Home » Articles » The Importance of Deportment

The Importance of Deportment

The Importance of Deportment – by Hermann Pallme, originally published in The Crest Magician, January 1908

Deportment means the art of properly  presenting a trick before an audience.  Not a few professional magicians and  most amateurs are deficient in this most  important phase of their work.

In order to make myself perfectly  clear I think it best to expound this  question of deportment in a series of sections. The order in which these are  given is not necessarily the order of  their importance.

1. First, as regards your relation to  your audience. This refers particularly  to distance; but I am tempted to say a word with regard to manner.

Keep your distance and let them do  the same; do not make the error of getting too familiar with your spectators.  You know “familiarity breeds contempt,”  but worse, it opens up means to worry  or perhaps detect you in your work.

Keep your distance also as regards  space. This should be as wide as possible, as many “substitutions,” etc., are effected as you pass from the audience to  your table. It is apparent, therefore,  that the longer the distance the more time you have for necessary manipulations.

It may be difficult in a parlor to get  the necessary distance to perform certain  tricks, but aim to get as far from your audience as the room will permit; but  there are many tricks, called “close  work,” that can be done right in the midst of your audience.

2. A few apt, bright sentences addressed to your audience as an introductory to your performances are not only  necessary as a matter of courtesy, but  will serve to put you and them in sympathy, on good terms as it were, or, as  the French say, “en rapport.”

Something like this will answer the  purpose: “Ladies and gentlemen, in order to show my appreciation of the honor you do me by your presence here tonight I shall try my very best to entertain you with some feats in legerdemain. But let it be understood at the beginning that I will not attempt to deceive  you. If there is any deceit, it will be that you deceive yourselves or that your  own eyes deceive you.”

Let another simple (paragraph conclude  your entertainment. This will serve as  a polite dismissal, and prevent that embarrassment which an audience sometimes feels when not sure that a performer is through with his program. This  needs be no more than an acknowledgment of thanks, as, “With this illusion I  shall close my entertainment; I thank  you for your consideration and attention.”

3. Always maintain an attitude of respectful dignity before your audience.  This does not mean to assert your egotism to the point of being thought conceited, but by your manner — the mastery  of your work and yourself — command  their respect.

If you are a natural humorist it is  well, and may assist your performance.  But always perform in a natural manner. Do not try to be funny. It is only  a step from the sublime to the ridiculous.  Just one letter makes the difference between pathos and bathos.

In this connection avoid  personalities.  Of course, watch for and avail yourself  of every chance for repartee, but never lose your temper, no matter what derogatory remarks may be addressed to  you. Just make a mental note of such  persons as try to embarrass you, and  when you can (always politely, though),  turn the laugh on them and make them  look small, don’t fail to do so.

4. In case of an accident or hitch,  such as forgetting to provide yourself beforehand with some accessory, or the  dropping of an article, do not become confused. On the contrary, treat the incident as a joke, and with a smile say  something witty, such as (in case of  dropping article), “I just put it there to  prove that it was solid”; or (in case of  forgetting some article), “It is almost  impossible to perform this trick without  first consulting the fairies. With your  kind permission 1 should like to retire  for just a moment for consultation.”  Leave the stage, or if you are performing in a parlor, have an accommodating  screen to retire behind in just such emergencies.

In such an exigency some such remark  as above will save the marring of your  act, and your spectators will applaud and admire your presence of mind.

But should something go radically  wrong, do not plead guilty to a failure.  Keeping your wits, either bring your trick to some conclusion, or glide naturally into the next one.

If you suffer a complete breakdown,  keep up your “patter” just the same and  burlesque the trick. Frequently, with a little quick-wittedness, this may be a  more acceptable finish than the original.

It is a matter of record that some of  the best performers meeting with such  an accident have by their ready wit brought about a better finish to their  trick, and always afterwards used this  conclusion. Many excellent bits of “business” have been discovered in just  this way. Again let me emphasize, keep  your wits about you always.

5. As a general rule, do not tell an  audience beforehand what you are going  to do. The reason for this should be  clear to you. If the spectators know  what to expect, not only is the trick  robbed of half its charm — that of surprise, but you increase the chances of detection. Knowing what to expect is always an aid in discovering how it was  brought about.

6. As a corollary to this rule it follows that the same trick should never be  performed twice in the same evening. A beautifully rendered bit of acting or  declamation can stand an encore; but  the best trick would lose its effect upon a repetition.

Besides, having seen it once and knowing the denouement, the spectators will  devote their whole attention this time to an effort to detect where you mystified  them the first time.

It is not necessary that you refuse an  encore. It is possible to repeat a trick  with variations, bringing it to the same  conclusion; or with the same preliminaries bring it to a different conclusion.  Thus you are presenting practically a  new trick, yet possessing elements of  similarity to the one for which an encore was asked. This will serve both to  please the audience, and to avoid chances  of detection.

You should study, as every professional performer does, variation and combination of tricks. The better books on  magic explain many ways of vanishing  an article, and as many ways of reproducing it.

7. In the preceding articles I have  said that the secret of success is to direct the attention of the spectators from  your hands at the right moment and for  just a moment.

This leads me, then, to lay down the  rule that when you desire to divert the  attention of the audience to a certain  point, you must yourself look fixedly at  that point. Obviously you cannot point  or suggest looking somewhere; that  would arouse suspicion and you would  be watched the more closely.

The great requisite is to cultivate a  “good eye.” It is invariably the case  that an earnest look of the performer in  a particular direction will carry every  one’s else glance unconsciously with it.

By all means avoid furtive glances at  your hands, as it would ruin the trick.

8. I have intimated elsewhere, but  will repeat here more explicitly, the importance of always taking your time in  the performance of your tricks.

Speak your “patter” with the naturalness of a good actor, not with the stiffness of a schoolboy reciting his piece.  Let the audience hear every word, and  let them see every movement. Give  them time to appreciate these, so that  when you pass to the second stage of  a transformation they will have understood fully the first. Where is the interest or surprise, let me ask, in changing a card into a rose, unless the spectators know in the first place that it was  a card?

9. A word now with regard to byplay, or what is called in stage parlance  “business.” Attention to this has a  marked tendency to keep alive the interest of the spectators, as well as to create a mystical atmosphere. This puts  the spectators in the proper mood to accept your pretensions to a supernatural  power.

Tax your ingenuity, therefore, to invent or devise every possible incident  that will tend towards this result, and  introduce them into the performance of  each trick.

For example: a number of performers  entering upon the stage, before introducing the first trick, take off their  gloves, roll them into a small ball, and  vanish them.

Some go a step further in discoursing  a moment upon the importance of the  wand, and then “remember to have forgotten it.” But they “must have it” in  order to proceed, so it is mysteriously  produced from “somewhere.”

Again, in the course of a trick, you  need an egg. How much better for the  general effect if, instead of taking it  from the table, or having an assistant  bring it, you produce it from a lady’s  bonnet or some one’s mouth.

This principle can and should be  worked out to the fullest extent.

There is a very considerable element of  psychology in magic — that is, an endeavor to make the spectators believe,  through inductive suggestion or inference, that which is not he case. In other  words, to have that manner or style  about your deportment as to lead the  audience to unconsciously accept the fact  that you are really a magician possessed  of the powers with which you seem to  be endowed.

In fact, the successful performer  should adopt auto-psychology — that is,  study and aim to make yourself believe  that you are performing miracles.

It is well known that the great actor  lives the character he is portraying on  the stage; and some have gone so far,  in the study of a new part, as to merge  their identity wholly into that new character for weeks.

Just so, you as the magician must  learn to impersonate the part. From the  time you appear upon the stage until the  conclusion of the performance you should  act not only as if, but should persuade  yourself that your supposed power is a  real one, and that your wand is not alone  an emblem, but the very source of your  power.

Having cultivated this faculty of entering into the spirit of the part you play,  you will acquire the ability to produce  an almost unlimited effect upon the imaginations of your spectators.

Thus both you and they will lose sight  of the mere commonplace or mechanical  means through which you obtain your results, and you create the impression that  those results are reached through actual  magic. The successful people of the  world — whether orators, players, or in  any walk of life, are those who have acquired this faculty of psychology.

10. The arrangement of your program  is deserving of some comment. Your  printed program should contain little or  no information as to the exact nature of  your tricks, and yet should be worded  in such a way as to arouse the greatest  curiosity. In other words, you must  give no clue as to the real nature of the  illusion, this being in accordance with  the directions above: Not to tell an audience beforehand what you are going to  do.

For instance, if you do a series of  handkerchief tricks, call this part of  your program “The Bewitched Handkerchiefs,” or if a series of flower tricks,  “The Enchanted Garden,” and so on, giving each series of tricks some fanciful  name, which will awaken the curiosity  of your audience and yet not tell them  anything.

In giving a performance do not fail to  have a private program of your own fastened in some conspicuous place behind  the scenes, or if working in a parlor,  some place where it can be seen only by  yourself. This prompt-program must  contain a list of the tricks to be performed that evening, together with a  detailed list of accessories necessary in
the performance of each.

After each trick or group of tricks  when you retire behind the scenes or  screen this must be consulted so as to  enable you to be in readiness for the  next series. It is quite impossible for  you or an assistant to keep in mind the  many articles required in the course of  an evening. I remember once being on  the verge of failure in a certain trick  because I did not have a necessary hook  pinned to my trousers.

In this article I have embodied those  elements of success characteristic of the  master-magicians of this and past ages,  together with a few original principles  which my own experience has shown to  be most valuable. Do not minimize the  importance of any one as against the  others. They are all equally essential  to the finished performer.

%d bloggers like this: