Presentation of AL KORAN'S MAGIC
Nobody could ever accuse Al Koran of under-selling himself. On the other hand, he was never noted to over-do any thing. There was an air of suppression in everything he did. as if there was some store of energy permanently on the verge of being released. His style was lus own and stayed his own, despite the handful of pathetic imitators who turned up on the scene from time to time. The reason Koran was able to sustain his particular method of presentation while others could not was that he saw Style as a direct outcome of intention, and not as a camouflage for one's natural behaviour.
The best presentation for Koran's magic is, undoubtedly, Ids dwii. That does not mean you have to start walking and talking like he did. What it does mean is that the same light and shade should apply, so that the best possible response can be cxlracled from each and every effect. Knowing a secret is one thing, but doing anything effective with it is quite another. In this final chapter, we shall try to dissect the style thai has been an integral part in the creation of every effect in this book. Ttie rules drawn are general ones, as applicable to one I rick us to another.
HANDLING OF PROPS
Koran had some cardinal rules in this area, most of them instinctive. As un individual he was 'with it', he did not suffer from any measurable degree of naivete in any regard, and he never underestimated an audience. For example, you should never, he insisted, pick up a piece of chalk and say, 'Here we have a piece of chalk'. You pick it up and you use it or tell someone else to use it, but you never tell him what it is. If you pick up a slate, on the other hand, before any speculation starts, you tell the audience that it is a slate; however, you do not say. This is a slate'. Rather, you should begin, *1 will use this slate', or, 'I want you to take this slate*. So, a rule emerges. When the object in focus is an ordinary appurtenance, like chalk, a pencil or a piece ol paper, let the audience use their own intelligence. With a prop, by all means name it, but do not make the naming process a bald statement in itself. Using the naming in some phrase that takes the trick a stage further.
Naming is part of handling (in magic), and handling can make or mar any presentation. Always bear in mind that it is not enough to register an effect with an audience. You are out there selling yourself, not the tricks. The people should be impressed by your ability, your image, and not simply by the number of variety of tricks you know. So, when you go through a routine, you go tlirough it as if you knew what you were doing.
For example, try picking up a pack of cards and holding them for a minute. The deck of cards is the most suspect prop in magic. The minute a performer lays hands on a pack, the binoculars are out, everybody is waiting for a false move. If the cards are kept close to the body, with the hands shielding them, half of the spectators will immediately conclude that, however brilliant the subsequent outcome of the trick, it was done with fake cards or some such fiddling.
Hold the pack in such a way that at least two-thirds of the total mass of the deck is in view. Also, keep them well to the fore, not tucked close to your chest. If a move is called for. do it out in the open. Openness is far stronger misdirection than furtiveness. I have seen Koran double-lift slowly and deliberately right beneath a spectator's nose. In the trick called Til find it', you are required to top-palm a card. Try doing this by the furtive technique and they will all sec it. Do it right in front of the audience, when the time is right (and goodness knows the routining allows for this contingency), and no one will be any wiser. This simple fact of doing the dirty work in the open is well known to crooked gamblers and street swindlers. Their survival frequently depends upon it.
Then there is the matter of confidence. You should know every facet of a prop. For example, very few professionals would depend on a prop whose motive force is thread. Thread breaks and tangles and is hard to find if you drop it. Too many variables, all of them difficult to recover from. A pencil is a simple enough tiling, but they break, too, so you should always have more than one. and the substitute should be lying near to hand, not buried in the depths of your pocket, where you have to fumble to get at it.
Playing cards have their snags, too. If you drop a pack you might as well stop right there. Alternatively, you could try to inject a comedy angle, but such a change of boats is unlikely to fool anyone, but you still have cards all over the floor. You must be thoroughly conversant with your pack. Handle it at every opportunity, know what it will do when it is treated in any specific way. Can you tlirow a pack on to a tabic, knowing what it will do when it lands? Or can you drop a whole deck into your pocket, smoothly? Know the cards, how they move and how they react to ordinary and extraordinary handling.
Liquid is a worry, but it should always be remembered that half-filled vessels have a twin advantage: a half-full glass is always seen to contain liquid, whereas, often, a full one does not seem to contain anything. Full glasses or jugs have a five times higher chance of disaster than those only part-filled.
Objects that open, close with a buckle or a lock, need special 1'olding and so on, must be well known, not just nodding acquaintances. You should open a box in a set way, and stick to it. Anything with moving parts must be stardardised as to handling and no variation allowed. That way you gain confidence in something that has become predictable.
And that, above all, is the secret of smooth, confident handling; predictability. If you know what is going to happen when you pick up a prop, if you have absolute confidence that it will do what you expect it to do, then your confidence will show, and that kind of confidence is infectious. You are most of the way towards being a performer admired for his talent.
The primary rule about handling members of the audience is that you should not. By all means lay a comforting hand on a shoulder, but do it fleetingly, do not manhandle anyone. Shaking hands, even, should be reduced to a perfunctory thing, without resort to pumping and knuckle-crushing. When a lady or gentleman comes up to help you, be sure that you know in advance where they have to stand and what precisely they have to do. Your patter should be standardised, and you should know that it is adequate. An awkward or shy spectator can panic and your act can disappear with his or her confidence. Use spectators only when you have to. and never abuse them.
The occasional bright spark, the man who is out to make a name for himself at your expense, is an exception to be flattened at the earliest opportunity. They are never easy but they are always around, and at some time or another every busy performer comes across one. Techniques of handling such people vary with the individual, but a few general rules may help.
Al Koran frequently encountered the loud-mouthed big-spender variety, seated at ringside and anxious to advance his reputation at Koran's expense. AI said he always liked to gel that kind out on the floor, because there, he could pull him apart. Koran did not mean that he would beat-up the spectator, much as lie may have wanted to. He meant that he could deflate the heckler when he got liim away from his cohorts, out of the audience and, literally, on the spot. One technique would be to invite the man to come forward, politely, and give him something to do. Sometimes this was enough, the fellow fell into line under the pressure of having to concentrate on his task. But that was not always enough. Sad to say, we tend to he mealy-mouthed when talking, in print, about the etiquette ol magic. The fact of the matter is, to survive in front of an audience, whether you are a magician or a singer or a dancer or a saxophone player, you must be prepared to use aggression towards awkward spectators, as and when the occasions arise. Part of this can be taken care of by seeing to it that little can be sabotaged by a spectator; if he has to do something for you, no matter how he tries to foul it up, he still ends up by helping you. The other way is humiliation. Short of physical combat, no other avenue is open.
English magicians recently had a rare chance to see this technique at its best when they were entertained by Al Flosso at the Magic Circle in London. An awkward spectator, who persisted in up-staging Flosso, was reduced to a figure of fun in less time than it takes to boil an egg. Here, it is also as well to know how you will proceed well in advance. Do not leave anything to chance. If, for instance, you observe that a spectator is clowning around while you are otherwise engaged, go across to him and say, "Didn't you bring any toys of your own?" or, "If I had realised you had mental trouble, I wouldn't have embarrassed you by getting you up here." If a spectator deliberately does everything wrong or actively tries to damage your routine, turn to the audience and say. apologetically, "I'm sorry about this, but you must bear with me. I promised to keep an eye on him until they'd got ¡lis cage cleaned."
Another useful technique is physical ridicule. If your act is being put in peril, do not hesitate on grounds of good taste; remember, the chances are that you are one of the few people in the room who has any good taste in the first place. Every time the awkward one does something, look meaningfully at the audience, then slip him a sidelong glancc and shrug. In other words, when he does anything he thinks is funny, you steal his laugh, lie will soon stop. If he has a prominently ridiculous feature, whatever ii is, he deserves to have it used against him. All's fair in love and cabaret, it is you or him. When the character lias to move around to do anything, and is thereby damaging your image, ask him, "f)o you usually walk like that, or is it only when other men are watching you?"
Other such remarks are as follows:
- "Does your mother know you're out" ...
- "I knew brain-transplants wouldn't work." ....
- "This must be the only City with a Village Idiot.".....
- "How must do you charge to haunt houses?".....
- "You'd be quite tall if you didn't have so much turned off for feet." ... (Feeling lus lapel)
- "Nice stuff. You should get it made into a jacket."... (Feeling his lapel again)
- "Didn't they have one your size?" ... "Forgive him. Human company's such a novelty for him." If you are heckled directly from the audience, the following may help, delivered with a smile:
- "Sorry, sir. I didn't catch I hat. Would you like to wipe your mouth and say it again?" ..
- "Please don't trifle with me, sir. or I'll have the waiter take away your spoon and pusher." ....
- "Why are you bothering me, sir. when the rest of your outing are quietly making their baskets?" And it' anybody has brought a musical instrument (and it happens) with which they are interrupting the act, just smile and say, "Are you glad you wrote thai letter to Santa?"
On rare occasions a woman will interrupt you. Appeal to her with spread anns. and say. "Please, madam, why do you interfere with me while I'm working? How would you like n if I came round to your place and switched the red lamp off?" A more devastating remark» which has its maximum effect when hurled at an attractive woman, is, "Don't take it out on me, just because the doorman called you 'sir'." There are hundreds of such flatteners, it is up to the performer to pick those he can best deliver.
It should not need mentioning that actual physical disability should never, ever, be mocked. It can bring no credit on a performer and degrades the whole tone of your performance. The ordinary spectator should be treated with the utmost courtesy and always made to feel comfortable. In the main, they will co-operate and they give you a chance to show some courtesy and charm. One final flattener. for the person who is causing real harm: "It isn't his fault, ladies and gentlemen ... He's just not used to wearing shoes."
Correct dress is not just a matter of knowing the right things to wear. You have to remember that fashion does not always accommodate the requirements of a magic act; If you carry body-loads, be sure that you acquire a jacket that will not broadcast the presence of such loads. Do not ever go to extremes, for it is alarming how a with-it suit can look ludicrous under a spotlight. Of the magic acts one sees throughout one year, a primary fault, noticeable right away, is dress. Many magicians seem to have no idea or no regard for the importance of their appearance. By all means get something special, but be sure it suits you. Few people can carry a red tuxedo, for example. The quality of an act, too, is likely to be measured alongside the quality of the performer's clothing. Shakespeare, as usual, has said it for all time: "... Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy, but not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy; For the apparel oft proclaims the man."
For all your work, the bulk of what will be remembered is the way you finish. Every trick must come lu an chaînâtbn p&int, nul petfir out ill a fuw of dois. Therefore, make sure thai when the finish en m es. you are ¡ti a position to make it memorable. Prominence and a clean line, tUat was always Al Koran's rule. 11" the trick has involved a pack of cards, a tin tie and a pencil, hut the (Wie depend? on wliai is written tm .1 f»i#B ÓÍ paptr, then that paper should be I he unty prop in evkknea at the imisli- U is 110 use fíhÍEhírié an effect With an annl ul of props and your body be lit over in an effect to keep it all I rom landing op the tiefer- Keep mo vernein lu 11 minim um us the finals eomes near and try to make sme that nothing blurs the lina I impact. No distracting movements, no danger at' somelhin« falling over. no reaction that is at odds with the nature of the miracle.
Sell »tjursaJf bjg. As i'ar as possible, kttspiriß wiilii» the frame wo ri; of your own persona lily, try to present an image of yourself a* somehow triumphant. Thul is not possible if you aie íinmpered by props or if y oui trousers have slipped down nr it, worst ofali, the ending is so poorjy enginetrttd as to he unclear lo I he audience. Prompt I he applause, by all mu ans: do I h at by react mi; suitably, Go fbçùwird as the climax is achieved, looking triumph an i but not smug. Also, be sure to «how yrai ilude to the audience tor (heir approval. They are die whole reason lor you betnt: there.
To be another Al Koran is not whal you should aún for. He was the product of his personally plus his material. Yuu have his muí!erial, su BP lo work on filling your uwn personality |o the magic that ^ make your name.
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