A few years ago in one of our shows, I dug out a prop I had not used for several years. It is a production box, called the “Hank Box,” made by Joe Eddie Fairchild. It allows for a huge production of silks. We created a presentation, using that prop, that played extremely well. In fact, it may have been one of the most impressive features in the show.
The key to using a prop like the “Hank Box” to create a great effect is in the display of the items that are magically produced.
This is a very important matter to understand. It is not enough that we can bring a lot of things out of a space that seems to be empty. The way we bring those things out, and the style in which we show them to the audience, is critical to the strength of the trick.
There is an often told story relating to a past convention of the Fellowship Of Christian Magicians, where a well meaning gentleman made an immense production of silks from a large drawer box. He showed the drawer box empty at the start of his presentation, then simply opened it up and pulled out one silk after another. He had packed it as full of silks as possible.
As each silk was produced, he spread it out between his hands so the audience could see it, then dropped it into a laundry basket. He did this again and again. It did not matter if the silk was a solid color or if it had a picture on it. He solemnly displayed it, then put it into the basket. This went on and on and on.
As the routine progressed, the legend is that his production went on for more than ten minutes, but no one knows for sure, people in the audience began to laugh. This performer commented out loud, “I don’t know why this is funny”. People were laughing because, the longer the routine went on, the more absurd it became. The trick itself was not entertaining. It was truly boring. The humor came in because the man did not realize it was boring and he seemed to have no clue as to the fact that what he was doing made no sense. His act was so ridiculous, it unintentionally became funny.
It may have been the largest ever production of silks from a drawer box, but no one cared. Instead, the man’s attempt at great magic became a story to tell over coffee when laughing about foolish things magicians do.
I do not mean to put down the man. I’m sure his heart was in the right place. He did not understand this important adage for magicians:
“Do not do it just because you can.”
The object in a silk production is not to produce as many silks and streamers as possible. It is to make their appearance as entertaining as possible.
Recently I found myself once again commenting about the negative attitude some magicians have about props. There are those who look down their noses at anyone who uses a Square Circle, Mirror Box, Genii Tube, etc. They seem to think if one is a real magician, he will not need to resort to performing with apparatus.
I briefly even put my response to this kind of thinking on Facebook. There are many great magicians who use props. Johnny Thompson uses a Genii Tube in his act. Drew Thomas, who is involved in the largest magic show in the world to be performed on a cruise ship, uses a Square Circle. Marvyn Roy used a pared down version of the “Organ Pipes” in his sensational act.
The issue is not the use of apparatus, it is how it is used. When Marvyn and Carol produced silks and streamers from the nested tubes, they swirled them in the air and moved back and forth across the stage. It was a choreographed production that played well enough to be featured as part of Liberace’s traveling show. When Johnny and Pam Thompson bring a streamer out of the Genii Tube, it goes across the stage, behind the stage, then comes out again from the other side.
Too many magicians, in particular those who are only hobbyists and amateurs, think that a production is all about volume. Their approach is, the more I can bring out of this box, the more amazed the audience will be!
It is definitely true that the larger the production in comparison to the size of the apparatus, the more impressive the trick. However, this only works when the production is done in a pleasing manner. Here are some key things to consider about producing silks and streamers:
- Pace. The production needs to keep moving and, as a general rule, needs to happen fast. In this, do not forget that a change of pace can be good. Therefore, after quickly revealing some silks and streamers, you might want to slow down for a few moments to create extra emphasis on the idea of “how much more can be in there?” Then speed up again for a climax that has some punch to it.
- Size. If the streamers are long, this should be emphasized to the audience. It is ideal to have someone help you stretch them out. A volunteer can be recruited to do so. Instruct the person to take one end of the streamer and walk down the aisle or up into the balcony. When the audience understands how long the streamer is, the impression is greater. The same thing applies to large picture silks. If you are tall enough to display them between your arms, that is fine. Otherwise consider having someone take one corner and spread out the silk. If you have an assistant, this can be done with flourish. If there is no assistant, it is still good to find a volunteer who can come on stage to help with this (maybe the organizer of the event could do so, it is a good way to give him or her extra attention).
- Variety. The saying is, “Variety is the spice of life”. It is a familiar saying because it is based on truth. Repetition of the same or similar things becomes boring. If the first few streamers you produce are multi-colored, next bring out one that is a solid color. If you are producing beautiful pattern silks, interrupt the sequence with a really ugly silk or funny picture. After producing some long streamers, bring out one that is short and do a double take as if “How did that get in there?” Make changes to keep the production interesting.
It also needs to be said that audiences do enjoy the color, pace, and size of a big silk production. It has been referred to as “candy for the eyes”. It is fun to see because it is exciting and beautiful. Do not let someone convince you that modern audiences are not interested in production effects. When such effects are done, as they should be done, they receive a marvelous response.
Another factor to consider about production effects is the time it takes in preparing them. This is one reason why many magicians do not do them. The routine we designed for the Christmas show, with all of us working together on it, took at least ten minutes to set. Doing this once isn’t bad, but when it is done for repeat performances, it gets old.
However, it is worth it! It is effort that pays off.
I remember an occasion when Fukai and I were sitting backstage, getting ready for a big stage show in Singapore. It takes Fukai two hours to set his act. The silk act I was doing in those days took more than one hour to set. I think a reason why Fukai and I became such good friends is, over the years, we sat next to each other for so many hours back stage, getting our acts ready. Fukai commented that everyone else was out relaxing, while we were preparing. I said something like, “Where did we go wrong?” Fukai said, “No, we did it right. How many magicians do you know who get to perform around the world? Not many. We do what we do, because we are willing to do the extra work to prepare!”
There are plenty of lazy magicians who never achieve their potential. We do not need to be among them. So what that it takes extra work to fold the streamers and pack the silks. If the result is spectacular, let’s go for it.
The conclusion in this is, huge silk productions still play great, as long as they are done in an entertaining style!