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The Big Bag of Tricks and the Little Black Hat

The Big Bag of Tricks and the Little Black Hat
Copyright 1981 by Ron Bauer

My first thought on how to begin was... "This contribution is my tribute to Mr. David Ginn." I read that a couple of times and got the feeling it was not enough. So I looked into my dictionary. Contribution means giving for a common purpose. A tribute is a gift given in acknowledgement of admiration, gratitude, or respect. Considering that this is my gift, which is one of many with the same purpose, and that it is meant to acknowledge my admiration, gratitude, and respect, I've decided to begin with...

"This contribution is my tribute to Mr. David Ginn."

It's not a magic trick. Nor is it a collection of magic tricks. It's a FORMAT... a theatrical device for achieving a unified presentation... applied to "the performance with no plot" – the magic act. This FORMAT can be appreciated in more than one way.

One way, as theater, it provides you with a plot, and focuses the audience's interest on the character of the performer. That's accomplished in part as the plot unfolds. The audience becomes aware of a "before" and "after" of this magical person. And, the magic tricks, rather than being the series of puzzles they often are, reveal various aspects of the performer's personality. The performer and the audience get in touch.

If that way doesn't grab you, try this... The FORMAT provides a means to easily arrange several unrelated magic tricks into a tight little show. No special writing and producing skills required.

By now, many readers might be confusing FORMAT with ROUTINE. Unfortunately, I don't have enough space to explain the considerable differences. I'm betting, though, that most of these differences will become obvious by the time you complete the following example of this FORMAT.

In this example, by the way, I've used all David Ginn material. Therefore, I call this The David Ginn Version.

Synopsis of The David Ginn Version

The Magical Person (MP) enters, places a grocery bag imprinted with BAG OF TRICKS, and his name, onto the table. He announces... "As you can see, folks, I brought my whole bag of tricks with me... because at home I couldn't make up my mind what kind of a show to do for a group like you... Naturally, I considered the standard sort of thing... like the old MAGIC WAND DOUBLE-SOMERSAULT..."

He's apparently holding something in his left hand, but we can't see it, so it must be invisible.

"Some of you may not be able to see this magic wand... That's because it's invisible... But, after a DOUBLE SOMERSAULT IN THE AIR..."

He's apparently tossing something into the air. He's watching it making loops above his head... He's lunging to the left... A magic wand suddenly appears in his right hand! (This is from David Ginn's lecture notes called Sure-Fire Magic)

"...Now everyone can see it!... almost missed...

"However, this is old stuff. About the only thing a magic wand is good for nowadays is decoration!"

As he says this, the wand changes into a bouquet of oddlooking flowers. But, something seems to be missing...

"Wait a minute. Something seems to be missing... Oh, I know..."

He's going to the bag and rummaging among the contents.

"...It's gotta be here... Ah! I thought I'd forgotten this..."

He's found a vase for the bouquet. (Big deal.)

"Anyway, with this BIG BAG OF TRICKS... and, this LITTLE BLACK HAT..."

He's removed a little black hat from the bag.

"You... the audience... will determine what this magic show will be. Then it can't all be blamed on me...

"Here's how it works. I've written the names of the various tricks which are in this bag... on slips of paper... and stuffed them into this hat... You pick a slip... I'll do whatever trick you pick! This is going to be fun for me, because I won't know what this show will be like either, until I hear what's written on the selected slips...

"For example, the show could go like this..."

MP selects slip, opens it, and reads. "THE DISAPPEARING ELEPHANT TRICK!... followed by..."

He picks another. Reads. "...THE UPSIDE-DOWN STRAIGHTJACKET ESCAPE TRICK!... And, finally..."

He picks a third. "...THE FLOATING GIRL TRICK!" Wow! I'd like to have seen a magic show like that myself!... However, you didn't pick these, did you?..."

He discards the three slips into the bag.

"So, let's see what remarkable mystery opens our show..."

The MP offers a young man in the audience a choice of slips from the LITTLE BLACK HAT. One is selected.

"Read what it says... 'THE CARD TRICK'... Well, we've got to start somewhere, don't we?... But, just for the sake of adding a little excitement to that choice, let's call this card trick: MINDREADING... and, since you're such a good picker, c'mon up here and pick one of these cards..."

Now the MP performs David Ginn's "Comedy Card on Back." Before he sends "Ralph" back to his seat, though...

"Before you go back and sit down, Ralph, would you pick one more trick from the LITTLE BLACK HAT?"... What's it gonna be?... 'THE FLAG TRICK'... Thanks, Ralph. Give him a big round of applause as he goes back to his seat..."

As Ralph sits down, the MP rummages through his bag and, from his expression, he's found something... It turns out to be just what he needs to perform David Ginn's presentation for the "Mis-Made Flag" called "Betsy Ross Outdone" from Professional Magic for Children. At the end of the trick, before he sends "Diane" back to her seat...

"Before you go back to sit down, Diane, would you like to pick a trick from the LITTLE BLACK HAT?... Okay... and, it's 'THE MAGIC RINGS TRICK'... Thank you, Diane. Let's give her a tremendous round of applause, folks..."

The MP rummages through his bag, deftly locates and brings forth his cloth "Ring Bag." He then proceeds with a rousing presenting of David Ginn's "Comedy Linking Rings." This trick leaves the MP alone on stage and triumphantly accepting well-earned applause. He puts the rings into the bag, and holds up THE LITTLE BLACK HAT.

"You know, I didn't have John or Mary pick a slip from the LITTLE BLACK HAT while they were helping me with the MAGIC RINGS TRICK... Now I'll show you why... I'm going to make the last pick of this show myself... But I'm not picking just one slip..."

The MP grabs the remaining batch of slips.

"See? I'm picking all of them... and compressing them into ONE WITH TWO... ONE SLIP WITH TWO IMPORTANT WORDS..."

He transforms the batch into a sign which says...

"...THANK YOU!... for being such a nice audience!" Now he's bowing to enthusiastic applause... And, before the applause dies out, he exits with his BIG BAG OF TRICKS AND THE LITTLE BLACK HAT... until the next time.

So much for the SYNOPSIS. To save space, I did not describe the presentations of the David Ginn material used in this version. Sorry about that. You'll just have to look them up, if you don't already know them.

However, I prepared this outline of the FORMAT so you can see how each part relates...

Outline of FORMAT
  1. THE OPENING... immediately and visually establish the theme. First the BIG BAG is seen. Second, in The David Ginn Version, the magic wand appears and is changed to flowers.
  2. SET UP THE CONTINUITY... The audience must understand the relationship of the HAT, the SLIPS, and the BAG OF TRICKS relative to the plan the performer has in mind.
  3. TRICK #1... Here is where the audience "gets to know" the performer. Dave's "Comedy Card on Back" presentation fits perfectly here because it's the type of LIGHT MYSTERY you need for the purpose. Also, most important, its ending leaves the audience both surprised and mystified. (MYSTIFIED IS ESSENTIAL.)
  4. TRANSITION... Now it should be made clear how the performance is tied together... The single effect – or UNITY – is based on the audience being an integral part of the show. The selections of the tricks must be made or there is no show.
  5. TRICK #2... Props are important here. COLOR AND ACTION WITH A VISIBLE RESULT... leaves images in the memories of your audience... and builds interest in the BIG BAG. ("Just what ARE the tricks in that bag?") David's combination of "Mis-Made Flag" and "Duke's Dyeversion" has all the needed elements.
  6. TRANSITION... Once more the audience is drawn back to the idea that the PERFORMER and THEY are permanent, the tricks merely chance episodes occurring in this particular performance.
  7. TRICK #3... This trick concludes with the CLIMAX of the performance. David's "Comedy Linking Rings" are ideal because it's in two distinct parts. The first part clearly involves the audience so everyone UNDERSTANDS the SIGNIFICANCE of the illusion. In this case, "solid can't pass through solid, but in this unusual situation it does!" The last part has a STRUGGLE and a visible applause-getting SUCCESS.
  8. CLOSING... This part is the DENOUEMENT. One final reminder of the relationship between the PERFORMER and the AUDIENCE is necessary or the last strong mystery will be remembered instead. Don't rush this, but move deliberately through it.

This outline of the FORMAT is very important because it shows you the type of tricks or presentations needed to make a whole show. Note how the TRANSITIONS tie all the parts together. In theater this is called UNITY.

You can, with some thought and experimentation, use this FORMAT For almost any type of audience. There are some limits, of course... starting with the size of the bag. The bag has only enough room for props visible to relatively small audiences. (Yes, I know you could use a bigger bag.)

One more point. For informal occasions, this FORMAT makes it easy to deliver a professional-looking show without the need for the enormous investment of time and money that's required for a professional show. It's not necessarily less, it's different.

Now, if you intend to produce and star in this little show, here are some necessary details...

Props for the Basic Outfit

Click to Enlarge

The illustration page tells most of the story. The slips are made from 8 1/2" X 11" sheets of paper. One sheet makes eight slips. You need one set of eight or more slips for each of the tricks. (See illustration 1) For example, print THE CARD TRICK on each of one set of slips. Fold each slip in half twice. Put one set of slips into one of the little black hats.

You'll need one hat for each of the tricks. The audience thinks there's only one hat. Actually, you're exchanging hats inside the bag between presentations. (Note: In the first part of the show, you select three slips and read them to the audience. The truth is, you pick any three slips and PRETEND to read them.)

The hats I use are from a dealer item called "Hats and Hares." If you can't find these, or something similar, Farrell's Ice Cream Parlors sell miniature straw hats for about fifty cents each. Substitute these, but say the LITTLE STRAW HAT instead of the LITTLE BLACK HAT when performing (of course).

Now you need a "batch of slips which transforms into a sign." The illustration marked 2 show how to make this us. Need I mention you should use the same type of paper as the slips?

The transformation is made by grasping the corner of the panel A with the right fingers, corner B with the left fingers, and pull both hands apart. Try it in front of a mirror to get the whole effect.

The BAG is two bags nested for strength. For extra support, the bottom of the inner bag should be fitted with a piece of corrugated cardboard.

To make the hat compartment, use posterboard. Cut, fold and glue it about an inch or so below the top of the inner bag.

Put the decorations on the outer bag... or the audience won't be able to see your name.

Nest the hats. Trick number one in the top one. Put the nest into the compartment.

Paperclip the "batch" to the compartment in such a way that you can easily get it when you need it.

Props for The David Ginn Version

Click to Enlarge

The details about the props are in the sources I mentioned in the SYNOPSIS. But, if you look closely at illustration 4, you can see how easily they fit the BAG. There's even room to spare.

The four flags are standing in the holds of a piece of posterboard rubber cemented to the inner bag. The tube is held against one corner by a strip of card fixed for easy removal with masking tape. (These are the props for "Betsy Ross Outdone.")

I happen to use six-inch Linking Rings in a fitted cloth bag. This whole outfit lies flat on the bottom. Eight-inch rings won't lie flat, but crowding is no problem anyway.

In the illustration, you see the point in the show just after the flowers have been placed in the vase.

The flowers are from the "Fantasio Wand to Flowers" that David describes in Sure-Fire Magic.


If you plan to try out this FORMAT, I recommend The David Ginn Version as a start. I've used many of his ideas in hundreds of shows. He knows what audiences enjoy. After you've tried it this way a few times, review the FORMAT OUTLINE. Make notes. Discuss your findings with other theatrical-minded people. Then start substituting the tricks with items you've used or have been wanting to use. I think you're in for some exciting new discoveries about magic and theater.

Copyright 1981 by Ron Bauer