Twenty Years! ~ The End of School for Scoundrels
In November, Chef Anton, Bob Sheets and Pop Haydn will teach the 20th annual School for Scoundrels at the Magic Castle in Hollywood. This will be two separate classes, one taught on Saturday and Sunday Nov 8th-9th, and one class on Sat and Sun, Nov 15-16th. The class is $300 and includes eight hours of instruction.
This will be our last time this class is to be taught at the Magic Castle, and I wanted to look back a bit at what we have done.
Chef Anton and I began working together back in 1994, when he hired me to help him design some magic for his billiards trickshot show. As we worked on the pool shots, we discovered that we both had had experience and interest in the old street scams. As we began comparing notes and exchanging ideas, I told Chef about some of my original ideas with the shell game. We eventually decided to work on the shell game together, and about that time Mark Wilson asked me if I would teach a course at his new Magic University at the Castle.
I said that I would, if Chef Anton and I could teach it together, and could teach the basics of the three main street scams, Fast and Loose, Three-Card Monte, and the Shell Game.
Mark agreed, and in November, 1996 we taught our first eight hour course on these games. We have been teaching it every year since at the Magic Castle.
When we first started, we realized that the students had a hard time finding proper tools for the work–peas, shells, chains, and so on–and we wanted to put out notes and videos for the students to use. So we began creating the School for Scoundrels Store–“Inspiring Confidence Worldwide.” Our shells, and especially our Perfect Peas helped reinvigorate this long-neglected branch of magic. My friends Bob Sheets, Doc Eason, R. Paul Wilson and Gazzo all contributed their talents and knowledge on our videos and notes and occasionally helped teach the class.
The class was meant to teach not only the theory, practice, ruses and psychology of the games, but to also cover the history. We wanted to use the con artist of the streets as a model for magic. For too long, the model has been the gambling cheat:
The exhibition of these games holds a great deal of interest for any audience, and can be exciting and fun
for the performer as well. In each book in this series we intend to provide as much as possible in the way of
original source material which can aid in the construction of entertaining presentations. We also provide the
student with original, audience-tested routines for each of these classic scams, complete with patter and
presentation points. These can be used as they are, or can become a resource for creating new routines.
But the central focus of our course is not on learning to perform these con games for entertainment. Our
real purpose is to study the grifters’ techniques for the sake of gaining a better understanding of our own art and
improving our presentation of magic. The conman faces many of the same challenges in the pursuit of his goals as the magician does in his. Much more than the average magician, the grifter must analyze his performance from a spectator’s point of view. The conman must really get inside his subject’s head. He must manipulate both the victim’s thinking and his emotional responses.
Jean Hugard once expressed concern about what was then the new interest in Erdnase and the
techniques of the professional card cheats. He was afraid that magicians would start thinking like card
mechanics instead of like magicians. Much good has come from the work of Vernon, Marlo, and others
who have mined the rich resources of the gambling world. This helped correct the over-dependence on
broad misdirection and unnatural actions that were common in early close-up magic.
But what Hugard saw, and we think he was prophetic, was that the interest in gambling artifice could lead
the magician into a way of thinking that was biased toward invisibility of method, and that ignored the importance
of manipulating the thinking and responses of the spectator.
The card cheat seeks to be invisible; he doesn’t want to attract attention. He seeks to confine each and
every action to the natural procedure of the game. He doesn’t want an audience, and he doesn’t seek to engage the other people at the table intellectually.
Much of modern close-up magic is derived from this model, and this can lead to performances that are
more a display of skill than a creation of magic. The audience may be completely fooled, but they just don’t seem to care. This sort of art lacks the mental engagement with the audience that is the hallmark of great magic.
The street-swindler offers us a much better model for the performance of magic than the card mechanic.
The operator of these scams has to know how to reel a crowd in and hold its attention. He must disarm the natural defenses of its members. He uses hooks and come-ons to keep them interested. He baits them psychologically. He engages the audience in an intellectual contest and sets traps for them that will cost them everything in their wallets.
In short, the con artist of the streets is a performer, an actor and an entertainer who hides the sword of his
purpose behind a cape of geniality, humor, and character. The magician can learn a lot from the grifter’s
technique and even more importantly, from his focus.
For the conman knows exactly what he is about and what he is trying to accomplish. He knows what he
wants from the spectator. Magicians must emulate this same sort of focus in order to truly move people. Our study of street swindling can lead us into a better understanding of what we are trying to accomplish as magicians and how best to go about it.
~ School for Scoundrels Notes on Fast and Loose
The School for Scoundrels took its name from a 1960 Terry-Thomas movie based on one of my favorite little books, Gamesmanship by Stephen Potter, and that movie was revised just a few years ago with Billy Bob Thornton.
I have enjoyed School for Scoundrels very much, and am very proud of my contributions. I think that the Haydn Turnover and Maneuvers, and the Bob Sheets Two-Pea System are revolutionary–changing the way the game can be played, and making it a truly sure-thing game.
I am especially proud of our videos on the Senior Pitchman Reunions and the “In the Life” videos with Doc Jon. These are of great importance historically for primary source material, and teach things that can be learned nowhere else.
The study of the 19th Century conmen such as George Devol, Canada Bill Jones, Soapy Smith and Doc Baggs led directly to my interest in the period of the Alaskan Gold Rush and to the development of my current magic character, Pop Haydn.
But twenty years is enough. I have long since moved on to other interests and projects, and don’t want to keep repeating work that I have already done for so long. So this will be the last year for School for Scoundrels at the Magic Castle. We may still do some seminars and workshops in the future, but the November classes will be our last here in Los Angeles.
I want to thank the wonderful staff at the Magic Castle who always took great care of us, and worked hard to help make it a success each year. Thanks to my business partner Chef Anton and to all the people who have helped to make School for Scoundrels such a success for all these years.
It has been a wonderful and enriching experience, and I look forward to new work and new adventures!
We still have some seats left for the 8th and 9th of Nov, and room for several in the Nov 15th and 16th class. If you want to learn the Shell Game, Three-Card Monte and Fast and Loose the Scoundrels way, this may be your last opportunity!
You can still register here: http://scoundrelsstore.com/product/scoundrels-class-2015/
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