How many magicians give the subject of stage speech any consideration? I do not mean Elocution, that awful word wh ch too often leads to mouthiness and an irritating "refanement." I mean clarity, fluency and the right emphasis!
When we produce a play, we study each character in order to find out how he would speak. Is he fast or slow? Is he decisive or hesitant? Is he of the country or of the town? We study, too, whether he is an amus ng fellow or serjous-minded. And we always insist that, even if he has to whisper, he must be heard in the back row.
It should be the same with magicians. Yet very frequently magicians seem to think that the trick, the apparatus or the man pulation is all that matters arid that, so long as a few gags are thrown in or that ft is made clear that the tumbler is empty, the actual talk is of quite minor importance.
Apart from the actual support which the right kind of speech gives to a tr ck, there is the value it adds to the performer himself. On several occasions I have been asked by hotel managements and other people needing a more or less intimate magical act to tell them what sort of person So and So is. Invariably they ask "Is he well spoken?" At first, the question may sound snobb'sh; but one has to remember that guests in an hotel, particularly at a time like Christmas, are "regulars" and the gathering js a family affair. Naturally, the management is not prepared to risk having some performer who talks badly and "cheaply" and lets "the party down.
Now, it must not be thought that I am arguing in favour of only one kind of speech, namely, that of the perfect gentleman with all his vowels in good working order and all his consonants nicely precise. Such a person could be a crashing bore. Even when the magical act is "stra gh't," the speech must be easy and friendly, not studied and stiff and "put on". It must never be pompous and superior.
When it comes to comedy, the speech must be in keeping with that particular line of fun. Yet, unless the performer is portraying some specific character such as a cowboy or a Cockney spiv, there is no need to get "loud" or crude. Somehow, evening dress doesn t go well with screams and giggles and "Nah—wotcher think o' that—eh, boys and girls?"
There is no need to be alarmed if you have an accent or dialect. Both can be turned to account. Nothing is so false as to find, say, a Scotsman trying to speak Standard English. It destroys his basic personality. Dialect is a language. Accent is different and can, of course, be a very slovenly thing and ugly. A wise move is to make a gramophone record of your normal speaking voice. At least it will surprise you!
If you have dialect or accent, use it. Be frank about it. Get in first by sayjng something like "This rabbit, like me, was born and bred in Birmingham. That's why we both have big ears!"
I have already suggested that you should relate the speed of your speech to the pace of your act. But vary it. Nothing is so monotonous as a speaker who keeps to one speed only, whether that speed ¡s fast or slow. Increase the speed as you are reaching a dramatic climax; decrease it when you want some specific action to sink in. You will thus get variety, and variety js the very essence of good "theatre".
Mumbling, or semi-audibility, is a particular crime among magicians. The reason is that attention is being drawn away from your personality by the apparatus or objects you are using; whereas in a play attention is being drawn to you by what you are saying. Probably only half your mouth is visible when you are directing attention to that box or handkerchief. Hence, keep in your imagination that girl who is sitt ng in the back row and is just as much entitled to hear you as th^ people in the front row. Think of her, and open your mouth. Preferably talk with an upward curve of speech, so that a sentence ends on a slightly higher note than the preceding "two or three words. In short, the exact opposite of dropping your voice at the end of sentences so that the last word or two fades away and are dramatically ineffective.
Study the dramatic pause, the most valuable of all vocal effects in the theatre. Very few amateurs know anything about this! They run on their lines as if they were reading them from a book half stopping at 'he commas and only waiting for a moment at the full stops. Everything on a stage should be said as though it was springing from w thin and being said for the very first time; and not as though ¡t had been learned.
For example, if you are introducing two little figures, don't say (all in one breath) "This one is Archie and this one is Edward". Make a break between "is" and "Archie", and another break between "is" and "Edward". It will then come over as a sort of introduction and give both the r names significance. Thus: "This one is—Archie; and this one is—Edward".
That is a very simple illustration. The dramatic pause, properly controlled, can be extended. It makes all the difference between mechanical speech and something delightfully conversational In any case, it is more natural. Listen to any two lively people talking and you will realise how they give point to what they are saying by the little breaks they make.
AND DON'T TALK INTO THE FLOOR ! Those people out there are your guests for the time being. ...
Hamlet knew all about it when he instructed the Players who came to Elsjnore. The opening lines of Act 3, Scene 2 of "Hamlet" still have the best advice ever given to performers, whether they be conjurers, actors or those gentlemen who lecture to us in magical circles.
IN THE NEXT ISSUE : Knowing your audience.
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