of cabinet onto floor. Still looking about, he spies the smaller cabinet. He goes over and opens its front door. It is empty. He steps up into the cabinet and opens the back doors. He steps out at rear and examines cabinet carefully. He closes the rear door, then coming to front, places the treasure chest in the cabinet and closes the door.
He starts back to the larger cabinet, but notices the curtain slowly closing. He hesitates. Curtain opens again revealing a ghost-like figure in the cabinet. Chinaman slinks back to side of cabinet out of the way while ghost steps down on floor and sort of glides over to the smaller cabinet. It opens the door and sees the treasure chest. It picks it up, steps into the small cabinet and closes the door after it. Chinaman rushes over to the cabinet and opens door suddenly, only to find that ghost and chest have both disappeared. Amazed at the loss of his chest, he closes the door and starts for the larger cabinet. But again the curtain slowly closes and opens again revealing a large catlike figure in the cabinet. The cat looks around, but does not see the Chinaman. He gets down from cabinet and goes to his left and around cabinet to rear. Chinaman follows him. Cat comes on back of smaller cabinet and looks at it, then down front and turning and seeing Chinaman behind him, he rushes into the cabinet and closes curtain after him. Chinaman also rushes in after him into the cabinet.
The curtain slowly opens and neither cat nor Chinaman are within the cabinet. Curtain closes again.
Just then the door of the smaller cabinet opens, and out comes the cat with the treasure chest. He looks around, then dances around in center of stage and cuts up antics over his luck. During these antics the curtain of larger cabinet opens again and the ghost appears. It comes down to center of stage behind the cat. The cat does not see him. Suddenly ghost touches cat's shoulder with his ghostly hand. The cat gives a move of amazement and surprise. Upon seeing the ghost he makes a run for the small cabinet. He gets inside and closes the door quickly after him. Ghost goes over and opens door showing that the cat has disappeared. Over in the other cabinet the curtain is thrust aside enough to have the cat stick his head out and wave at the ghost. As ghost starts for cat, the cat disappears. Curtain opens showing cabinet empty. Ghost looks in and about cabinet. As it does this, the door of other cabinet opens and cat sneaks out and grabs chest and slips back into cabinet. Ghost finds chest has vanished, so it then comes over to smaller cabinet and, in looking for treasure chest, opens cabinet showing it empty. Ghost, shaking head, glides off the stage. The door of smaller cabinet opens and cat appears with chest and after looking about, starts for other cabinet. He places chest on floor and waves his hand at the cabinet. The curtain closes. Just then a shot is heard as performer enters from side of stage, dressed in cloak and feathered hat and beard as at the beginning. Cat sees performer and rushes into cabinet behind curtain. Curtain opens showing cabinet empty. Performer removes beard and hat and shows he is really the performer. He picks up chest and exits. Or curtain goes down as he bows.
4 -- Treasure Chest.
5 -- Revolver with blank cartridges.
This is in reality the Protean cabinet of Servais LeRoy, and a valuable illusion cabinet, as it will hold three people self-contained, allowing cabinet to be revolved freely with front of cabinet opened.
Fig. 1 shows a side view of cabinet.
Fig. 2 shows a rear view.
Fig. 3 shows a front view with curtain pulled across the opening.
The cabinet is mounted on four legs, each having a castor.
Fig. 4 shows a cross section looking from above downwards. It also gives dimensions of the cabinet. There are in reality two compartments in the cabinet, though audience sees only one. The rear compartment is about ten inches deep. The partition between the two compartments is really composed of two swinging doors. These are mounted on spring hinges or a long door spring is attached from each door to back of cabinet so that doors automatically swing back into place when opened. At top cabinet a ledge is arranged so that door will only swing back to a specified distance. A small knob (must be invisible to audience) is attached to outside of each door so doors can be readily opened. This is a matter of convenience.
For convenience also I suggest peep holes in the cabinet, one in each door and two in wall on cabinet. This is so that parties concealed in cabinet will have a chance to look out at times to catch the action of a pantomime. The peep holes do not have to be very large, yet plenty large to get proper vision.
The front curtain is supported on rings and the rings in turn threaded on a metal bar which runs across front of cabinet near top. As the curtain silently opens and closes, apparently by itself, a special system must be employed. Fig. 5 shows the details. A fish cord is run from the compartment in rear from the right side (directions figured as assistant stands in cabinet facing front of stage) up through a staple near top of cabinet through a hole in door to and through a staple up in front corner of front compartment and then over to the third ring of curtain where it is securely attached. It is attached to third ring instead of first so as to allow slack in curtain so it will fully close. Then cord goes to and through staple on other side of cabinet in front corner, then through a
hole in left door and through a staple on left side of inner compartment. Each end of cord in inner compartment hangs down a bit and to each end a few washers, to form a weight, are used. Washers should be padded with cloth to prevent a noise when accidentally striking against wall of cabinet. Experimenting will show length of cord to be used. The end on right side when pulled closes curtain, while the end on left side, when pulled, opens the curtain. As curtain is controlled from inner compartment, the control is not observed by audience and therefore from the front curtain seems to mysteriously open and close of its own accord as though controlled by peculiar forces.
The inside of the cabinet is lined with a figured cretonne. Preferably one that also has a stripe in it which runs up and down. Figured cretonne, while keeping cabinet light inside, also helps to confuse the eye in depth. A person looking into cabinet sees the two doors separating the compartments, but he thinks he sees the rear of the cabinet. The outside can be decorated in good taste.
Three people can be hidden in the concealed compartment. Cabinet is made to break down for packing by using bolts and wing nuts or pin hinges.
This is a similar cabinet to Cabinet A, but smaller and with the addition that it has a back door which can be opened and the audience can look through the cabinet. Yet in a moment cabinet can be changed to a type of cabinet as Cabinet A for concealing a person in a rear compartment. I have puzzled some pretty good magical minds with this cabinet. The small size of cabinet and the opening of the rear door and looking through cabinet threw them off the track and when I would revolve cabinet with front door open they wondered just where assistant was.
Fig. 6 shows a front view of cabinet. Rear view is the same.
Fig. 7 shows a side view. Fig. 8 gives a cross section.
The cabinet is 24 inches wide and about 35 inches deep. On the right side of cabinet (directions figured by assistant being in cabinet and facing front) is a door which is hinged at its rear edge and which swings across cabinet, thus making two compartments in the cabinet. The whole inside of cabinet, as well as both sides of inner door, is lined with figured cretonne, preferably with stripes running up and down and plenty of flowered figures. The idea is to confuse the eye so that when front door is opened and audience looks
into cabinet it cannot tell whether it sees the rear door or the inner door about ten inches in front of it. In this way a person can step into cabinet after having shown cabinet empty first by opening front and rear door and closing them again, and then pulling inner door in front of him. When magician opens cabinet, audience thinks they see rear of cabinet when in reality it is the inner door and thinks assistant has vanished from cabinet.
There is a small ledge of wood on side of cabinet to prevent inner door from swinging back too far. On inner door is a small latch, hook or piece of cord to enable assistant to easily pull door from side of cabinet and in front of him.
There should also be a catch on rear door to hold it tightly closed. A hook of some sort on outside will answer the purpose.
Front door should also have a catch so that it will not open prematurely. A spring wedge would answer the purpose, something to bind door a bit.
The outside of the cabinet is decorated similar to Cabinet A. Cabinet is made to break down for packing by using bolts and wing nuts or pin hinges.
THE TREASURE CHEST:
This is merely a wooden box about 8 x 8 x 15 inches. Figs. 9 and 10. On one end of box is hinged lid held in place with a hook and eye or catch of some kind to hold lid shut.
The box is painted up like a treasure chest. The opening is at one end for convenience. The idea of the box is to conceal a ghost uniform in at the proper time and must be of such size that a ghost helmet, coat and bootees can be slipped into same. There can be a handle on each end for convenience in handling. Handles can be of leather or just metal rings stapled on.
COSTUMES: FOR PERFORMER:
2 - Black hat with red feather. Fig. 11 (also duplicate hat).
3 - Pair of pumps or oxfords that can be easily slipped off.
4 - False beard with mustache attached. Figs. 11 and 12. Should be a professional type of beard such as a doctor might wear. Mounted on wire for quick attachment over ears (also duplicate beard).
5 - Chinese wig with hat attached. Fig. 13. The front of wig comes down over eyebrows; Chinese eyebrows are painted on wig.
6 - Chinese mustache, with wire to be clipped in nose to keep mustache in place. Fig. 14.
9 - Pair of Chinese slippers.
10 — A white ghost uniform of white muslin consisting of helmet with two eye holes, a cloak, Fig. 16, and a pair of bootees, Fig. 17. There is a band of elastic in top of each bootee to hold them in place on legs.
FOR ASSISTANT ONE:
1 — Cat uniform made of black plush. Fig. 18. The paws have cloth on inside where palms of hands and bottom of feet come. There is a slit cut in palm of each paw so hands can be slipped through easily when necessary. Fig. 20. The helmet or head may vary as in Fig. 19, and he can wear a cat facial mask. The tail should be shortened or sewn against leg or fastened to back so it will be out of the way.
2 - A ghost outfit with bootees the same as performer has, Figs. 16 and 17.
FOR ASSISTANT TWO:
1 - A cat outfit in duplicate of Assistant One's. The two assistants must look just as much alike as possible with the cat uniforms on.
NOTE: If you find cat uniforms too hard to get, you can use some other character instead of a cat, perhaps a monkey. You might buy or rent costumes from a professional costumer. Even a Chinese Pirate type would be good with eye piece over one eye, a bandage or handkerchief around his head. He must be an entirely different type than the other Chinaman.
Whatever type of character is chosen, the two assistants must be made up exactly alike.
GETTING READY TO PERFORM:
Fig. 21 shows stage arrangement and position of the cabinets. Cabinet A, the larger, is at the left, and Cabinet B, the smaller, is at the right.
To begin with, Cabinet B at right is empty. Inner door is pushed up against side of cabinet out of the way.
Inside of Cabinet A on the rear of inner compartment are small nails or hooks on which to hang clothes.
In Cabinet A the performer's ghost outfit is hung so it can be easily gotten at. Also the Chinese wig with cap attached. On floor are the Chinese slippers, at center, easy to get at.
Both the assistants are in the inner compartment of Cabinet A. Fig. 22.
Assistant No. 1 has his cat outfit on and over it the ghost uniform.
Assistant No. 2 has on the cat uniform.
The curtain of Cabinet A is open and audience can look in cabinet from the beginning. The doors of Cabinet B are closed.
Performer is offstage, at left. He has on the Chinaman's coat. His regular dark trousers answer for Chinaman's later on. He wears pumps and carries feathered hat in hand. In his right pocket is the false beard and in his left one the Chinese mustache. He wears a cloak over the Chinese coat. He carries the empty treasure chest. A cloak, feathered hat and beard are on chair off stage at right near front wings. Also a regular coat he wears, and a revolver (22-caliber) loaded with blanks.
Curtain goes up.
You come out with cloak carrying treasure chest in left hand and feathered hat in your right.
You come in front of Cabinet B, and after slight bow of acknowledgment to audience to be sure everyone recognizes you, you place treasure chest on floor. From your right hand pocket remove the beard and adjust the wires over ears. Place hat on head.
Look at cabinet. Revolve it slightly so that audience can see there is nothing at rear. Place cabinet back into position. Pick up the treasure chest and, looking at it a moment, step into Cabinet B, Fig. 23. Your back is toward the audience.
When you enter cabinet, assistant No. 1 pulls cords at right and pulls curtain slowly shut. Fig. 24.
The moment curtain is closed, assistant No. 2 (the cat) opens door and hands you the Chinese wig and pushes Chinese slippers out.
You quickly place chest on the floor. Then remove hat and beard. Beard goes into right cloak pocket. Give hat to assistant. Remove Chinese mustache from cloak and place wire clips in nose. Remove cloak and hand it to assistant to hang on ready hook. Remove pumps or oxfords and quickly slip into Chinese slippers. Put on the Chinese wig by pushing front against forehead and then over back of head. Assistants get everything out of way as quickly as possible and close inner doors. You pick up chest and face front of cabinet.
Assistant No. 2 pulls cord at left and opens curtain.
Instead of the performer a moment ago in cabinet, audience now sees a Chinaman with the chest. Fig. 25.
NOTE: This change should be well rehearsed so as to make the quickest change possible. If the assistants are trained to help you, you can speed matters. If you care to, when curtain is closed, a shot can be fired by one assistant through front peep hole in side of cabinet with small calibered revolver.
And possibly a second shot.
Needless to say, No. 22 blanks are used.
Chinaman, you can crouch a bit. Your disguise should lead audience to think you are a different character. You must lead them to think you have disappeared and Chinaman has taken your place and obtained possession of the treasure box.
You come down out of cabinet slowly, then look and go to left, then to right. Sort of slink and crouch along. You go over to Cabinet B and place
box on floor. Open front door of cabinet. Look inside. Step into cabinet and then push open back door and get down on floor at rear of cabinet. Look at inside of cabinet. Fig. 26.
Close the back door and see that it is held tight with catch. You have hook on door to hold it secure.
Come around right side of cabinet and, picking up treasure chest, place it in cabinet. Fig. 27. As you do this, the curtain in Cabinet A mysteriously closes and ghost gets into position in front compartment.
You close front door of Cabinet B and go over toward Cabinet A. You note closed curtain, then see it opening. You slink over to right side of Cabinet A while curtain opens revealing the ghost in the cabinet. Fig. 28.
The ghost steps out of cabinet and, looking about, glides over to Cabinet B and opens the door and sees the treasure chest. He picks it up and looks at it, then gets into the cabinet with it, Fig. 29, and pulls front door shut. When front door is securely shut, he steps to rear of cabinet and places chest on floor at right while he pulls inner door across cabinet and in front of him.
You go over to Cabinet B (use a
Chinese step with crouched position of body) and open door suddenly. Fig. 30. The ghost has vanished. You close door again. As you do so, the curtain in Cabinet A closes. Cat comes out of rear compartment and in readiness. You go again toward
Cabinet A and see curtain closed. You go back to right side of cabinet as curtain opens and the cat is revealed. Fig. 31.
In this case cat will have to open curtain himself, as there is no one in rear compartment to control it.
Cat is somewhat crouched over. He looks about, gets down out of cabinet. He goes around the left side. The performer comes around the front side of cabinet cautiously. The cat goes to rear of cabinet and stage with you a few feet behind. Cat goes around rear of Cabinet B, looks it over and then around right of cabinet in front and then to center of stage.
While all this is going on, the ghost assistant in Cabinet B pushes inner door back into place and then removes his ghost outfit and places it in the treasure chest, hooking lid securely. If necessary, have a flashlight so as to aid him in his work. This can be permanently fastened in rear of cabinet on right hand side and covered with cretonne. Flash points downward. When through, turn off light again.
The ghost is now a cat, a duplicate of the other on stage.
When cat is at center of stage, he hesitates and listens, then turns and sees
Chinaman. Cat runs into Cabinet A and pulls curtain closed. He then goes into secret compartment. You look about a moment, then rush into cabinet by lifting curtain a bit. Go into inner compartment. Cat pulls cord at right side and opens curtain mysteriously.
You can give a sharp whistle as you enter Cabinet B to give signal to cat in Cabinet B that all is well in a moment, for him to come out.
Door of Cabinet B slowly opens and cat sticks his head out cautiously. The effect is that cat which disappeared just a moment before in Cabinet A has suddenly appeared in Cabinet B. Cat opens door and steps out. He is holding the chest of "money." Fig. 32.
The moment front door of Cabinet B opens, the curtain in Cabinet A is pulled shut. You come into front compartment. Remove the Chinese slippers and put on your pumps or oxfords. Over these slip the bootees. Remove Chinese mustache and wig and slip them into pocket of cloak hanging up. Put on the ghost cloak and finally the helmet. Assistant can help you.
While you are doing this and getting ready to appear as the ghost which vanished in Cabinet B, the cat from Cabinet B is having a good time with the treasure chest. He comes to center of stage between stage and
cuts up antics. He can kick up his legs and go round on all fours and cross his forelegs, then his hind legs. He can get a lot of comedy out of the right kind of antics, especially if he is well gotten up as a cat.
NOTE: In case another character is used instead of a cat, and not an animal, he can do investigation work then or some sort of a magic stunt to stall for time.
When you are set to appear as ghost, the assistant in rear compartment pulls cords and curtains open. You step down out of cabinet. Cat should have his back to you. You glide over to cat and stand beside him. He does not see you, but cuts up just the same. Fig. 33. The ghost standing beside the cat is a good chance for comedy because of the imaginative expectation of what cat's expression will be when he sees ghost.
Ghost touches cat on shoulder. Cat stops a moment, but still does not see ghost. Comedy can be had by having ghost keep close to cat and keep at his back. When cat looks to left, ghost is over at right. Ghost touches cat on other side, then shifts to left side again. Cat turns and sees nothing. Ghost touches cat on left shoulder. Finally cat sees ghost and makes a bee line for Cabinet B, getting inside and closing door quickly after him. Cat pulls inner door in front of him. You go to Cabinet B and quickly open door showing cat has vanished.
In the meantime curtain has closed over in Cabinet A and other cat gets into front compartment. He looks through peep hole in cabinet and when ghost has opened door of Cabinet B, he sticks his head from out of Cabinet A pushing curtain only slightly aside without disturbing rings at top. He waves his left hand at ghost. Fig. 34.
Apparently cat which disappeared in Cabinet B has appeared over in Cabinet A.
Cat in Cabinet A drops curtain and goes to rear compartment. He pulls cord and curtain mysteriously opens revealing cabinet empty. Ghost comes over to Cabinet A in meantime and it is while he stands near it that curtain opens. He looks into cabinet and on each side. He gets into cabinet and looks around. While he is doing this in cabinet, the door of Cabinet B slowly opens and cat sticks his head out and looks around. Not seeing ghost (for ghost is looking around in Cabinet A at the time)
cat comes and gets the treasure chest and rushes back into Cabinet B and closes door. The ghost comes out of Cabinet A, still looking around, and goes to get the treasure chest, but finds it gone. He goes to Cabinet B and opens the door, but it too is empty. He closes door again, goes around the right side of cabinet and off the right side of stage at rear.
You are now offstage. So you come around to front and quickly remove the ghost outfit and
Chinaman's coat, slipping into your own coat, if handy, then don the beard, feathered hat and cloak similar to the one you first entered cabinet with.
While you are changing, the door of Cabinet B opens and cat comes out with the treasure chest. He looks around and starts toward Cabinet B. His exit from cabinet and movement about stage should be somewhat slow.
When cat is over near Cabinet A, he places treasure chest on floor, then looks around at Cabinet A. He waves his hand and curtain closes. He waves his hand and curtain opens. He waves again and it closes. This is to stall for time while you are changing costumes. Finally you rush in from right side of stage and fire pistol in air. The cat turns, sees performer and lifts curtain and darts into Cabinet A. He goes into rear compartment and curtain slowly opens showing the cat is gone. You come over, pick up treasure chest, bring it forward, then remove your hat and beard, showing audience that it is you. If you care to, you can also slip off cloak or let it fall open. You bow as curtain descends.
At the FINISH, you stand alone as in the beginning, and the cabinets are both apparently empty.
If it is just as easy for you to use four people in the illusion instead of three, you can vary the modus operandi a bit. You could have another assistant play the part of the Chinaman. He, together with ghost and cat, is hidden in secret compartment of Cabinet A. When you enter cabinet at first and curtain is closed, the Chinaman comes out and you take his place in rear compartment. This allows for quick change. When it comes time for you to appear as ghost, you can dress easily in front compartment with curtain closed. You hang hat and cloak in rear of cabinet. Or, if you care to, you can come out of cabinet as an entirely different sort of character and go off the stage. The Chinaman in that case goes through the routine of finally becoming the ghost.
There are so many possibilities in an illusion of this kind that an ingenious magician can work out a most mystifying routine of action to prevent slowing down of the illusion. There must be something going on throughout the illusion for audience to see. When no-one is on stage, the time should not be too long, as every second seems like many.
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