The Essentials Of Good Performance

No one thing makes a trick right or wrong—many things go together. To name a few of the more important subjects, we have:—

(a) Personal appearance.

(b) Manner and speech.

Ic) Patter.

(d) Good effects.

(g) Misdirection.

(h) Co-ordination.

Let us deal briefly with each one in turn but at the same time, let us remember that they are not isolated in performance—they must all come together making, in effect, the complete picture.

(A) PERSONAL APPEARANCE

When you look good, you feel good. When you feel good, you work well. Personal appearance is important and can easily be overlooked. When you are a performer, people have to look at two things, you and your magic. Both should be pleasing to the eye.

You do not have to be rich in order to dress in good taste and there is no * excuse for dirty hands and fingernails which can be an alarming distraction from the magic your hands do.

There is no such thing as a typical costume for the Mentalist. This is a good thing because it means you don't have to dress up into some make-believe role each time you wish to perform. Contrary' to some schools of thought, I do not believe that the stage mentalist has to be garbed in flowing Eastern robes and crowned with a turban. The only time I would endorse such extravagance would be in the case of an Eastern Mentalist who rightly dressed in native style. That would be natural and what is natural is most important which brings us to the next point.

Personal appearance has a lot to do with the way the audience regard you. Consider what you want them to think of you. If you wish to present your mentalism as supernatural phenomena, then you are almost obliged to appear supernatural. One has to picture the common mental image of a character part as seen in the public eye. Question people and ask what they think a Medium looks like—and few suppose that such a personality is an ordinary looking person. Introduce the supernatural and you automatically introduce alongside the Occult. Now we anticipate our mentalist a la Svengali; a freakish man with the evil eye, pointed beard and what have you. As a further example, there have been half a dozen or so films made which involved a Medium. In nearly every instance, the Medium always turned out to be an eccentric grey haired old lady, garbed in flowing dress and heavily bedecked with chains of beads, bangles and odd trinkets. Never once was the medium an ordinary looking person, which in fact is what they all are, as it did not matter what they really were like, it was what people expected them to be that counted. Remember one secret of showbusiness is to exaggerate the ordinary so that it becomes a change from the commonplace and therefore is interesting to watch.

Bearing this point in mind, and others which we will discuss, we come to the question, 44 is it worth pretending to be supernatural?" I have little hesitation in giving my answer as No! At least, not for the mindreader. It is an artificial role which is hard to play, hard to maintain (since you have to keep it up) and to cap it all, it is quite unnecessary.

So now back to personal appearance; what should you look like? Well you should look clean," suitably dressed to meet the company which you entertain (i.e. Pink jeans afe not worn at a Duchesses Dinner Party) and for your own benefit, dress comfortably. If you are noi sure at anytime as to what to wear, play safe and wear a quiet suit and tie. All this might seem minor detail, but it is by no means so as you may, if you care to, learn the hard way. For instance, one professional mindreader from England turned up to play a Casino in France two years ago, he was not allowed through the doors because of a House rule that all gentlemen wore ties. He missed the engagement because on a hot day he arrived in an open neck shirt. Then there is another aspect to consider. When you are not well dressed and you arrive in company that is, naturally you feel different and can easily become embarrassed. How can you possibly work at ease when you are self-conscious about your appearance? If you are one of these people who like to claim you don't care a damn what you look like then you might like to know that the people who pay for an artist to entertain their guests, frequently expect somebody who looks like a gentleman and not a tramp. They care.

Before we leave this topic, let us say just one thing. Although you are committed to dress respectably, you are not barred from a touch of personal taste as long as it is reasonably good taste. You don't have to turn out like a tailors dummy—for instance, I have often worked from a stage wearing a maroon corduroy jacket (rather like a smoking jacket) and with clean shoes, shirt and tie I think I felt almost civilised.

(B) MANNER AND SPEECH

When you meet a strange person you form a quick impression of them by the way they dress, speak and behave. Quite often your audience meet you for the first time and they will form an opinion about you. They can arrive at three conclusions. They like you, they do not like you and lastly, they can't even be bothered to think about you.

We have discussed the importance of correct dress and see now, once more, that it helps to form a good impression at the start. However, immaculate as you may appear, sooner or later you have to say something and once more you can make or break yourself.

What you say and the manner in which you say it will have a decided effect on the audience, especially at the beginning. There are certain golden lules to follow. Speak clearly so that people hear what you have to say, talk loud enough without shouting for everybody to hear, and speak as best you can in the best possible English. (For an English speaking audience, since even the best Oxford English may not be appreciated when addressing a batch of Zulu tribesmen).

When it comes to the manner of speech, the first thing at all times is politeness. Nothing creates a better and more lasting impression than good manners. Very few people study etiquette and it is a definite point in your favour if you can do the right thine at the right time. To know that one addresses a Bishop as44 Your Grace and not M Mac " or 44 Mate " is what one might take as a sign of culture! If you don't know what to do, almost any Public Library will have a book telling you about it.

Aside from politeness with manner of speech, there is attitude. You can win an audience—or lose them in seconds—simply by taking on the right or wrong attitude. The right approach is to appear confident, friendly and professional. The wrong one incorporates nervousness, big-headedness or conceitedness, amateurism and vagueness. Try to appear as though you like being there and like doing the job. Never appear bored and disinterested. Oddly enough, you will find that as you feel so this, in some peculiar manner, goes out into the audience. You have to make yourself feel good and feel confident and then they feel the same and soon accept you. When you are nervous—often you make the audience nervous, especially in close up work and this is almost useless for the role of a commanding mindreader.

To sum it up, a good dodge is to become introspective by assuming that you have an entire audience of professional cold readers (See Step Ten) and imagine how they will see you. If you were a cold reader you would look for dress, manner and speech—so look at yourself.

(C) PATTER

It is practically impossible to perform a mental act or routine without saying something. Magicians are a little more fortunate than mentalists in this respect, if they like, they can evolve an act, a so called 44 Silent Act " and nothing is said. Hardly any mental tricks explain themselves to an> audience by vision alone and because of this, we are forced to meet the demand for good patter during performance.

Patter is the name we give to a story we tell and the casual asides of conversation that come during performance. Not to be confused with speech which is, as we have seen, another thing. One concerns voice production and correct use of a language and the other (patter) deals with what you say and why you say it in order to make the effect presentable.

One of the outstanding weakspots in the amateur mental programme is usually patter. More often than not, budding mentalists buy good mental effects from their dealers, and then go ahead and perform the mechanics of the trick as given in the instructions supplied and forget to add the very necessary talk to the effect. A dealer cannot hope to supply every client with correct patter for every trick he sells. He can suggest plots and themes for patter that go well with the trick, but it's your job to find the right words to be used at the right time.

There are people whose profession it is to write words for others to say. Scriptwriters as we call them are of little use to a mentalist. The best scriptwriter for your mental act is yourself, and this is something that you should actually do; devise a script and learn it.

The important thing is to understand the purpose and value of good patter. When you understand, you will realise that others cannot write words for you and that imitation of another person's patter is likewise useless. We go back to manner as discussed earlier and try to visualise what the audience think of our work and ourselves. 1 believe that it is very important to be yourself and let it seem that what you do is natural to you. This you cannot achieve with artificial patter. Your words have to be the sort of thing you say naturally and a scriptwriter doing the job for you would have to be a psychiatrist at the same time, in order to create words that were natural to you. Later, when we discuss Misdirection, we shall see the added importance of behaving in a natural manner.

Now let us discuss the true purpose of patter. It is not just a case of having something to say to break up the silence, there is much more to it than that. Good patter is the means to an end—perfect presentation. It can be used to draw attention to your tricks (or apparatus) and when this happens, attention goes away from yourself. I know of several excellent tricks which would fail absolutely without the use of one or two right words delivered in the right manner at the right time. To think that one little word can often be the making of a great trick!

Let us examine examples of patter being applied during performance as a means of trickery. You will remember in Step Six on Billets we discussed in detail the Centre Tear Routine. We went through several stages and arrived at the most difficult part of the trick, we had to steal one piece of paper from several others held in view. This was achieved by using correct patter at the very right moment. A few natural words (" Have you got a match please?") took the attention from your hands to your face, and the trick was done. Another example, the crucial point in the A1 Baker billet switch is reached, a few simple words, but right words (" Did you write it in English?") are spoken, and the trick is done. The Punx-Mier variation of the centre tear is a classic example of applied patter and serves as another example (See Step Six). V

Now we begin to appreciate that it's not just " Words, words, words.. ." There is reason and cause behind all this. So how do we begin to get the right patter for the mental act?

Start by writing your own script; fit the effects into the pattern we call a routine, and then write down everything you think you should say from beginning to end. In the beginning, overload your script, write too much because you can always cut down by editing, which comes later. Allow for a straightforward introduction to each trick and for what you have to say during the performance of the effect. Finish by scripting your comments that go at the end of your trick. Completeness is essential. At this stage the script is in its crude state. It is simply a record of everything you might say. Now comes the editing. First find out if the present script is reasonably long enough for the running time of your tricks. The easiest way to do this is to run through a few mock performances. The use of a tape recorder in these trial and error stages can be a considerable help.

Having got enough on paper to last you during performance, now work to improve what you have already said. Start with the words that matter most and see if you can find a stronger word for any point where patter is part of the trick itself. Find the right word for that point, the word which suits the actions you make, the trick you do and the manner you do it in. Then go back over the rest of your material and see what can be done to improve it. Look for words that are ambiguous or unsuitable and change them to something which makes the trick clear, simple to understand in effect and entertaining to watch and listen to.

For each and every trick there is a good pattern to follow when devising the patter you need. Start off by finding the best way to explain to the audience what you are going to do (as far as your trick permits). If you cannot explain what you are going to do, and we know it is not always possible or desirable, then tell the audience what you are doing at the time. Moreover, when you do this, tell them in such a manner that you do not insult their intelligence or bore them with statements of the obvious.

(Avoid the bad habit acquired by many of naming each and everything they touch. " I am removing the cards from the case and cutting them ..." that is an example of rather stupid patter. People can see you do this and if you can think of nothing better to say, then utilise the brief pause by making a quick aside that amuses people and entertains them.) * *

Having found the best way to introduce the trick you must find something to say whilst it goes on. As far as possible, stick to patter which deals with what you are doing. Remember you can distract attention with words and you do not want to perform the trick twice because people were more interested in your words than your actions! This part of the trick the middle part is the point for natural talk, the point where you exert your personality by saying the right things In a casual relaxed manner. Nothing will help you more to relax than knowing what you are going to say. You don't have to tell the audience you are working from a script. When you see a professional artist at work you see his relaxed talkative manner. He appears natural and what he says seems impromptu, but very probably he has said the same things hundreds of times before and by now those words are natural to him.

The last thing in the pattern is how to end the trick. We have to find suitable patter and our first concern is to find words which clearly indicate that it is the end. The word 41 Thank you " said in the right voice and accompanied by a suitable applause position on stage—signals the audience you have finished and they can applaud or throw tomatoes as the case may be. We shall discuss stage work later, but for those who are not sure about applaud positions, as an example, stand facing the audience and stretch out both arms facing the hands palms to roof. You adopt this position and loudly state 44 Thank you " and you have the right word with the right action to finish a trick or an act.

If it is the end of a trick and another is to follow, a definite finish to the trick is made and then a nice touch is to make a quick joke or comment before striding into the introduction of the next trick. It is worth noting that when you make a joke, people laugh and relax and this is the ideal time to get ready for the next trick or get rid of the evidence from the last one. There is powerful misdirection to be gained from a simple joke.

Now we have to deal with another completely different aspect of patter for mentalism. We are obliged to consider what type of things to say; how to introduce Mentalism to the public and what claims to make by word of mouth.

Well it is all a matter of opinion as to what you should or should not do. Some think you can claim to be the world's most phenomenal brain and others like to suggest that what they do is perfectly normal and could be done by anyone.

My personal opinion leans towards the last suggestion as opposed to the first. However, not to the extent that I openly admit that anyone could i i ( i i i r— f— i do the things I do. (Referring to performance of mentalism as seen by the public). I have experimented with numerous approaches to this problem and these days I find myself more and more in favour of a psychological trick of presentation which I find to be the perfect answer.

Whenever it is possible—and this is nearly always so when working mental magic at close quarters with an audience, I make a short introduction which tells them that I would like to show them a few interesting things that can be achieved if you like to train the human mind to do them. I openly state that it is my belief that everybody could do these things and that it is simply a question of study and practice. I flatter the incredibility of the human brain and not myself (which would be a wrong manner to adopt). 1 go on to explain that people could quite easily think there was something psychic about the things that can be done, and add that it is by no means so; certainly it takes training, a lot of hard work and a fair understanding of psychology—but all the same, it is something which anybody can train their mind to do!

As you realise, it is practically telling them the truth—but you need not fear the modesty of your claims will in any way effect their appreciation of your ability.

Having adopted this approach, I phrase the patter in straightforward language. I do not go off the deep end with long winded pseudo-scientific phraseology that supposedly sounds good. I prefer to use down to earth understandable language. I call a trick an 44 experiment " or a 44 simple test" and now and then I allow a technical term like 44 E.S.P." to slip in, just for effect. Whenever I use a technical term, I always add quickly an aside which explains it as it is quite wrong to suppose that the average man understands one half of the fancy names you can use. Most of the fancy names have been devised by psychologists and mentalists and 1 am sure they are not in common agreement themselves as to the meaning which is intended. I know of three books which use the term 44 Pre-inferential Cognosis " and none of them use the term as it was originally intended. The only time I would think of using any term such as the last mentioned one, would be as a joke to the audience. Having done something I would pass it off with the comment, 44 and 1 expect you would like to know how it was done? 1 don't mind telling you, it is nothing really, simply a case of pre-inferential cognosis —but don't tell everybody ..." Used in this vein you pass away a technical phrase as a joke and that's about the best you can do.

Generally speaking it is easier, safer and altogether more convincing to use language that people understand, and to act as yourself rather than attempt to create an artificial personality. Nothing appears more ridiculous than a performer who starts off with a Chinese accent and ends up talking like a Cockney. Moreover, by using your own personality and speaking as you would normally, you find yourself at ease so much that although working to a script you are still able to ad lib remarks and witticisms into the proceedings —giving it all the more personal touch and making it all so much more natural.

Ideally, whilst performing, your talk should seem free, unrehearsed and natural. That is why one should avoid the over use of technical terms. Remember it is not a lecture, not a case of reciting poems and not a monotone announcement. When you introduce a trick don't make it sound like the usual voice heard on a railway station—the one that drones on telling you the 10.50 train will stop at Fagsend and Doggit. Try and sound interesting, to some extent, what you say about the trick you intend to perform, will decide how much attention they will pay to the opening stages of your effect. If you arouse curiosity and interest at the start—the battle is half won.

I have no intention of giving you examples of patter for Mentalism. I think it would be downright stupid to do so. I have already explained that what suits one person rarely suits another and any examples I gave would naturally be those 1 use and may be quite unsuitable for you. Better by far that you do as I suggest; write your own script, keep in mind the purpose and uses of patter, experiment yourself to find that which suits you and then you have patter for the tricks you do.

Finally, the specific use of patter for misdirection is discussed a little later— that of course you can and should copy—as it fits anyone.

(D) GOOD EFFECTS

The prime purpose of this discussion is to analyse the makings of good (or bad) presentation. Therefore we must give some consideration to the actual effects that are performed. It is easy to say and nice to think that a brilliant performer could take any old trick and make it into a veritable miracle during performance. I am inclined to disagree with this hypothesis and in any case, if you know what you are doing, you do not have to use weak effects. Your aim is not to prove how good you are by showing your ability to take a weak trick and make it presentable. Better by far that you start off right at the beginning with strong, good mental magic; there are plenty of good tricks to choose from and the best way to assess their value is to put each trick to a simple test. We draw up a short list of questions and see how many of them permit us to answer yes to any one trick. The more yesses we get, the better the trick. The questions are those which are most important:—

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