The Cigarette through Shirt as Misdirection for Extensive Thievery

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When I perform the cigarette-through-shirt, I do so in order to provide light relief from what niay have been a series of fairly intense effects. To add to its impact, I relieve the spectator of as many belongings as I can according to a well-planned scheme which I shall describe here. Both the cigarette effect and the steals are performed as light relief - this is a more traditional setting for pick- pocketing, but I describe it here to show how much can be achieved in a short space of time and as an example of working out cover and misdirection.

Imagine performing this classic trick without any altering of the effect or complicating of the presentation, and as a final climax, being able to hand the spectator his wallet, cufflinks, keys, tie, watch and belt! It can all be done smoothly alongside the standard method for the cigarette effect without interfering with the trick.

Here is the routine as I perform it. The thumbtip is in my right jacket pocket.

I finish my preceding effect and allow for a moment of gravity to settle. Usually there is a cigarette already lit to use here, otherwise I would now ask for one to be lit for me. I keep the tone serious. When I am ready to start, I rub my hands gleefully and say enthusiastically to the gentleman sitting next to me (who has the items about him to steal), "Right! Let's do this!" I stand, and pull him to his feet. The sudden shift in my mood knocks him slightly off-guard, which facilitates the first steal: that of the watch. As I lift him to his feet, I take his wrists and move him to a position where everyone can see him clearly. As I do so, I may say, "Mind that nodding in the direction of drinks or imaginary items on the floor, to keep him distracted from the steal that is taking place. I pocket the watch.

Next comes the tie. First I look to see if the knot is biased towards the right or left, and then stand on that side. Generally this will be his left hand side (my right) and the side that the steal must be made. When this is the case I place my right hand on his shoulder near the collar and allow my thumb to slip straight under it and the tie.

"1 must ask you to trust me here,.. I'm not going to embarrass you at all, or do anything unsavoury, but 1 am going to just untuck the very bottom of your shirt. Is that okay with you?" As I say this, my left hand travels to the bottom end of the tie and holds it for a moment. My right thumb lifts the co]lar and the thumb and forefinger grab the tie at the side of the neck. Very quickly, I pull out the tie, feeding the thin length back over his shoulder in two bursts. The thin end of the tie should feed up through the knot, but it should not, ideally, pull right through. With this done, I let the collar fall back if I need to, leaving the slack over the back of his neck. The tie still looks fine from the front, When I ask if it is okay to untuck the shirt, I only look at him briefly, then my eyes return to the bottom of his shirt. His answer gives a helpful moment of pause for me to pull at the collar, but I do not want him looking up at me, where my hand movement will be in the periphery of his vision.

I leave the tie in this position, and untuck the shirt. If he hasn't already, I tell him to suck in his stomach. Presuming that the shirt is big enough to provide cover (this works well with a jumper), my left fourth and fifth fingers undo the belt buckle. It is only worth attempting to take the belt if it is reasonably thin and its owner not too corpulent. (We must remember that some people, known as 'shut-ins' become so tragically overweight that they are unable to leave their own homes). The end of the belt will have a tendency to poke out unless it is pulled right through the buckle at this point. The left free fingers poke the end of the strap back into the belt loop of the trousers for the time being, keeping the buckle pin pointing safely the wrong way. The sucking-in of the stomach is always perlormed by a male spectator, and facilitates automatically the unfastening of the belt. In this contracted position, they do not feel it.

Tie and belt are ready to be stolen, but now we turn our attention to the pocket items. I open the side of his jacket nearest me, which is his left. I ask him to hold it out, and to do the same with the other side. My right hand goes into his outer left pocket and steals anything there while he holds it in position. If his arm is in the way, I simply tell him to hold the jacket higher up. I place the stolen items in my right pocket, and secure the thumbtip. This is all hidden from the spectators by the flap of the jacket.

I then proceed with the effect. So far, I have done nothing more than stand a spectator in position, untuck his shirt-front, and ask him to hold his jacket open. Even if I were not pick-pocketing, I would have appeared to have done the same. Each move necessary for the extensive steals is well-hidden amongst the actions necessary for the cigarette effect. The steals simply exploit them.

The remaining moves will happen in the moments of relaxation, amazement and mirth following the climax of the cigarette vanish. It is therefore vita! that the trick is performed and acted convincingly, to provide the necessary tension that will afford a good psychologically invisible moment after it has finished.

After the cigarette has vanished, the left hand remains under the shirt, and the right retains the tip. "Dops, I have made a little burn," I say, and as the spectator looks down, I dump the prosthetic demidigit into my pocket. Trying to complete the steals with it on would create the same feeling of tactile detachment associated with rubber sheaths of any kind. The group will be on tenterhooks, wondering where the cigarette has gone. I lower the shirt-flap over the buckle of the belt, which I have managed to flatten. The belt must be taken last, because it is the only steal that may be felt at the last minute. I move around to his other side, as he drops his jacket and looks for the cigarette. I innocently say, "I didn't get any ash on you, did I?" In so saying, I casually open his right jacket side to show the shirt more clearly (as if we are both looking for any signs of the cigarette) and steal from that outside pocket.

I am now ready to show the stolen pocket items. The return of goods must be maximised to the greatest effect. The more you can show, the better. I give him back something from the first pocket-steal, and apologise for somehow having it in my possession. Then any other items are returned. As I give them back, I name various other pockets from where I pretend to have stolen them. Thus they believe that I had stolen from trouser pockets, and inside pockets too. I have them replace them items in the pockets I say, but I supposedly return one to the inner right pocket myself. Rather than actually place the item there, I use an idea of James Freedman's and merely mime the placement, pulling the jacket only a little way from the body and pulling down on the pocket with my forefinger. To the spectator, it feels as if the item has been replaced. However, 1 then release the item altogether and catch it at the base of the jacket with my left hand which awaits it. Therefore I can return it again, after a few more items have been replaced. "You want to put that away more carefully," I say, giving it back, allowing him to think that he had replaced it himself. A subtle but effective point.

After the pocket items, I will take cufflinks if they are worn. I go to the spectator's right arm, and lift it at the wrist, pulling the sleeve back just a little and saying, 'Didn't you have a very expensive watch on?" Because I am holding the right arm, he wifi immediately go to his left, which is actually where he wore it. It seems as ff1 have just lifted the wrong arm, or that he himseLf is not sure on which wrist he wore it. My right hand steadies the cuff while my left fingers open the T-bar and pull it swiftly through. His attention is now on the other arm where the watch should be. I feign amazement and reach across to take the wrist that is missing the watch. "Has it gone?" I ask. "Can you remember what it looked like?" Because I am still towards his right side, he naturally looks away from the wrist to answer my question. I push the remaining cufflink through and pocket them as I reach into my pocket and remove the watch.

Throughout this nonsense, the group will be laughing and enjoying the predicament of their friend and my skills. It is important that I take an almost apologetic tone with this type of routine and keep him from feeling too humiliated by the happenings. The return of the watch, however, should get me a round of applause. I build it up a little, and withdraw it slowly from the pocket. I move around to his left side as I display it to the group and to him, and as I give it back I give him a consoling squeeze on the shoulder and relax. This provides a good 'off-beat' to place my hand on his chest across the chest for a second and pull the very end of the material through the knot. The tie knot should remain in place, but the loose end simply hangs down his back.

Now to finish. The returning of the items is apparently over, I thank the group and the spectator, and invite him to sit back down. My right arm comes across his chest to his right shoulder, pushing him back gently, as I ask where he was sat. At the same time, my left hand grabs the belt end, and pulls it out of the loop where it has been resting, then grabs the buckle. I turn around with the belt buckle in my hand, snaking the belt out of his trousers and around my body in a figure-eight movement. This is seen by the group and is definitely played for laughs. I am now on his right side, holding up the belt. 1 apologise profusely, and place it with my right hand across his body into his left, In the action of doing so, I block his downwards view with my right arm, and my left simultaneously comes in, grabs the tie near the knot, and pulls it towards me, over and free of his shoulder. I push it into my left pocket, blocked from the view of the spectators by my body, as I thank him for being a marvellous sport and invite him to sit. I take my applause, although this is something of a false ending, and at the right moment I go for the overkill and produce the tie. If the knot is still in place, I sometimes hold the thin end behind the knot and grip the whole thing there as if were still tied. I pretend to unfasten it as I hand it back. That sparks off some very bewildered conversations later.

A lot, you'll agree, to get out of a thumbtip.

Unnerving Reveals

The previous routine, as I was kind enough to point out, is designed as an entertaining piece of hilarity. Clearly, most of the time, the spectator won't have a tie, cufflinks, jacket and belt I describe the full, potential routine with maximum number of steals. It does not, however, resonate that unnerving power that we would wish for it to stand as a proud example of Real Magic realised.

This is where I would like to expand the point that a steal does not have to be played for laughs. Presuming that we have already wandered from the traditional path and not allowed the audience to see that an item has been stolen, we have the possibility of revealing the steal in a more serious and unsettling way than with the line "Is this your wallet, Sir?"

If you have stolen a valuable and personal item from a person, you have performed a very disturbing act. Because you are known to be a magician, you will not land yourself in trouble or genuinely upset anybody when you reveal what you have done. Therefore we are in a situation where rather than merely playing for amusement, we can orchestrate disturbing and unsettling magic without causing any upset.

It has been a theme of this book that magic is purely what you communicate it to be. You can presume that it is serious and powerful and act accordingly, which is the priority that concerns us here. The same must now apply to the return of a stolen item. Producing a person's wallet will generate in them a moment of confusion. As with any moment of magic, the bewildered spectator experiences a rush of conflicts, which need some resolution, The context that you provide for them will give them the answers they need. If you sell your magic as entirely safe and not at all worrying, then they wifi not find that moment disturbing in the least. If, however, your character as a performer encourages them to perceive a gentle note of threat in what you do, then they as they search for answers in those moments of confusion, they will look in darker and more emotive areas and find any resolution less comfortable. This is surely preferable.

So you can resist the urge to make a joke out of producing a watch or wallet from your pocket aix! handing it back. For example, in the classic watch reveal, our 'safe' magician might ask, "Do you have the time?" The spectator would look at his wrist, and experience confusion. Then it would dawn in him that the magician had stolen his watch. In that realisation, the question posed by the magician makes sense, and the realisation that the watch had been stolen is the ,nome~U of relief. The magician produces the watch to laughter and delight. Rather then creating tension, the production of the watch arrives after it has been released. It is almost incidental.

Much of the time, this is fine for our purposes, but it is not what we really want here. Consider this alternative handling. You have stolen the watch, and have it casually held unseen in your left hand. You are sat some distance from the spectator. You are having a conversation about aspects of the magic and mind-reading, and are allowing your tone to become serious and gently imposing rather than light-hearted.. By maintaining eye-contact and lowering your voice, you allow your words to develop a hypnotic quality. Your body language and non-verbal communication suggest complete seriousness on your part, and the spectator is drawn into that. You continue talking, and say, "1 would demonstrate more of what I mean, but I do not have the time now. You've sat there listening to me br a while, haven't you? What is the You stop and suddenly surge in your seat. You close your eyes and inhale deeply, clenching your left fist around the watch and bringing it up in front of you. - time, anyway?" you continue as a if nothing had happened, and open your hand, looking down at it a little bemused. The spectator sees the watch. For a moment, he does not recognise it. Then he does, and jumps. (And they do when you do it this way). He looks at his wrist, and sure enough, his watch has gone. This time, the sight of the watch does not provide the resolution, it provides a suddenly deeply unnerving experience. There is no watch still to produce, so no resolution is being offered. In the classic presentation, the neat solution "oh, he must have stolen it, wow, I didn't feel that is arrived at very quickly, and there is some sort of emotional closure for the spectator. In our presentation here, there is an instantaneous, bizarre and unsettling moment when the watch appears to have been transported. If the spectator does not believe that the watch really went at that moment, your statement "you've been listening to me for some time, haven't you?" delivered in your hypnotic tone, will suggest the back~up solution that it was stolen during that strange, mesmerising conversation. This way you do not provide the comfort of the initial presentation, with its safe and relatively pedestrian ending.

After the watch is seen, I look at the time, and say "I must be going. It was an immense pleasure," or some such words, and leave the watch in the centre of the table. I do not hand it back, which would, very subtly, move the experience towards that closure that I want to avoid. Instead, the spectator has to deal with the confusion and then reach over and pick it up himself, by which point I have gone.

I hope that you can see the difference between the two presentations. Inasmuch as we are looking for ways of making magic more powerful, these shifts in approach do combine to create a very different experience for the audience.

Often, when performing the cigarette-through-shirt, there will only be a tie to steal. The steal is prepared before the effect as described above, and completed in the exploited moments of intrigue and wonder that come after the cigarette is seen to have vanished. Very often, if 1 have blocked the rest of the group's view of the preparation for the steal, rio one will be aware that the tie has gone. If possible, I wait a long time before revealing it. I may leave the group, return to them late and perform one or two other effects, but not going too near the same chap. Then I will engross him in conversation in a similar way that I have described before, and at the very end surge in the same odd way and snap the tie into view, each end wrapped menacingly around a fist in strangling position one.

Again, the time misdirection makes these steals very powerful, but I have to be aware of the risk that the spectators may notice the absence of their possessions before I wish them too. This is particularly problematic if I leave them alone for a while before returning. However, the benefits are worth the risk, for no one will believe that he had been sitting for art hour without his tie. If he does realise and I do get asked, it is of course always in a good-natured way, and this is the time to allow it to be seen as a joke. I ask for a description of the item, and then bring out a whole load of things from my pockets that look as if I have been stealing from everybody. I lish his item out and ask if it's the right one, then offer him any of the others too.

Of course this way, word spreads quickly that you are a pick-pocket, which makes further steals more difficult. But that is the problem with performing pick-pocketing while mingling, and little can be done about it.

I hope that I have come to interest the magical performer who has never looked into the possibility of performing pick-pocketing. It is very effective at enhancing your character as a performer and the level at which you interact with your audience. If you perform it in the normal way, you are setting out your skills as a performer and therefore establishing the charmingly devious aspects of your character — and that character will enhance the dramatic impact of the conflicts that you set up for yourself or are imposed upon you. And the particular skill is one that is normally at the forefront of your audience's imagination: how many times have we had spectators jokingly grab for their watches and wallets after shaking hands with us? It is a treat to then actually provide that for them, and it is without doubt an immensely entertaining skIll.

Pick-pocketing provides an excellent lesson in spectator-handling, confidence and control, as well as the kick of adopting a charming veneer while simultaneously fleecing someone. Where I once performed it enthusiastically and openly, I now use it only to add spice to those magical cadenzas that vary the pace and textures of my performances, and have given it a darker feel for my more serious act. And there is nothing, nothing like taking abuse from an arrogant, insulting spectator who resents the shift of focus from himself to you... and knowing that when he has finished you have his wallet and watch to calmly and politely return. That is beautiful, natural dramatic resolution which has a message of "Don't mess with me."

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Fundamentals of Magick

Fundamentals of Magick

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