I was wrong about the paper balls.
For years I thought of paper balls as a comedy trick. It’s not particularly amazing or impressive, but it is a guaranteed hand-full of laughs which the audience will not soon forget.
I was wrong.
I first learned paper balls from Gregory Wilson (On the Spot). I’d been exposed to Copperfield’s and Daniels’ versions, but I came to Slydini late. It was seeing Slydini perform the trick which is now synonymous with his name where I realized the truth about this trick.
Paper balls over the head is a skill trick. Pure, unabashed, in-your-face raw skill.
We will dive into why this is true in just a moment. But first, let us take a look at how most magicians perform this trick, and why it fails to be percieved as skill in thier hands.
To toss a ball over somebody’s head is not really that difficult, which is why so many magicians who are mere journeymen at sleight of hand and misdirection can include this in thier act. It is not difficult to toss a ball over somebody’s head when you release the ball behind thier eyesight! This is what 90% of magicians do. They literally move thier hand to just above the spectator’s head (or even farther back) and that’s when they release the ball. They really can’t get caught and you can still achieve the desired comedic effect. You just lose the skill, real and percieved.
But Slydini doesn’t do that. He stands far away from the audience member and releases the ball just above thier eyesight. The hand never goes behind the audience member’s head, or even above it. The audience is left wondering how on earth the spetator didn’t see the ball go. (I’ve been pushing myself lately to do this technique and I am left wondering how the spectator didn’t see the ball). This is the skill. This is the trick. How does the audience member not see the ball? It was right in front of him!
Slydini doesn’t quit while he’s ahead. After two or three vanishes/tosses, the audience is quite impressed and the spectator is quite baffled. This is where many of us mere mortal magicians call it a day. But that greedy little Italian goes for six vanishes. The audience is well aware that with each repetition, the magician is risking being caught. The more perceptive audience members will realize that each repeition also gets more difficult. They also realize that if Slydini is caught, the mystery will be unraveled for the spectator.
The confidence that Slydini has in his tecnique is inspiring and impressive. It’s the sign of a true master of his craft and the audience appreciates the skill.
The easiest way to misdirect somebody is to bewilder them. Lots of vague instructions, touches, and movement. You can hide anything in that mess of stimulus. This is the strategy for most paper ball routines, and while it succeeds in covering the move and getting laughs- it fails to convey magic to the participant or skill to the audience.
Slydini’s scripting strives for clarity, both for the audience and the spectator onstage. He chooses a smart looking male and inquires about his eyesight. He makes him feel comfortable. He explains, very slowly, very vividly, exactly what is about to happen. “Im’a gonna put’a the ball into my hand. And when I open’a my hand. The… ball… will… dis… appear! Watch!”
It’s a masterpiece to watch.
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Did you really read this far down? Thank you so much, you are awesome!