April 11, 1980


(NOTE: The author is a performer and a student of performing. The two are not always synonymous, however. Here, he takes a hard look at an aspect of performing too often completely overlooked, whether in the intimacy of close-up or the glare of the theatrical spotlight. "Patter," said an old-time performer, "should not be left to take care of itself." Unfortunately, many erstwhile entertainers never heard of the old-timer. Fewer still, have seriously considered his admonition.)

That many magicians do bad magic cannot be denied. That others use atrocious patter is equally true. While it is obvious that some among the latter group understand ,— what magic is all about, too few seem to have any notion of what patter is supposed to be.

PATTER MUST HAVE PURPOSE In mentalism or magic, patter must serve a definite purpose.

It is not merely a noise made in the hope of distracting your audience from your struggle to cram a silk into a dye tube or to surreptitiously steal a torn center. The entertainer, presumably, has some Idea of the total effect he wishes to create on his audience. For instance, he knows whether he wants his spectators to believe him a suave worker of miracles beyond the ken of ordinary mortals. Or whether he wants to portray everyone's fumbling, bumbling, friendly teddy-bear, Uncle Fred, Perhaps he wants spectators to see him as possessor of a rapier wit and a demonic sense of humor. Thus, having pictured to himself the image he wants to picture to the audience, he is ready to take the first step in preparing his patter, which, if successful, will help give shape and substance to the image. The Image establishes the boundaries.

HOW MUCH, WHEN, AND IN WHAT MANNER Your establishment of boundaries will tell you which of the various sub-languages of the English tongue will be most appropriate for your characterization. The boundaries will delimit your vocabulary, your accent, your idiom, and the degree of grammatical perfection that you'll need to stay In character. In other words, it is a-t this point that you determine the manner in which you will speak. Even the question of how much you will say must be determined at this point, since the amount, too, becomes a characteristic of your portrayal,

THE MANNER MUST BE SUITABLE Picture a performer clad in tails and white tie, stepping into the spotlight to do a Cardini-style act. His trousers need pressing, his nails are dirty, and his shave Is hours old. The act fails. It matters not the skill of the manipulator. The'characterization is lacking. On the other hand, picture a performer who is impeccably clad and who is faultlessly grooomed

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("Chatter" - Cont'd from page 1275) opening his mouth to apeak, and both grammar and speech underline his years of inattention when his language was taught. Here, too, the act fails. Again, the characterization is inconsistent. The manner of the speech must be suitable to the speaker portrayed,

DON'T OVERLOOK BODY LANGUAGE With verbal patter must be considered gesture and posture.

The expressive gestures of the Mediterranean or the Levant, charming in themselves, are ill assorted with the cold smoothness of white tie and tails. Vet, body language can be the strongest patter at your corrjnand. See again and again the movie, "Fiddler on the Roof." Notice the consumate mastery with which Topal uses the smallest of gestures to convey sentences unspoken. But, here again, the language of your gesture and posture must be of a piece with the variety of English which you speak.

CHOOSING WJ-IAT TO SAY.. .AND HOW Having considered the basic framework of the character, and the language which you as that character must use, you then have to choose what you are going to say. Whether or not patter should be memorized and delivered word-for-word has often been argued. 1 subscribe to the view that it SHOULD be memorized and that the gestures and movements that accompany each word should not be a matter of happenstance. You are an actor playing a part. Learn the role.

USE TATTER TO ACHIEVE YOUR OBJECTIVE Every word of your patter Should be included for a reason. Initially, you probably will not be able to afford good writers to draft your material. More logically, it can be hoped you will devote considerable thought to what you are to say, and WHY you are to say it. Patter may serve to explain. It may serve to divert, to entertain, or to act as strong misdirection, You should analyze just wThat you want to do to the audience at a particular instant in your routine, and then devise patter that will accomplish this end,

AVOID THE OBVIOUS When you use such an approach, you will avoid some of the Inanities that lard many performers' presentations. One very fine entertainer, inventive and imaginative in most ways, during his lecturc demonstrations constantly uses as a substitute for patter such witless remarks as, "Wouldn't it be a good trick if. . Fortunately, when this individual works in public, he performs pantomime.

Not all among his audience could sit still long under a deluge of such banal chatter. But probably the worst habit of most performers — and certainly the most widespread — is the sub-human proclivity for stating the obvious.

A PERFECTLY ORDINARY DECK OF CARDS It'3 not an uncommon sight. The performer grasps a glass in one hand and a pitcher of milk in the other. Then, in a manner of one explaining recondite mysteries, he declaims, "I have here a glass and some milk. I pour the milk into the glass." And, at that point, he proceeds to do it. During this, those of his audience with intelligence exceeding that of a brain-damaged lemur allow their minds to drift into more pleasant seas of contemplation. Even the mental viewing of such pleasant scenes as a rhinoceros sitting with aplomb on the rough and hostile grass of a Mediterranean lawn, "This," the magician explains, "is a perfectly ordinary deck of playing cards," More often than not, many spectators, upon hearing that, momentarily wonder whether or not it is a trick deck. OR a tricky performer.

DON'T MAKE IT HARDER THAN IT IS Patter, realistically, is nothing more or less than talking to your audience, In order to achieve a certain purpose, EXACTLY as the person you momentarily are would, if that person were real. Stop and think about that for a moment. It's just another way of saying that "a magician is an actor playing the part of a magician". The mirrors never stop. Indeed, they serve only to help answer that oldest of questions of the method actor: "What is my motivation?"

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