The I.C.O.M Grand Illusion Suite
Welcome to a forum that has been a long time in coming…..The I.C.O.M Grand Illusion Suite! Here you will find the BIG STUFF! Everything you always wanted to know about furniture moving but were afraid to ask!…Just kidding!
Seriously though, This is the forum that will discuss the workings and performance to original and novel Illusions suitable for the stage. Special thanks to Gene Poinc for initiating this forum by his generous and brilliant Illusion contributions.
We are proud to include this masterwork from Gene Poinc. It appears here rather than the Secret Passageway for two reasons. 1. It is suitable for the stage. 2. We are trying to keep all of Gene’s material that he submitted for an exclusive forum in one place. We think you will like it…. BJG
The Final Houdini Seance Revisited
By Gene Poinc
A framed portrait of Houdini is on the seance table. There is a stand to the side of the table, on it a travel-worn valise emblazoned with once colorful labels from many countries; but dominating all is the name HOUDINI.
The performer stares thoughtfully a moment at the portrait, then turns to the audience, “Contrary to what has become popular mythology, Houdini was not a great magician, certainly competent, but not great. However, he was a magnificent escape artist, the greatest showman of his times, and in the opinion of some who knew him, the greatest ego of all time. Astonishing ego. Keep that in mind, it’s pertinent,”
Looking at the portrait again, the performer says somewhat wistfully, “And, perhaps, evidence of a glorious truth, Harry Houdini died October 31,1926, so ordinary a death for so spectacular a personality. No tragic demise in an escape attempt from a straight jacket suspended high above a crowd-packed street, with subsequent fall; or in a crate beneath an ice-encrusted lake; or a failed attempt to free himself from the Water Torture Charnber gone dreadfully awry. No. Ordinary. Not the way he would have preferred his final exit to be. So ordinary. Peritonitis from an unexpected blow to his abdomen by a university student to test Houdini’s boast of being able to sustain any hit a man could inflict. It’s said he was engrossed in reading a letter, unprepared for the impact. He died a few days later, not before the eyes of a horrified yet paradoxically fascinated crowd, but in a hospital. Ordinary. No audience, only his beloved wife Beatrice, Bess to friends.
“At some point during their lives, most likely after Houdini’s cherished mother died and his grieving attempts to contact her spirit through various mediums (all exposed as frauds), he and Bess vowed that the one who died first would make every effort to contact the other if a spirit dimension and interaction with mortals were possible. They decided on a code that would be known only to them as evidence of survival. After ten years all attempts were to cease.
“Now visualize; the roof of the glamorous Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel rented by Dr. Edward Saint, Mrs. Houdini’s business manager and, in his own way a showman; the roof was to be the much publicized site of the final Houdini seance. It was a perfect night for such an effort. Oh, not the cliche dark and stormy one of shallow horror tales with banshee howls riding eerie winds, and earthbound haunts lurking in every shadow. None such. No. It was a lovers’ night of sky ablaze with radiant stars engendering awe of all creation, instilling the wonder of life and hope of love transcending the seeming finality of the grave. A cold but perfect night.”
After a slight pause, the performer opens the valise, removes a framed photograph of Bess (smaller than the Houdini one), and places it beside Houdini’s.
“This photo traveled with him when Bess could not. A perfect night for love’s reunion. Comprising the seance inner circle with Bess and Dr. Saint were two newsmen, the past president of the California State Spiritualist Society, a judge of a California high court, and two magicians: one the president of a West Coast magicians’ organization; the other a publisher, William Larsen, Sr., founder and editor of a magazine devoted to the interests of amateur and professional conjurers. Beyond the inner circle there were bleachers to accommodate three hundred spectators, an extremely large group for so intimate an occasion. But then it was Dr. Edward Saint who made the arrangements, and, as stated, he was a showman in his own right. He wanted an audience.. .even for so final and solemn an effort to reunite two lovers, one living, the other dead.”
The performer removes a number of items from the valise, placing them on the seance table. “On a table in the inner circle was a tambourine, a spirit trumpet through which Houdini might whisper the secret code to Bess, a blank pistol, a slate and chalk, a bell and locked handcuffs. Nearby, the light that had burned steadily, bulb changes excepted, for ten years. If Houdini could break through the veil of death, perhaps he would give a sign: shoot the pistol, unlock the cuffs.. .something.. .anything. One of the magicians present had suggested Houdini’s wraith be given a bit of assistance, some sly trickery. But, surprisingly for Dr. Saint, he would allow no subterfuge. “At eight o’clock the grandeur of ‘Pomp and Circumstance,’ the introductory music Houdini used in his stage performances, filled the cold night air as if reaching to the heavens and what spirit world might lie beyond. After a prayer, Dr. Saint gave his invocation. He cried out to high heaven…”
(If you have a copy of the seance recording, sold about ten years ago, play a brief excerpt of Ed Saint evoking after you say, “Listen now to the voice of Dr. Saint recorded on that.. .strange .. .night”)
“He pleaded, begged, commanded Houdini to give a sign, to come forth with the evidence. His cajoling was long and loud enough to awaken the dead, and possibly do in the living. Shortly before her death in 1943, Mrs. Houdini commented, ‘He invoked and he invoked — good Lord how that man invoked!’ But Houdini did not come through; his spirit did not appear to reassure his beloved Bess of life’s continuity. All was disappointed silence. Silence. Silence. And yet, did such have to be; was something done incorrectly? Unwittingly? Consider — Houdini’s monumental ego. Would The Great Houdini, as he often referred to himself, would the Great Houdini return to, good heavens, shake a tambourine, indulge in the nonsense of a spirit trumpet? He certainly was not a horn tooter. But what of his love for Bess? Perhaps along with the love, something more was needed to make contact feasible, something that was imbued with the psychic, mystical…call it what you will…ENERGY of his heart and mind and soul.”
The performer removes a straight jacket from the valise, displays it, “Impregnated with the intense energy of his dynamic strengths and fears and struggles, his triumphs in at times a tormented life. A near integral part of himself, like a second skin his straight jacket, the foundation for his international reputation for death-defying escapes. DEATH DEFYING…along with love — might not that have been his ultimate challenge to break through, to defy, conquer, and escape, symbolized by the straight jacket — death itself? Curious premise. Or is it?”
The performer leans somewhat over the end of the seance table to give spectators a closer look at the straight jacket. The extended jacket inadvertently blocks the stance items from view.
“Imagine if this straight jacket could speak, what escape thrills I…” He is suddenly interrupted by the pistol being fired behind the jacket; the tambourine shaking as part of it shows over the top edge of the jacket; the bell ringing; the spirit trumpet contemptuously flung up and away failing to the floor. All this happens very quickly. The performer moves the straight jacket aside folding it. “Apparently Houdini did not return that seance night of lost hopes.” He places jacket back into the valise, “As for just now…” smiles ever so slightly… “who knows? Dr. Saint turned to Mrs. Houdini saying…”
(If you have the recording, say, “Listen to voices from the past…” and play Saint’s question to Bess and her response.)
“Mrs. Houdini, have you had the sign?” Quietly she replied, ‘No. And I think that after ten years of trying every type of seance, I am convinced that the dead cannot return, that spirits do not exist. It is over. Finished.’ She turned out the light that had burned all those years, I now reverently…turn off…the light; goodnight, Harry.’ That’s what she said then .. .what might she say now?” He picks up the previously blank slate; a message is written on it reading: BESS, BELIEVE.
“Back then some manifestation would have been so reassuring; but…perhaps, just perhaps…something was. Remember…it was a cold, brilliantly clear night, stress clear, and yet the instant Mrs. Houdini and Dr. Saint left the roof, it suddenly rained just long enough to drench everyone remaining. Just somewhat wickedly long enough to soak the group. Sudden rains simply don’t happen in California, especially out of clear skies — yet that one did. Might a man of enormous ego have chosen to return as something dynamic, as inexplicable as that bewildering storm? Something to ponder. Goodnight, ladies and gentlemen.” Looks up and beyond the heads of the spectators, almost inaudible, “Goodnight, Bess… Harry …goodnight.”
There you have it. Now as for the method. Remove the cloth and fake hand from your Full Light Seance contraption. Cross the sleeves on a straight jacket and buckle at the back. Insert the supporting rod into the jacket, bottom to neck, and secure. Attach the hand. If a regular straight jacket seems too heavy to handle comfortably with one hand, even for sobrief a time, have one made of lighter fabric such as artist’s unprimed canvas, or even denim; use leatherette rather than leather for the straps and collar. Stain it to look old and often used.
As for the objects on the seance table: only ONE slate is used, the BESS, BELIEVE message written on the reverse side which simply is not shown. Since no mention is made that a message is to appear, none will be expected; the other items like the Spirit Trumpet are interesting looking and provide distraction. The handcuffs are unlocked to begin with; handling covers the slight gap as does the tambourine which is placed leaning a bit on the cuffs. So don’t slow the pace by fooling around with two slates, showing all four sides, wiping them clean, all that needless nonsense, But some will.. – I just know some will. Sigh.
The manifestations must be extremely brief, a total surprise to the audience, soooooo, in getting the suspended straight jacket into position, make sure blocking the view of the objects DOES NOT SEEM DELIBERATE. All focus is on the jacket as you lean forward to give spectators a better look at it; then as you begin to pull back, fire the pistol, which will startle everyone. Now quickly the tambourine is shaken, part of which must show above the top edge of the jacket; forcefully as possible fling the Spirit Trumpet up and over the jacket so it falls to floor or table; ring the bell; toss the now fully open handcuffs out. Casually fold the jacket with rod and return it to the valise.
DO NOT show the message on the slate until the moment indicated in the narration.
In practice and performance, concentrate on restricting shoulder movement when animating the objects.
And finally a should -I- or-shouldn’t -I situation, that being inclusion or exclusion of an idea. I like the simplicity of everything so far. . . and yet it occurred to me, if part of your performance is done seated, as you lean away from the table to put the straight jacket back into the valise, in full view the tambourine gives a shake or two. A plate lifter, the bulb pressed by your knee against the side of the table. Heh, The tube covered by a shawl said to have been worn by Mrs. Houdini at the seance, on the table from the beginning. The disciplined part of self says it’s too much, gilding the proverbial lily…… but I just couldn’t resist mentioning it. See, I’m human too, tempted to overdo such a struggle. Did I tell you the life of a magician is not a merry one? The life of a magician is not a merry one. Sigh.
” THE GEB – GRANT LEVITATION ”
You Know Who!
You walk on to stage, carrying one of those cloth stand up style book bags. Reaching into its open top, you remove a 4 X 4 foot square of cloth. This foulard is held in front of you, one corner in each hand. The tips of your shoes are visible below the cloths lower edge. Suddenly your feet are seen to rise up off the floor. Your head and upper torso shift to the right as your legs lift to the left and appear together at the left side of the cloth. The lower edge of the cloth is well up off the floor. Only the cloth book bag is visible below it. Your entire body seems to be floating parallel to the stage without visible support. Slowly your feet descend as you stand erect on terra firma. The cloth is gathered up and placed back in the bag. You take your well deserved bow, grab the bag and carry it off stage.
Impossible? It would certainly seem to be. But by combining methods of a friend, Milwaukee magician Jim Geb; and a mentor, U.F. Grant, it can be done. By conditioning the audience to the possibility of self levitation, do the Balucci for them first, then follow with the Geb-Grant version. Sadly, Jim passed away last year of Lukemia. His method here-to- for was shared with only a small circle of friends. With permission from his widow Donna, in his memory, I offer it to you.
Both Geb and Grant realized the strength of simplicity for greatest impact. Jim’s portion of the levitation required two two inch self adhesive squares of velcro. One square was stuck to each shoe just where the heel began. When he stood with his legs together, the shoes became attached. He used his jacket as a covering cloth held in front of him. He slipped his right foot from within its shoe. Supported bt his right leg, he began to bend to the right, side ways at his waist. Simultaneously, his straight left leg and joined pair of shoes was lifted to the left. The illusion created was that of him floating un assisted parallel to the ground and several feet above it. Reversing the procedure allowed him to replace his jacket and walk casually away.
Grant on the other hand, took a different approach. One other item, a small step stool was in the bag with the square of cloth on top. His shoes were not attached to one another. At first his feet were covered by the cloth. He simply stepped into the bag, and stood upon the stool. As he stepped up the cloth rose with him. Only the bag was visible, creating the impressiom that he must be floating in the air. Grant used a paper grocery bag. When you combine the two mens method, a different illusion is created. The stool and foulard are in the cloth book bag. I used a cloth bag to eliminate the possibility of a paper bag ‘talking’ as your right foot steps in.
Will this effect take practice? YES, of course it will! It will take time to gain the strength and balance required. Is it worth the effort? You tell me.
“A NEW TWIST TO THE GEB- GRANT LEVITATION”
Inspired by a Steve Fearson method, If the BAG in which you carry the stool had a mirror positioned diagonally in it were made of MESH … and the cloth was inside as well, a new dimension to what we have been discussing would emerge. I may be crazy, but this seems like progress.
He glances at a low platform at center stage. There is a plastic bag crumpled on top of it, but enough hangs over the edge to establish it’s in the shape of Santa Claus, one of those life-size ones you stuff with newspapers. Leaning against the platform is a large transparent red bag filled with crumpled news- papers.
Walking over to the platform the Performer indicates the Santa, “That crumpled plastic bag of vague shape. Santa. Do you realize what stupendous magic could be thrilling you if you didn’t insist on this nonsense?” He indicates the second bag filled with newspapers, “A sack full of …uh… the thou- sands upon thousands of fan letters I receive. Why thousands? Because I’m loaded with talent, but… of course… you want Santa.”
The Performer gestures toward the wings. Two assistants walk out to the platform. Shrugging, the performer says to the assistants, “They want Santa. Give them Santa. My life is not a merry one.”
The assistants rapidly stuff the Santa with newspapers. Once filled, they seat it on the low platform. The Santa is awk- ward looking, and seems as if it might topple over.
The Performer stares at the audience, “Happy? Now if I may, can we get on to important matters?” He moves quite a distance away from the platform, his back to the Santa, and begins performing skillful manipulations with cards or billiard balls while extolling his many talents. “I have performed for Presidents, for Kings and Queens and dignitaries of the world… and your only interest seems to be silly Santas.”
The Santa begins to quiver as if gradually coming to life. The performer is, of course, oblivious. “Do you understand? I am far too famous for nonsense.”
The Santa stirs and awkwardly stands up. In response to audience reaction the Performer looks quizzical and glances back over his shoulder. But the Santa has stopped his movement an instant before the Performer turns; he does not see the movement. Shrugging, the Performer continues his manipulations, babbling, “Indeed, indeed, in all modesty I would say I am by far… farther than cosmic far …the greatest magician who ever trod this tawdry earth. And you wanted to waste time on Santa.”
During this the Santa is slowly, menacingly lumbering toward the Performer. His movement is always ungainly, like a sack of newspapers trying to walk.
Again the Performer hears some audience reaction and turns, looking back. The Santa stops just as the performer turns, and stands motionless. The Performer looks perplexed. He gestures toward the wings. An assistant steps out. Annoyed, the Performer commands, “Do. ..not. ..move. ..that. ..thing. .. again!”
The assistant tries to protest that he didn’t move it, but he’s waved off by the performer.
The Performer returns to doing spectacular manipulations as the Santa once again moves ominously toward the magician, ” Are your hearts not overflowing with gratitude that I am honoring all you little, little, little people with this exquisite display of incomparable talent?” The Santa is almost upon him. “. ..with this genius rather than that Santa silliness?” The Santa roars, “Merry Christmas !” The Performer is so startled that the cards or billiard balls in his hands go flying wildly into the air, and many, many more fall from various places qf concealment in his clothes. He whirls and shrieks when he sees the Santa. In terror he dashes off into the wings with the Santa lumbering after him.
With careful timing this can be very funny. The image of this pompous – to the extreme -magician perfonning manipulations while a bag of crumpled newspapers vaguely in the guise of Santa staggers toward him is grandly ludicrous.
Ideally, make the Santa bag of a size to accommodate the assistant, who is scrunched up in the lower section (figure 1). The illustration depicts the Santa extended fully upward to show the relative size of the Santa and also to provide the reader with a design guide. When the assistant is scrunched up the upper part of the Santa bag will be collapsed around the assistant. You can make the Santa out of plastic available from a garden supply store. Draw the Santa onto the plastic twice, cut out the two Santas, and tape the edges together – with plastic tape. You can then have an artist airbrush the features and costume onto the bag. It might be possible to purchase a ready-made Santa during the holiday season. If so you may need to enlarge the Santa at the back so that the assistant can fits inside still leaving plenty of room for the stuffing of newspapers. Place Velcro strips on the inside of the Santa boots and on the soles of the assistant’s shoes. This will secure them, and facilitate walking without the shoes sliding about inside the Santa bag.
Figure 2 shows the platfonn, which is about two feet high. The Santa bag lies on top, all crumpled up, but enough of the sleeve and cap hang over the front edge to establish what it is. It appears as though it could not possiibly conceal anything.
The assistant inside the Santa bag is concealed in a well at the back of the platform. This well is represented by the shaded areas in Figures 2 and 3. The depth of the well depends on the size of your assistant, but nine or ten inches should suffice.
As the other assistants begin stuffing the Santa bag with newspapers they partially block the audience’s view of the Santa bag. During this stuffing process the assistant inside Santa is moved from the well to the front section of the platfonn. Finally, when the assistants seat the Santa on the platform, it must look awkward, almost ready to topple over like a paper-stuffed figure. All subsequent movements MUST be ungainly. It would be effective if the platform were used for other things prior to the Santa illusion so the audience becomes accustomed to it as a utility piece on which various things are put, rather than being an integral part of the presentation.
Some of you will want to produce a live Santa from the Santa bag. Do as you wish. The staggering about, awkward-walking Santa sack is a visual delight. Enjoy it and allow the audience to do the same.
Happy Holidays to you all.