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 â the mastery of your work and yourself â 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 â 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 â 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 â 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 â 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.