Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

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Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby performer » February 6th, 2016, 8:10 am

It appears that conversation about Jon Kamms box has been forcibly brought to an end which is just as well since at my age I expect to be in my own box soon and don't wish to be reminded of these things.

However, somehow Henning Nelms and his awful book somehow got involved in the conversation so perhaps we should go on to that instead. Everyone loves this awful book except me and Geoffrey Durham who said it was "sterile and unhelpful". I have rarely met a single magician who agrees with me that this is a horrific book. And here is the evidence of the undeserved rave reviews:

http://www.themagiccafe.com/forums/view ... 53&start=0

My bias against this book is personal because I wasted a full 6 months trying to implement the theory within. Nonsensical tosh about "silent scripts" which I have never believed in. How the hell are you supposed to concentrate on the PEOPLE when you are babbling to yourself in your inner mind and at the same time reciting your patter? This is daft actor's talk and I have often railed against the trained actor's methods of performing. You have to be an actor as a magician but not a TRAINED actor. Otherwise you will end up boring people to death on television doing long winded mentalism like Orson Welles used to do. I am still trying to recover from the torture inflicted as a result.

I am a pretty good showman and I have somehow managed to achieve this without following the directions in this awful book. I haven't looked at it for about 45 years and I shudder every time I see it. Thankfully I have forgotten everything in it. I may look at a google or amazon extract at some point if I feel strong enough to see if I still have this rabid bias against it.

I am just curious to see if I am the only magician (apart from the aforementioned Geoffrey Durham)in existence who thinks this is an awful book which should be burned publicly. I feel like the little boy who says the Emperor has no clothes. But is there ANYBODY here who doesn't like the book? I feel all alone in the wilderness.

The problem with Nelms is that he was one of those actor types but had never actually performed magic in his life but knew how to theorise about it.

When I first got the book I wandered into Harry Stanley's Magic Studio. Harry saw me with the book and was full of enthusiasm saying, "It is about time someone wrote a book on this subject" and asked to borrow it. A few days later he returned it to me and was no longer enthusiastic saying, "this book is all padding" and was very dismissive and negative about it. Harry was an old showbusiness veteran and knew the entertainment business very well. And his opinion was telling although I ignored him at the time.

So much time has passed that I can't remember if the book referred to stage magic or close up. Or perhaps both. I am quite sure that to some extent it talked about close up magic and I found that his theories in regard to that were complete nonsense and I was stupid enough to believe in them for a while.

The moral of the tale is not to take things that you read as gospel. Unless of course you read it from me.........................

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby performer » February 6th, 2016, 8:24 am

Oh, and I expound on the matter on the magic cafe here. My cafe name on this thread is "white rodent"

http://www.themagiccafe.com/forums/view ... 72&start=0

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby performer » February 6th, 2016, 8:44 am

OK. I have found a free copy of the book which I think is more than the price it is worth. As soon as I saw the word "meaning" my old feelings of queasiness came back and I can hardly look at it. The biggest load of tosh has been written over the years is that magic has to have "meaning". It doesn't. Why doesn't it? Because I just said so. It is quite meaningless to say that magic has to have meaning and I mean that and I don't care if you think I am being mean when I say that. Because I mean it. So there.

The meaning is that you are DOING A TRICK! That is meaning enough! And the other tosh that Nelms comes out with that when doing impromptu magic you should steer the conversation towards a topic related to the trick or the patter thereof is the biggest load of twaddle I have ever read in my life. How long is that supposed to take? And not everyone has the skill to navigate a conversation in the way they want. Furthermore I can guarantee that Nelms never did this himself because he didn't know any magic anyway. Untested theory which magicians drool over which does not work in the real world.

Anyway, here is the free copy of the book. I shall see if I am brave enough to look at it again after 45 years and try not to become traumatised again by the crap therein. My hatred of the book is PERSONAL. Thank God I saw the light in time.

https://books.google.ca/books?id=lwPxU4 ... &q&f=false

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby Matthew Field » February 6th, 2016, 10:52 am

I've "known" Mark for quite a few years and disagree with him about many things, including Henning Nelms. I think the book explains a lot of what's wrong with magic today, viz. it does not connect with many audiences. Mark thinks it's about the tricks, not some inner script. As Wesley James once wrote, it's NOT fun to be fooled. At least that's the case for many people.

Eugene Burger has written of the importance of scripting, Tommy Wonder has written about the internal script. As a classically trained actor, I agree with these ideas. Nelms puts these ideas into a short book which I think will help many magicians connect better with their audiences.

I find much of what Mark is expounding to be very dated (although Magic and Showmanship is from 1969). Sorry, Mark. The book is not sufficient for enlightening the magician, but it is an introduction. Stagecraft is another factor (see, e.g., Tamariz's "The Five Points in Magic").

I consider Geoffrey Durham a friend, but we disagree about many things.

That's my take, anyway.

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby performer » February 6th, 2016, 11:10 am

I have NEVER thought it is about the tricks. I Have ALWAYS considered that the least important part of the equation. And I know more about the theory that it is not fun being fooled than anyone else as I have written about it extensively in my references to "defensive resentment".

And I have read the tosh by other supposed worthies on these matters. They are wrong and always have been. And being a "classicaly trained actor" is a DISADVANTAGE rather than an advantage. You are not reciting Hamlet-you are doing the sponge balls-and you have no time to be talking to yourself like a mental patient when you are supposed to be talking to the PEOPLE. Magic is PEOPLE not daft theatrical theories by people who have rarely performed but somehow feel qualified to write books on the subject so that the blind can lead the blind. If you think the concept that magic is PEOPLE is "dated" then there is no hope for you and you will never rise to great competence.

Oh, and I don't like the Tamariz book either.

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby Leo Garet » February 6th, 2016, 11:30 am

I’m Nobody In Particular, although I remain hopeful that I might one day be less that nobody in particular. Owing to my well-documented Nobodyness I’m reluctant to offer opinion on such revered and esteemed jewels as this. I haven’t the qualifications.
But I’ve never liked it.

I think the book is so vastly overrated by the fraternity, it has taken on the guise of the Emperor’s Clothes. To express even the mildest disappointment with something of such stature is barbarism, heresy. It has the same untouchableness about it that surrounds much that is Erdnase. Although, I quite like mister Andrews, or whatever name he’s travelling under this week.

I’m not sorry I’ve read it, more than once, as it happens, it’s on the shelf glowering at me as I scribble this. But I remain unmoved.

As for Wesley James, I’d rather take notice of Henning Nelms, or, at a pinch, Darwin Ortiz.
Sorry Mister Field. Give me Geoff Durham anyday. Geoff’s book is also on the shelf, though on the other side of the room. :)

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby MagicbyAlfred » February 6th, 2016, 1:19 pm

Performer, you have ranted and raved interminably about how horrible the book is; I saw you even brought Hamlet into your diatribe. But my friend, me thinks thou doth protest too much. And you have missed the main points of the book. It is not primarily about internal scripts or mumbling to oneself, it's about connecting with the audience to heighten their enjoyment of the experience of what the performer is offering them. You made the point yesterday that Helms never performed a magic show in his life. Although I doubt that's true, perhaps that would be to his credit. Is it not you who staunchly maintains that the last people we should be listening to are magicians?

There are so many books about sleights and moves, and yes, an infinity of card tricks, ad nauseum, books by magicians for magicians, filled with trick after trick. And that's fine, I am not knocking it, if that's what one likes and prefers. But so few books that delve into an understanding of what is important to the audience, how they think, how to move them, how to generate maximum reactions (those reactions are what get you hired, and re-hired, by the way, when the party planner or host sees and hears them). I understand that you and Mr. Garet don't like Helm's book, perhaps detest is a better word. Perfect. You are entitled. You both think Geoffrey Durham's work is great, while eschewing Helms, while Matthew (and it so happens, a ton of others in the fraternity) happen to love and appreciate Helms book, as I do.

So I ask you. Which is the "better" ice cream: vanilla or strawberry?

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby Leo Garet » February 6th, 2016, 1:53 pm

Magic Alfred, I’d be grateful if you didn’t put words in my mouth. I said I don’t like the book. I never said I detested it. And I never for a moment denied that many others do like it. I said as much. Incidentally, for “like,”substitute any other adjective that you feel is more suitable.
Neither did I say that Geoff Durham’s book is better.

My reluctance to comment on such icons of the industry is borne out by your remarks. Lots of people like it, ergo and therefore so should/must I. Yes, you were gracious enough to allow me the option of doing my own thing, as we clapped out hippies are wont to utter, but it was draped in just a hint or two of disdain.

The fact that I own a copy of the book and have done for more than several weeks and have it read it ore than once, but still don’t like it, shows a willingness to at least keep trying.

As for Nelms and similar books giving “an understanding of what is important to the audience, how they think,” and so on, I’ve been working on that since forever. Long before Nelms came along. I have no idea what they think and if I ever find myself kidding myself that I think I know what they’re thinking, I know it’s time for a rethink. I’m slipping.

As for your rider:
Which is "better": vanilla ice cream or strawberry ice cream?
Well, precisely. I like both, but when it comes to onions I love ’em grilled, but can’t stand ’em boiled. But so what?

Please excuse me now, it’s time to take my Calm-Down tablets.
:) :lol:

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby MagicbyAlfred » February 6th, 2016, 2:11 pm

Leo, I take your points. No "disdain" intended, if it seemed that way, it was my lack of communication skills. Clearly you stated you never liked the book, and did not express vehement antipathy rising to the level of detest. So, in the modern-day vernacular, "my bad." When I used the word, "detest," it was more intended as a characterization of you-know-who's feeling toward the book (and I believe a fair characterization, at that), and I certainly didn't mean to lump you in with the likes of him! (Of course, you know I'm kidding, Mark).

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby performer » February 6th, 2016, 3:03 pm

Indeed. I was the one who detested it. Leo only had a cynical disdain of it but keeps trying to like it but can't quite manage it. I envy him. He was astute enough to think it was a load of tosh from the very beginning. Therefore his dislike is more lukewarm than mine. My problem was to believe every word of it and tried to follow it assiduously and that was my undoing because it stressed me out trying to do what I later realised was a completely nonsensical approach. That is why my initial good impressions of the book turned to hatred. If I had continued on the awful path outlined by Nelms I would have ended up as crap as everyone else.

I shall comment in more depth later on the matter. In the meantime the best places to learn this type of thing is the presentation section of Expert Card Technique as I have said again and again. I was also very impressed by the Darwin Ortiz book Strong Magic apart from his advice on hecklers. I did get a bit suspicious when he gave some examples of opening patter to a card trick and I thought perhaps that was meant as a mere example but alas I found he actually meant it. It was a long winded preamble before the card trick started. I have seen this atrocious policy quite often including people who should know better. You should always get on with the bloody thing and not start prattling for one or two minutes before the trick starts. However, apart from those minor quibbles I really like the Strong Magic book.

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby performer » February 7th, 2016, 4:19 am

I see that Mr Field has now deleted the comment about Wesley James although perhaps I imagined the whole thing in the first place. He quoted Wesley (I think) as saying that "most" magicians think the trick is the main thing whereas they should be concentrating on the presentation implying that I am one of the "most". I bloody well am not and have always known since I was 16 years old that the trick is of secondary importance. It appears that it has just dawned on Matthew that my unique and incredible talents could not have come about if I had taken this attitude and he consequently edited his post to reflect that. Better late than never I suppose. I have always believed in what Dunninger said, "That trick is of no consequence (a bit like the Henning Nelms book). Anything will do. Nail through finger will suffice if you can find some way of magnetising and hypnotising that audience"

I would strongly suggest that Mr Field get to work on Nail Through Finger immediately if he wishes to progress in magic.

With regard to Alfred's point that in the past I have stated that you should not listen to the opinions of magician but take notice of laymen that is indeed correct. However, I didn't mean some daft layman who decided to write a large book on how to present it. The second you do that you are not a layman any more.

Of course Nelms wasn't exactly a layman. He was probably one of those incompetent amateur magicians from the local magic club who once went to acting school like poor old Matthew Fields and therefore made the classic mistake of thinking that being a trained actor is an advantage as a magician. I have always known that it isn't. Trained actors tend to waffle in loud voices and use ten words where one will do. They learn their patter (I utterly refuse to use that pretentious word "script) by rote as if they were actors in a play seeming to forget that this is not necessary when learning a trick. That is because a trick can last you forever so the patter can be developed over several performances. The actor probably won't act in that play or film every again so has to make sure he says the words correctly at the very first performance.

And trained actors seem to come across as very artificial and awfully "perfect". I have always known that perfection is a lack of perfection in itself. Audiences like imperfect people. People that are human. Not perfect robots. They don't mind if you drop something or occasionally get your words mangled providing they like you and you don't do too much of it. I would rather be human than perfect. Faults don't matter. Lack of virtues do. And trained actors lack a lot of virtues and end up boring Mark Lewis like Orson Welles did performing mentalism on late night television.

You certainly have to be an actor as a magician but not a TRAINED actor. It is a different art form entirely and should be kept away from magic as far as possible. I do take the point that Alfred made that you have to connect with the audience. I am merely saying that Nelms didn't know how to do it and was advising the wrong things. Not that I can remember what he advised of course. I will have to refresh my memory and have another look. Alas it is a very boring book as well as an impractical one so I will have to force myself to do it. I do wish he hadn't put in those awful tricks that he invented and had never performed before a living soul. They get in the bloody way. Still, I shall take another look and hope I do not become overly traumatised again.

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby Matthew Field » February 7th, 2016, 5:27 am

Mark, I've changed or deleted nothing in my posts. I'll not rise to your baiting except to say, re: nail thru finger, if you'll give me a nail I'll happily give you the finger.

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby performer » February 7th, 2016, 5:37 am

Don't you have fingers of your own? You can't go around scrounging other people's fingers that don't belong to you, you know.

But you are confusing "baiting" with stating my honest opinion which of course is based on vast experience which through no fault of your own, you have not yet been able to accumulate. No doubt amusing yourself in the Magic Circle takes up a lot of time.

I must have imagined that you wrote something about Wesley James as it does not seem to be in your post at the moment. Or perhaps someone else mentioned the gentleman. I have no idea. I do have an idea about entertaining real people though. I have done it for decades. Henning Nelms hadn't.

I bet I can do Nail Through Finger better than he ever could. So there.

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby performer » February 7th, 2016, 5:49 am

Oh, I see that Wesley James is now back in your post. I wondered what you did with him. Who is he anyway? I have seen lots of people saying various rude things about him. That is a sign that he might know what he is talking about. I wish Henning Nelms did.

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby Tom Stone » February 7th, 2016, 7:19 am

performer wrote:You certainly have to be an actor as a magician but not a TRAINED actor. It is a different art form entirely and should be kept away from magic as far as possible. I do take the point that Alfred made that you have to connect with the audience. I am merely saying that Nelms didn't know how to do it and was advising the wrong things. Not that I can remember what he advised of course. I will have to refresh my memory and have another look. Alas it is a very boring book as well as an impractical one so I will have to force myself to do it. I do wish he hadn't put in those awful tricks that he invented and had never performed before a living soul. They get in the bloody way. Still, I shall take another look and hope I do not become overly traumatised again.

To some extent, I agree. There's things that can be cherrypicked and appropriated from theater, but it is a different art form which have very little relationship with magic in general.
There are things of value in the Nelms book, but the awful tricks get in the way.
There are good advice on routine building. Even more so on practical details of stage craft. Even the small tidbits are useful; like how to convincingly "cut" a gaffed rope. Or how to pass objects across the body. Or how to write a script so that it doesn't sound like you are following a script.
There's things that might sound odd at first, like the "silent script"... but when tried out, it is quickly found that, yes, the performance got better.
There's things which seems completely nuts, where it seems likely that Nelms had smoked parts of the scenery that shouldn't be smoked - like in illustration 102 "Pointing with ear". But when tried out, it quickly becomes apparent that it have an effect. That it is related to the ideas of Rudolf Laban and the physical theatre.
But when it comes to the parts that are about things uniquely related to magic, I think that Nelms's approach is deeply flawed. His presentations are contrived, unworkable and reads like pipedreams. His take on magic philosophy is perhaps well-meaning but very misguided, with not a little whiff of wishful thinking.

I agree completely with what Whit Haydn said on the Magic Cafe once:
Nelms book may not be fatal, but it sure can cause some numbness in a magic act. If taken too seriously it leads the neophyte into unproductive journeys.
On the other hand, if read with a grain of salt, it can spark a lot of creative ideas.
My problem with it is that his philosophy of magic is very unsound, and does not recognize the distinctions between magic and theater.


There are other books by Henning Nelms that might provide better value. The best one, I think, is his book "Thinking with a Pencil", which isn't too difficult to find on ebay.
His books on theater "Play Production", "Scene Design", "A Primer on Stage Craft" are unfortunately way too dated and too specific to be useful, but they are still interesting. The preview on Google Books for his theater play "Only an Orphan Girl" (1944) is... amusing. And I am looking for the locked room mystery he wrote under the pen name Hake Talbot.

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby Jack Shalom » February 7th, 2016, 9:12 am

As I see it, the problem with the Nelms book isn't that it brings magic into the sphere of theater, but that it happens to be a pretty lousy acting primer. Read Stanislavsky, Spolin, and take an acting class instead.

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby Leo Garet » February 7th, 2016, 9:54 am

MagicbyAlfred wrote:Leo, I take your points. No "disdain" intended, if it seemed that way, it was my lack of communication skills....

Magic Alfred:
No sweat (more clapped out hippie jargon).

I realised that Performer (who’s Mark?) was your “target.”

I've never been a fan of The Fitzkee Trilogy either, probably for the same reasons, that is, I don't like it.

As for ACTing, I’ve read (studied if preferred) more than several and none better than Michael Caine’s “Acting In Film”. The TV film, from whence came the book is more than a master class, too. Yes, it’s film, not theatre, but like any good principle, there’s gold here for every sphere of the game.

Interesting to see Celia Imrie as one of Caine’s “students–class”.

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby MagicbyAlfred » February 7th, 2016, 3:20 pm

Gosh, I am glad that I posted that I had gotten a lot out of Helm's book, and that it has generated such a lively, fascinating discussion with diverse views and commentary. To clarify, I have not learned or attempted to learn a single trick in his book. And, contrary to various comments posted, sorry, the book is not a book about acting. What appealed to me is that it is, to a significant degree, a book about psychology, specifically understanding what matters to and how to connect with the people you are performing for, and constructing one's performances and routines with that in mind. Wow, I never thought I would evoke such a spirited discussion. I respect everyone's views, but I'm sticking to my own, because I have seen the significant increase in spectator reactions since I have read and digested the book, and employed its principles. And to me, that's what counts most.

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby performer » February 7th, 2016, 8:50 pm

Jack Shalom wrote:As I see it, the problem with the Nelms book isn't that it brings magic into the sphere of theater, but that it happens to be a pretty lousy acting primer. Read Stanislavsky, Spolin, and take an acting class instead.


An acting class? What a horrifying thought! By all means take an acting class if you want to be a trained actor reciting Hamlet. However, don't take it if you wish to be a magician doing the sponge balls.

But yes. The Nelms book isn't really about acting. It is just that the author happened to be a theatrical director. Alas these people aren't much good at magic. I have seen two in my life. One was trying hard to do coin tricks but kept dropping the coins all over the floor and the other was an overloud profane fellow who had been brought in let the blind lead the blind at some convention or other. Alas he made the big mistake of actually getting up to perform his own act at the end of the convention. Naturally he was absolutely dreadful. Not that I am of a cynical frame of mind of course..............

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby observer » February 7th, 2016, 10:53 pm

[quote="Leo Garet"
No sweat (more clapped out hippie jargon).
.[/quote]

Nothing "hippie" about it, dates from the Korean War.

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby MagicbyAlfred » February 7th, 2016, 11:24 pm

Performer wrote: "Not that I am of a cynical frame of mind of course.............."

My dear friend, you, "cynical"? I should think "sugar and spice and everything nice" would be a more apt description, But cynical? Heavens no! Never! Perish the thought!

Not that I am in a sarcastic frame of mind of course............

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby performer » February 8th, 2016, 4:39 am

Grafters are cynical by nature. And I hope I don't have to explain what a grafter is. When you sell oven cleaner which cleans off burn marks in the oven which actually aren't burn marks but gravy browning it does tend to make a you a bit disbelieving. Or sell rubber rings which stop your spectacles slipping but in actual fact damage your glasses over a period, or sell pens by showing how indestructible the nibs are by running them across a hard board with a screeching noise neglecting to inform the punters that it is a ring you are wearing rubbing across the board which is making the noise rather than the nib of the pen it does make you somewhat cynical. I won't even mention selling sub standard quality svengali decks with inadequate instructions to horrible children who deserve all they are not getting.

Yes, that does make one a little cynical. However, within the cynicism is great wisdom. You know the true from the false. And spot the emperor who has no clothes very quickly indeed. Nelms should get dressed.

Anyway I am now pleased to see that I am not alone in the wildnerness after all. It seems that more people are lukewarm about Henning Nelms than I first thought.
Last edited by performer on February 8th, 2016, 10:02 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby MagicbyAlfred » February 8th, 2016, 6:44 am

Performer, perhaps Nelms was not as foolish and incompetent as you have made him out to be. Maybe, he was a grafter too. :mrgreen: After all, he has convinced so many magicians to buy his book, and somehow even managed to convince many who have read it that it's actually worthwhile.

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby performer » February 8th, 2016, 10:18 am

I understand he was a cartoonist rather than a grafter. And he wrote a book on that too. Hopefully it is better than his magic book as one can assume he actually did some drawing. I do find this quote by Whit Haydn that was provided by Tom Stone to be very telling:

"Nelms book may not be fatal, but it sure can cause some numbness in a magic act. If taken too seriously it leads the neophyte into unproductive journeys."

As I explained this is exactly what happened to me although I was not a neophyte. It bloody well nearly made me one though. I certainly took it too seriously. Alas I was young and did not know everything. Of course now I most certainly do.

Interestingly enough, on the Magic Cafe yesterday I saw a comment by Whit which actually agreed with what I said about "meaning in magic". I stated that the meaning is that YOU ARE DOING A TRICK and that is meaning enough and he more or less said the same thing albeit in more high falutin' language. I can't remember if it was a recent comment or one he made some time ago.

I don't agree with him about learning your patter off by heart but that is another topic for another time. However, I am pleased to see that he is unenthusiastic about the Nelms book and has realised that putting "meaning" in magic is perfectly meaningless. A bit like the Nelms book come to think of it.

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby MagicbyAlfred » February 8th, 2016, 10:41 am

PERFORMER WROTE: "Interestingly enough, on the Magic Cafe yesterday I saw a comment by Whit which actually agreed with what I said about "meaning in magic". I stated that the meaning is that YOU ARE DOING A TRICK..."

I don't think Nelms states anywhere in the book that there is any "meaning" in magic. I think his point was that it is meaningLESS if not presented in a way that ends up being more than a puzzle to the spectators. "Doing a trick" in and of itself, at best, accomplishes nothing more than that you have fooled someone, that you are clever enough to have outwitted them. A fine boost for the magician's already ample ego! But for them, so what? That's why a lot of people don't like magic or magicians. At least Nelms saw and cared enough to see that, and to heighten magicians' awareness of a problem that needed to be fixed. We have enough books on tricks and how to do them, and not enough that stimulate thought on how to present magic in a manner that will be entertaining to the people the tricks are being presented to. In the end, it is up to each performer, but we need to ask ourselves the question, before there will be an answer.

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby El Mystico » February 8th, 2016, 12:19 pm

I have some sympathy with performer here.
The trouble is - if you criticise a book on performance, it opens you up to the criticism that you think performance doesn't matter.
I have a vague memory that Nelms put on a magic show...and it flopped (or am I confusing him with Fitzkee? If I am - did Nelms actually put on a show?)
I see in Magipedia that he wrote novels and plays,but I think none of them are talked about today (except here...)
For me this says a lot about his value today.
Great that he raised the issue of the performance of magic; but perhaps his thoughts were not too insightful?

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby Leo Garet » February 8th, 2016, 12:36 pm

observer wrote:[quote="Leo Garet"
No sweat (more clapped out hippie jargon).

[Nothing "hippie" about it, dates from the Korean War.

If you’d care to re-read what I said, you might just observe that I never mentioned the word’s origin. Clearly I should have repeated the words “wont to utter” as in my previous post. That is, clapped out hippies are wont to utter it.
But while I’m here, let me mention (with no mention of origin) a few words that clapped out hippies such as I also utter.
Cool, snaz, sneck-lifter, crapola, Rosetti…

Meanwhile, drifting along somewhere on the borders of the outer fringes of the plot (no sweat) I too have seen references that claim it for Korea. As is often the case with words, I’ve also seen equally erudite remarks such as “Possibly”.
Not unlike some of Magic’s terminology, really, I suppose. “Card Mechanic,” anyone?

Back with “No Sweat,” my mother and father both used the term from time to time and they were using it pre-WWII. I don’t know where they got it from, but it wasn’t Korea.
Mam and Dad were quite a few years older than me and, notwithstanding their ancientness, they also said “hip to the jive” and “groovy” and “cool”. I still do.

They also said things like “Put those cards away and do a bit of studying” and “Turn that racket down”.
And very, very frequently, "Don't be so bloody cheeky”.
Can’t help it, I’m afraid. :)

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby performer » February 8th, 2016, 2:03 pm

El Mystico wrote:I have some sympathy with performer here.
The trouble is - if you criticise a book on performance, it opens you up to the criticism that you think performance doesn't matter.
I have a vague memory that Nelms put on a magic show...and it flopped (or am I confusing him with Fitzkee? If I am - did Nelms actually put on a show?)
I see in Magipedia that he wrote novels and plays,but I think none of them are talked about today (except here...)
For me this says a lot about his value today.
Great that he raised the issue of the performance of magic; but perhaps his thoughts were not too insightful?


I believe that was Fitzkee who put on the magic show. He mentioned in his book that it got good reviews but failed for financial reasons. I can imagine that. I know that Reveen put on a fantastic full evening magic show which I saw myself but used to lose money on it and had to recoup it with his hypnosis show which was less costly to produce with less props, presumably less transportation costs and less staff. I never saw the hypnosis show but the magic show was utterly terrific.

Having said that I am not overly keen on the Fitzkee book either except for two things. He said something in the foreword which appealed to my cynical mind to the effect that just because a performer is "working" doesn't actually mean he is any good since there are many reasons someone may be "working" and talent may not necessarily be one of them. The second thing Fitzkee said was on page eighty something or other which I can't be bothered looking up. I have believed it all my life to the point of obsession and his so-so book is worth it for that point alone. If I tell you what it was you will all merely say "quite right" and after you have paid lip service to it you will of course forget all about it and go back to your sinful ways of great mediocrity.

However, if you find the book in the first place and labour through all the ten pages of eighty something and deduce what I am talking about then you will deserve the having of it. It is priceless advice and it is worth me making you work for it.

Contrary to what Alfred seems to be saying I am well aware of the necessity to be entertaining when performing and I spend more time worrying about it than I ever do about tricks. I could probably have written the Nelms book for him and done a better job of it. Come to think of it I actually started a book on card tricks for beginners but after five chapters got fed up with it and never finished it. I actually transcribed the whole bloody thing to my computer in case I ever finish it which is highly doubtful since I wrote the damn thing about 40 years ago.

The second chapter was on showmanship and presentation. I deliberately put it early in the book as I deemed it more important for beginners to learn the basics of than the actual tricks. I might put extracts of it on here if I feel sufficiently irritated by any further praise of the Nelms book. At least when I wrote the bloody thing I was actively performing. It is basic advice on how to be entertaining, how to form your patter, how to deal with hecklers and how to disarm the defensiveness of spectators. I also do a psychological analysis of the types of people you will meet when you perform and how you handle them. In the trenches stuff rather than theoretical twaddle about silent scripts and suchlike nonsense from a cartoonist who rarely performed.

I still haven't figured out how you are supposed to be talking to yourself and concentrate on talking to people at the same time. The human mind cannot think of two things at once so how the hell are you supposed to deal with unexpected situations while chattering to yourself like a mental patient? How are you supposed to forestall a spectator doing something you don't want them to do while you are reciting silent scripts? How the hell are you supposed to ask people questions and bring them into it while you are silently yapping to yourself when you are supposed to be yapping to the people around you?

It is the people in front of you that matter and you have to concentrate on manipulating them. You can't do that when you are chattering to yourself.

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby MagicbyAlfred » February 8th, 2016, 3:15 pm

PERFORMER wrote in regard to his book-in-the-making on Card Tricks for Beginners:

"The second chapter on showmanship and presentation. I deliberately put it early in the book as I deemed it more important for beginners to learn the basics of than the actual tricks. I might put extracts of it on here if I feel sufficiently irritated by any further praise of the Nelms book. At least when I wrote the bloody thing I was actively performing. It is basic advice on how to be entertaining, how to form your patter, how to deal with hecklers and how to disarm the defensiveness of spectators. I also do a psychological analysis of the types of people you will meet when you perform and how you handle them."

I, for one, would be most interested to see at least substantial extracts of the chapter posted here. That's the kind of information that is useful to beginners, intermediates or experts, who perform magic for people (especially in lieu of this endless debate on the merits or demerits of Helm's book). And if, for some reason, the gentleman/grafter is reluctant to post it, and needs, as he mentioned, to be "sufficiently irritated by any further praise of the Nelms' book" to provoke him to do so, let me just say then, that Nelms was undoubtedly one of the greatest thinkers and teachers in the realm of showmanship for magicians in the history of magic!

Well, I really must get back to chattering to myself now...

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby performer » February 8th, 2016, 4:25 pm

"let me just say then, that Nelms was undoubtedly one of the greatest thinkers and teachers in the realm of showmanship for magicians in the history of magic!"

That does it. I am sufficiently annoyed to post part of what I wrote 40 years ago before I became old and decrepit. Which part of what I outlined do you want to read? Again this is what I said:

"It is basic advice on how to be entertaining, how to form your patter, how to deal with hecklers and how to disarm the defensiveness of spectators. I also do a psychological analysis of the types of people you will meet when you perform and how you handle them."

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby MagicbyAlfred » February 8th, 2016, 5:07 pm

Fabulous! I would greatly welcome substantial extracts from all of the categories mentioned. Or do you need additional provocation?

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby performer » February 8th, 2016, 5:42 pm

That will take up rather a lot of space. I shall select one extract from one category for the moment and we will see how it goes.

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby performer » February 8th, 2016, 5:47 pm

OK. Here are some words from the past never been seen up to now. I was young then. However, my views have not changed.
..........................................................................................

5. USE PATTER TO MAKE YOUR MAGIC ENTERTAINING.

This is where 75% of all would be wizards fall down. Even experienced magicians are often run of the mill performers simply because of poor or badly delivered patter. I believe this is an important subject, in some ways more important than the trick itself. You see, patter is the vehicle of your showmanship; good patter can lift a performance into the heights of entertainment-bad patter can make a trick resemble the sinking of the Titanic. In other words, a disaster.

Admittedly you will have seen magicians on stage and television perform in pantomime to music. These performances are known as “silent acts”. However this book is not trying to teach you to be a stage magician, but rather to instruct you in the art of card magic for your own satisfaction and the entertainment of your friends. With regard to the purpose of performing in social situations for your family and friends good patter is essential.

Now where do you acquire this silver tongue, you may ask? It’s not really difficult; it just takes some application. First of all, after thoroughly learning the mechanics of a trick, why not spend a half hour or so thinking about what to say for it. Use your brain, that’s all you have to do. With a little imagination you should be able to come up with something. In fact, you can get ideas from almost anywhere. Look around you and see if there’s some object in sight that will give you an idea for a patter line. Perhaps you can pick up a book and browse through it in search of inspiration. Whatever you do try and make it interesting, even whimsical or perhaps a little nonsensical. You may prefer to make your tricks appear dark and mysterious. If so, mould your patter accordingly, but don’t try to be something you’re not. In other words, if you’re not really suited to being a comedian there’s no need to make yourself look ridiculous attempting to tell jokes with your tricks. Be natural, be yourself, but be entertaining.

Now of course this may create a conflict because you may not naturally be an entertaining personality. On one hand I am stating that you should be yourself and on the other hand I’m saying you should be entertaining. So you may well ask, “How am I supposed to be myself and be amusing at the same time? My conversation is as dull as dishwater, I don’t like speaking in public, I am naturally a quiet, shy person, so how am I supposed to transform to a product of Barnum and Bailey combined with shades of the Ringmaster to the Greatest Show on Earth?”

Actually the answer is you don’t. You will find that the more you perform card magic the more interesting your personality will become anyway. You don’t have to change overnight to a reincarnation of Dante, Blackstone, Houdini or any other great magician of the past. As time goes by your personality will become more interesting anyway. However, you do have to help it along a tiny bit. For example, if you should make an amusing remark extemporaneously try and remember it for future occasions. You will find as time goes by you will accumulate a stock of these remarks and you can weave them into your performances. If you think you’re as dull as dishwater and you lack confidence, don’t worry! Magic is an incredible confidence builder. Every time you hear gasps of astonishment it will do wonders for your morale.

We seem to have gone away from the subject under discussion, namely patter. Well, here we are again; all I have to say about it now is that I do NOT recommend learning it off by heart. You will certainly sound stilted and ten to one you will forget the words halfway through the trick. It’s a far better plan to get a general idea of what you wish to say, rehearse it aloud a few times with the cards in hand, going through the motions of the trick as you do, and finally when you come to perform you will sound more spontaneous than if you had learned the patter word for word. After many performances you will find that you tend to say the same words over and over again anyway, but with more flexibility. If someone interrupts you will not be put off whereas if the patter was learnt off by heart a break in the performance could throw you off completely.

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby MagicbyAlfred » February 8th, 2016, 6:21 pm

Bravo Performer! You are an insightful and engaging writer. I sincerely hope you keep the extracts coming. May I suggest a new thread devoted to entertaining patter, presentation, and interaction with spectators. Perhaps that may be a bit long-winded of a title, but maybe something along those lines, that would essentially define the topic and so your writings don't get lost and buried in the Nelms thread.

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby observer » February 8th, 2016, 6:42 pm

Patter? Heck, if it ain't in one of Robert Orben's books it ain't worth sayin'.

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby performer » February 8th, 2016, 7:53 pm

I have never come across a single Orben joke that I have ever been able to use. However, I met him once as a young magician and it was a big thrill for me as a young magician. I was working in Hamley's Toy Store in the Magic department which was owned by Tony Corinda at the time. Ali Bongo was in charge. I don't think he ever recovered from the trauma of working with me. He once tried to deny to someone he worked with me but was forced to say, " I worked with him for a very short time but it seemed like a very long time".

Anyway, Ali wasn't there and Corinda was rarely there. So I was all alone on the counter and who should appear in front of me but THE Robert Orben! I felt very privileged to speak to him but alas I had no witnesses to the fact so that I could brag about it later.

Anyway I shall scour that second chapter to see what I can come up with.

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby Leo Garet » February 9th, 2016, 7:18 am

Patter!!!!

I thought this word had been outlawed by the Script/Libretto Police years ago.

I've never been a fan of Orben. But Sid Lorraine's patter books, ancient though may be, always make me smile.

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby performer » February 9th, 2016, 9:43 am

I DETEST the word "scripting"! It is a pretentious word and reminds me of the acting profession. And the Genii Forum too come to think of it. The word has ALWAYS been "patter" and so it should remain. Patter reminds me of colourful personalities and showmanship galore. The carnival. The grafters. The circus. Scripting reminds me of pretentious, self important magicians with long winded, uninspiring, chatter and the personality of a dial tone. And even worse it reminds me of Henning Nelms and his awful book.

As for Sid Lorraine I knew him personally and he was always nice to me. I wish I had known he invented the Tipsy Trick I have used for decades so I could have thanked him for it. By the time I found out he had passed away and it was too late. Oh, and he called it "patter" too.

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Re: Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms

Postby Leo Garet » February 9th, 2016, 1:32 pm

I’ve nothing against the word “scripting” but what I don’t like is the way any number of “scripters” disparage the word. They dislike/loathe it because (they think) it smacks of something unworthy of the sublimely dazzling chatter that magicians utter.
It’s been the industry standard forever and when magicians talk to magicians about patter, they know what they’re discussing. Instead of trying to get rid of the word patter, time would be better spent accepting the fact that it’s a word of many shades and hues.

I have about half a dozen patter books by Sid Lorraine and without checking the shelf, I think all of them have the word somewhere in the title.
Good for Sid.


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