Monthly Archives: May 2019
My routine for the Bill in Lemon is called the Teleportation Device.
I first came up with the concept in the early Eighties:
The idea began when I was reading Wilfred Johnson’s Magic Tricks and Card Tricks. There was a routine described where the magician borrowed from the audience a dollar bill, had it signed and then made it disappear.
At that point he asked to “borrow” a raw egg from anyone in the house. A gentleman on the first row stood up and reached into his pocket and matter of factly drew out a fresh egg and handed it to the magician.
The magician then cracked the egg with a spoon and using tweezers pulled out the soggy signed dollar.
I loved the joke, and it sold me on the routine. But by the time the routine was fully developed, the joke was left on the cutting room floor.
I wanted to find a way to make the bill disappear that was more magical and flashy. So I decided to vanish the bill in flash paper.
I wanted to make the necessary moves as open and fair looking as possible, so I thought to stick the flash paper ball to the top of an office receipt spindle — just a wooden platform with a long needle-like spike sticking out from it. That way I could fold the bill into the flashpaper and set it on the point of the spindle, and pull both my hands away obviously empty.
Then it struck me that I could make the flash paper go off by itself or to a magic command by putting batteries and electronics in the base.
At that point, the whole device was beginning to take shape in my mind, and it looked a lot like a radio control for a model plane. That is when the idea for a “teleportation device” hit me.
The routine came together quickly after that.
Originally the device was a plastic experimenter box from Radio Shack as in the first video. It had a Fifties science fiction look. I first put these out for the magic market in 1994 with boxes made by Michael Forbes. Later I put out a similar box for Hocus Pocus Magic. Those were made by Dexter.
Once I became Pop, I needed a more 19th Century look for the device. That added a steampunk element that I really liked, and suggested the use of the goggles.
I finally decided to put an instructional video out for magicians that explained the routine and device and let people make their own Teleportation Device.
I was amazed at all the creativity that resulted.
People made devices that suited their character and backstory, and came up with some amazing designs. Here are a few of them:
The main difficulty in moving my routine into the Pop Haydn character was the backstory. I had originally designed Pop Haydn as a 19th Century con man who did mostly gambling and sure thing cons like the shell game, three card monte, and fast and loose. The character was so popular, I decided to use it for my regular magic show — linking rings, cut and restored rope, etc.
Why would a gambler do these things? I changed the backstory so that the character had been running saloons for Soapy Smith in Skagway during the Gold Rush and got the show business bug. He learned some magic and other things, and after the Gold Rush, got into presenting medicine shows.
Still, the T-device didn’t seem to fit in. So I decided that Pop would head back to Colorado in 1898 after the Gold Rush and meet Tesla, who had by then set up a laboratory in Colorado Springs. Many famous people came to visit this laboratory including Mark Twain.
Pop found out that this genius was not the greatest poker player, and so decided to become his friend. In the process he learned a lot about high-pressure electricity and shared his ideas with Tesla about the possible medicinal effects of radio-magnetism.
None of this backstory is shared with the audience during the performance, but it guides and explains the performance of the character.
It gives a sense to the audience that everything fits together somehow. They sense that there is a backstory, even if they aren’t sure what it is.
I guess the point of all this is that as artists we are free to change and enlarge our backstory to suit the magic that we want to do.
We shouldn’t let the character control the magic we want to do. The character is supposed to serve the magic, not the other way around. We don’t have to limit our character by our first thoughts and prejudices. There are ways to adapt the character or backstory to the magic that we want to do. Creating a character who is interesting, eccentric and surprising actually helps create a sense of its own reality.
Many times I have heard performers say, “My character is a gambler so he wouldn’t do magic tricks.” This limits the performance. Besides, gamblers actually did do magic tricks.
Erdnase was a gambler who did magic, as was Soapy Smith. It isn’t hard to find a reason why your character might be different than the stereotypes the audience might have. This is what creates the most interesting characters.
Magic when it is used to create special effects for a story–narrative theater–must be constrained and sometimes emasculated to serve the story. The magic in the story must not take the audience out of their imaginary participation in the story.
If the magic is too strong, it can make the audience lose focus on the narrative and start wondering “how did they do that?” If the guillotine in Tale of Two Cities is too convincing, the audience will be concerned, “Is the actor okay?” — taking them out of the story and back into their theater seats.
In narrative theater, the magic must serve the story.
Theater and character in a magic show, on the other hand, is meant to serve the magic — too much story and the spectators lose track of the argument for the trick. The character needs to be riveting and interesting in order to hold attention, but not so funny or scary as to detract from the magic effect.
In the presentation of Our Magic, Theater and character serve the magic.
My dear friend, Kurt Freitag brought me a lovely present while working the Magic Castle this week, a book on Southern Folklore. In it I discovered an interesting selection from a book about the early frontier, telling a tale of Daniel Boone using sleight of hand to get out of trouble:
“Boone, according to James Jall, was once resting in the woods with a small number of his followers, when a large party of Indians came suddenly upon them and halted–neither party having discovered the other until they came in contact. The whites were eating, and the savages, with the ready tact for which they are famous, sat down with perfect composure, and also commenced eating. It was obvious they wished to lull the suspicions of the white men, and seize a favorable opportunity for rushing upon them. Boone affected a careless inattention, but, in an undertone, quietly admonished his…
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I first created the Magnetized Water routine for my medicine show in 2010.
The idea was to take a number of fairly weak magic effects and by combining them with a strong effect (Hydro Glass) make them work toward creating a strong impression of the impossible, the reality of magnetized water.
“Proving” anything is then unnecessary.
I want to talk to my customers in the audience, but don’t want anyone to feel left out or “out of the loop.” So I give a quick explanation of magnetized water, and then quickly turn to the complaints we have received and concerns of our customers in the audience. We want to apologize and explain.
Everything in this explanation is a demonstration of the “science” behind the effect, rather than a “proof” of its existence. The proof of the effect is assumed when the “customers” in the audience and their concerns are addressed.
It is not a pitch. It is framed as a disclaimer and public announcement.
I didn’t want to do two monologue pitches in my show and I already had the Amazing Miracle Oil pitch which comes earlier:
I wanted the Magnetized water routine to be as different as possible from the Amazing Miracle Oil pitch.
This “product placement” in the Magnetized Water routine is framed instead as an apology and an explanation for our customers’ complaints, or rather, concerns. It is not just another sales pitch.
It takes people off balance. It assumes that the magnetized water is real and is well-known. The defensiveness and water-treading “explanation” hooks the audience and draws them in.
My other medicine show themed effect, the Tantalus Tubes, was presented as a sneaky pitch/ad hidden behind the presentation of an “old” magic trick.
The true intention is only revealed at the end. People can’t really read the labels on the bottles, but when the advertising banner drops it becomes clear that all the bottles on the table are “Pop Haydn’s Tennessee Sour Mash Medicinal Whiskey.”
Tantalus Tubes is a real magic effect that just has a medicine show theme. It is not a sketch or monologue backed by magical “special effects” as is the Magnetized Water routine.
I wanted to maintain the “Medicine Show” theme throughout a 90 minute show but I didn’t want to be repetitive.
Magnetized Water is not really a magic routine at all. It is a character and story-driven sketch. The impossible isn’t proven, it is assumed and the audience’s supposed agreement to this reality is also assumed.
That is why sticking the bottle to the display board like a refrigerator magnet is even more satisfying than some of the stronger magic effects. It is creating the impression of magnetized water as a reality.
It confirms the idea of magnetized water in a very familiar way and fulfills a fantasy image that the audience may have seen coming.
These Youtube videos are the same idea as the Magnetized Water routine:
They are story driven, and the magic is not so much proof as special effects for something the story takes as a given — it is science after all!
I think it is good to experiment with ads, promotions, interesting video of all types, since it takes a lot of variety to maintain interest online. You want to promote your character and brand as well as post performance videos.
These sort of non-magic magic videos are a very good way of adding to online content, and building your off-stage story.
Don’t forget to publish posters, photos and memes as well. These help to create your online presence and develop your character and backstory:
If you Google Images Pop Haydn, you will see the variety of brand-building images that have been posted of me over the years.
Part of the value of “backstory” in magic is that it allows for you to develop your brand online using many different methods other than by “performance.”