The Importance Of Assistants
When working for larger groups, it's very common for a performer to bring up one or two spectators to sit beside him and help during the various effects. These assistants play a vital role in the success of the performance. First, the assistant serves to confirm the deceptiveness of the magic for the rest of the audience. In a large group, someone sitting in the back may be completely amazed by an effect, yet wonder whether he might not have been able to figure it out if he had been sitting closer where he could "catch" you. When he sees that the assistants sitting right next to you are just as amazed, he realizes that distance has nothing to do with his being fooled. Second, the assistant vicariously provides the rest of the audience with a sense of participation in the performance. The ideal would be to have every audience member take part in the performance at some point or other. When working for small groups, you can often achieve this ideal; however, with a large audience this is impractical. Here is where the assistant plays an important role. Since she came from the audience, they'll perceive her as their representative; they will identify with her and thereby get a sense of having participated in the performance.
Third, and this is very important, the assistant can act as a catalyst for audience reactions. Often a strong reaction from an assistant will provide an unconscious cue to the audience to react similarly. They will mirror the amazement or amusement they see on her face. (This is a specific application of the concept of suggestion we discussed earlier.) 'Ihats why it's so important to have an assistant who responds openly to the magic rather than an inhibited spectator who
o8 her reactions bottled in. As Dr John Booth says ,n his book keei,s " MaSiCt "Emotion breeds emotion."
1 lllv the spectators reactions to the various effects in themselves Frfde n source of entertainment for the audience. There u Cething compelling about watching spontaneous emotion. This is " hv we're captivated by viewing the emotional turmoil of the victims ^tragedies on the televl8,on news- however much we may regret their suffering.
At the other end of the spectrum, the jumping, shouting, and carrying on 0f winners on TV game shows provides these programs with much 0f their entertainment value. Game show producers are so aware of the importance of this factor that many shows actually audition prospective contestants, looking for expressive types and rejecting withdrawn, unemotional ones. In addition, game show contestants arc often prompted before the program to show excitement if they should win a prize.
Consider Slydini's "Paper Balls Over the Head" where almost all the entertainment value of the trick comes from watching the spectator's emotional reaction. I've seen this effect performed on occasions where the performer had the misfortune to draw an inexpressive assistant and can testify that the impact of the trick and the audience's reaction were greatly diminished.
Just what kind of assistants do you want? There are two critical qualities to look for: expressiveness and cooperative/less. The importance of expressiveness should be clear from what I've said so far. The value of cooperativeness should be self-evident. You don't want someone on your hands who is going to fight you at every turn. With experience, you'll rcach a point where you can handle even the most recalcitrant assistant. However, this doesn't alter the fact that an assistant who is with you rather than againstyou will make for a —nWe uerformance for both you and your audience.
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