Preparation: "A Good General Chooses His Battlefield" by Bill Wisch
In this updated installment of “Slydini – The Legacy” I wanted to touch on preparation and how important it was to Slydini.
It is well known that Tony was meticulous in almost everything he did. From the way he folded his knotted silks in his pocket (and the strategic reason why), to the incredible craftsmanship in his hand made costumes. To the audiences that he performed for. Slydini was at the very least, prepared, and most often he was prepared much more than he really needed to be, considering his genius.
A quote that is often misattributed to Slydini is: “A good general chooses his battlefield.” Slydini never said this. No, in fact, it was Vernon who said this about Slydini while talking in an audiotape to Lewis Ganson, as quoted in The Dai Vernon Book of Magic (1957), p. 31:
"Did you notice how Tony performed under his own conditions? Quietly and naturally he arranged for everyone to be seated where he wanted them to be. Like a good General, he chose his own battleground. If you ask Tony to do a trick when the conditions are not to his own choosing, then he will not risk spoiling his effects. He'll murmur "Later", then, when he has found his own spot, he'll call you over and perform near miracles. That's the result of intelligent thinking--a good lesson for the magical student--be a good General; choose your own conditions."
It is my opinion that the reason Vernon said that about Tony was that he noticed that Slydini was always prepared. Everything he did had a reason. Every angle was thought through. Every word, from the well known “Watch! You know why you no see, because you no watch!” and “It's the only trick I know that I don't know how it's done” to the lesser known quips, jokes and stories. Slydini thought everything through, beforehand. It is why he was so good at thinking off the cuff. It takes a tremendous amount of work and foresight to make things look like they are “just happening”. That was Tony.
Below, I give you six thought-provoking questions to ask yourself when you are preparing to introduce an effect into your act for the purpose of “breaking the ice” with a group. In that context, it is important for the effects to be simple and understood. That said, the key to making them simple is to prepare your thoughts and actions in advance.
These questions can be adapted to prepare for nearly any situation you encounter in your magic. Are you are performing for an audience size you have not performed for before? Are you performing for an audience that you think might be inclined to try to “catch” you? (Engineers, Lawyers). What effects would work best in those situations? The point is to get you thinking and preparing, strategically, like Tony did. These questions, while seemingly obvious, have been part of the backbone of my own preparation for my now over 50 year career in magic.
Questions to Ask to Yourself to Prepare to Perform an Effect For the Purpose of “Breaking The Ice”
1)What’s the point?
There should be a definite point to why you’re using that specific effect. If there isn’t one it could be more of a negative than a positive, and cloud up the procedure rather than be the picture worth 1,000 words. I was called by a fortune 500 company one time to help design a sales meeting. The first question I had for the Sales VP was what the one , major point of the meeting was for. I know it was an oversight but he didn’t have one! I suggested “The Magic is You” and then every piece fell into place. If you don’t know where you’re going, it’s a cinch you’re going to get there! That’s an old axiom that bears repeating. Each effect you use should have a definite point or justification or don’t use it in this context…use the effect just as entertainment if you get the opportunity.
2)Is it simple?
You can check back in the archives for my article on simplicity and get the full gist of this, but for the most part I recommend you keep the effect as simple and uncomplicated as possible. Any multiple stage routine is difficult to use to drive home a major, simple point (there are exceptions, but they are rare).
3)Am I proficient?
You must know ALL the handlings and ALL the patter and ALL the outs and ALL the “business” BEFORE you even think of performing the effect for anyone, especially a serious client or person you want to impress. This is just common sense. Learn any moves or sleights thoroughly before you devise the patter. This was Slydini’s method (I specifically asked him).
4)Does it fit me?
Only trial and error can tell this but give it a good, sincere try before canning a nice idea or effect. I tried a number of new effects out at Caesar’s every month or so when I worked there as house magician from 1997-2001 and most of the joy of performing close-up is making an effect that you don’t think you can pull off become one of your favorites. If you follow the formula…premise…moves…patter, then you will literally create many effects that fit YOU and adapt and adopt many others.
5)What’s my follow-up?
This isn’t necessarily the point of the effect, but what you will do after making the point. Will you put the props away immediately or just let them sit? Will you hand them out for examination or not? The point here is not to do anything after you make the “magical” point, to diminish the power and effect. Does that make sense?…think about it and I believe it will.
6)What will you say when they say “How did you do that?”?
My advice is to stay on the point rather than be led off by the mystery. No matter how much they are impressed with the effect they will be mystified and will wonder how you “did it”. Don’t be taken off your purpose. Say something like, “That’s exactly the point…”, or “This is why I used this little effect, to demonstrate the_____________(hit them with the benefit or point you want to convey).
Use the effect like you would use a trained sheepdog to keep a flock of sheep controlled.
These six points just touch the tip of the iceberg, but there is enough here for you to get the idea. To put it simply…you are a surgeon and the effects are your implements. “Go ye and operate!”