Slydini's "Handy-Work" by Bill Wisch
Original Publication Date: February 1998
Slydini had many things about him that people found fascinating. Much of his charisma was from the way he did things when he performed. Ordinary actions like casually moving an object from place to place or just looking at the audience, even though appearing innocent, were carried out in a specific, well-organized and pre-planned fashion. How Slydini used his hands to achieve this effect is what I will touch on briefly in this installment of The Legacy.
Slydini had a very distinct manner about him. He was always unhurried and impeccable...the only time he was quick or pronounced is when it had to do with the specific effect. For example, when he performed the "cards from the mouth" (with the entire deck streaming forth from his mouth) he gave out a loud shriek and literally "freaked out" facially. The stunning surprise of it all was in direct contrast to his normal presentation and made that much more of an impression on the startled audience.
When it came to his hands, Slydini was very fussy and deliberate. He always said his hands were his "instrument" like a violin or trumpet. To him his hands were the whole ballgame. He used to say, "watch my hands" many times during a performance and had a number of interesting techniques he would use to "frame the effect better", he would say.
Here are a few things about Slydini's hands that you may find interesting:
1) He always kept his hands absolutely clean and attractive. He also had his nails manicured and used a light coat of clear polish. It wasn't overdone or feminine, however. His hands looked great!
2) He always said that movement of the hands should be done as much INDEPENDENTLY as possible to keep confusion at a minimum. I have to transcribe my tape to get his exact words but I remember him saying that movement of both hands at the same time always led to a more chaotic appearance to the audience. When you watch him perform his cigarette routines...the misdirection lesson...any manipulation sequences (see the Slydini books or the tapes from the Dick Cavett shows in the 70's), you'll notice that he in fact DOES move each hand independently and it really does look better! I was taught this way and many other students could probably attest to that reaction as well.
3) If I were asked to describe Slydini's handling of props it would be..."like a mouse walking on cotton". By that I mean his picking up, placing, manipulating and general handling was done with gentleness and deliberate attention given to exactness. It was definitely POETIC to see him perform. Like magical poetry with a surgeon's skill and deftness. This manner was a major part of his charisma, I believe. It fit his whole persona and style. The image he had was one of simplicity and stayed away from outlandish and loud, boisterous movements and presentations.
4) The last observation I want to mention is so simple but so effective. Slydini always CHALLENGED the audience to "look at my hands". He did this with a casual flair but with a challenge to catch him. This is, in my opinion, what made Slydini so great. He challenged the audience.
Then he proceeded to "fool" the audience badly regardless of how closely they watched. Think about that. I will be going in greater detail when I cover CHALLENGE in my TIP OF THE WAND series on SHOWMANSHIP but I just wanted to include mention of it here because of it's significance. It's NOT a personal challenge or one of superiority...it's just a message to the audience that they can watch all they want and never catch you. Believe me...IT WORKS! I've used this aspect for years and must say that it was one of, if not the MOST valuable pieces of instruction I ever learned from Slydini.