Effects of Transition

Chapter 7 - Effects of Transition

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In addition to the two chief classes of effect, respectively associated with surprise and repetition, there is a third to which reference has been previously made-the class which depends upon the gradual and visible development of some mysterious change. A typical example is the so-called "Pepper's Ghost" effect, invented by Silvester some forty years ago. Another familiar type is that of "The Growth of Flowers." But there can be no possibility of mistaking the classification of such effects as should be placed in this category. They are characterized by the distinctive feature of comparatively slow progression, in contrast to the sudden effects associated with the methods of surprise.

Although less often employed than the two chief classes of magical effect, the effects of transition are by no. means of less importance from an artistic point of view. Indeed, owing to the mere fact of their comparative rarity, they appeal strongly to an artist's appreciation. They should be less liable to become hackneyed, and the difficulty of inventing novelties in connection with them should enhance their value as a class.

Unfortunately, however, such is far from being the case in actual practice. It ought to be so, but it is not. In this, as in so many other instances, "ought stands for nought." The very rarity of original productions of this kind tends to defeat its own ends. There are so few of them, and so many want to present them, that a new effect of transition is liable to become worked to death in a very short time. Further, it must be remembered that a rare effect usually creates a far greater degree of public excitement than one of more stereotyped form. It is more talked about, more people come to see it, and thus it more quickly becomes stale. Nevertheless, in this class of effect there still exist great possibilities, both artistically and financially. There is still a wide field of useful work in this direction, which may be found well worthy of cultivation.

In illusions based upon effects of transition, the question of artistic treatment is of especial importance. Indeed, now and then, the problem of presenting them in the best possible way to insure due appreciation is one of extreme difficulty. The instant appeal to a spectator's perception which naturally attends a surprise is entirely lacking. The cumulative effect built up, step by step, in the case of a repetition is equally unavailable. It follows, therefore, that the adequate presentation of an effect of transition usually involves, in some respect or other, procedure which differs more or less from that which would be advisable in other conditions. We shall endeavor to ascertain, with the aid of common sense and practical experience, the nature of the principles which should govern our procedure when dealing with effects of this special class.

Here we may at once set down a rule which common sense and experience must inevitably endorse to the fullest possible degree. Yet, at the same time, unless the dictates of those able guides are clearly understood and remembered, the principle underlying that rule may easily become lost to sight. Hence the necessity for a definite statement, as follows:--

(15) When presenting an effect of pure transition, the first and most important essential is the avoidance of every possible cause of distraction.

Let there be no mistake about this. Although the rule is merely a specific application of the principle embodied in Rule 4, the extreme importance of that principle in the present instance justifies the utmost insistence upon the necessity for keeping it in view. Stated plainly and simply, the fact to be remembered is that, while an effect of transition is in progress, nothing else of importance should be allowed to occur-that is to say, nothing which tends to produce a definite impression upon the minds of the spectators. There should be no sudden change in any of the conditions attending the development of the effect. Only such movements and sounds as accompany the commencement of the transition should be permitted to occur; and, conversely, such sounds and movements should continue until the effect has been completed.

For example, an accompaniment of soft and flowing melody is a most useful adjunct to effects of transition. Rhythmic and continuous movements on the part of the performer-as, for example, mesmeric passes or silent incantations-are also advantageous, as a rule. But if such adjuncts are to be employed, they should accompany the transition from start to finish. The only case in which a departure from the letter of this law is advisable, is when the effect occupies but little time and culminates in a definite surprise. Say, for instance, on the stage there were a table with the cloth laid for a meal. The center of the cloth rises, and gradually the figure of a man develops beneath it. The figure throws off the cloth and stands revealed, let us say, as Mephistopheles. In such a case, the final throwing off of the cloth brings a sudden revelation--a surprise. Consequently, during the development of the figure, movements and exclamations, directing attention to what is happening may advantageously accompany the progress of affairs, and may render the climax all the more effective. Therefore, we may say:

(16) When an effect of transition ends with a sudden revelation or surprise, the course of transition should usually be punctuated by actions or sounds leading up to and accentuating the final impression.

Reverting to Rule 13 (which relates to effects, purely, of transition), there is one consideration which should not be overlooked. It is a point which indicates the essentially different conditions respectively associated with transitions pure and simple, and transitions culminating in an effect of surprise. In effects of simple transition, such as the gradual fading away of a spirit form, there is an absence of any marked change such as is generally associated with magical presentations. therefore, without some prompting of their intelligence, the spectators may fail to observe the commencement of the process, or may be unable to realize precisely when it has ended. One can never count upon the exercise of either intelligence or perspicacity on the part of an audience. So, unless steps are taken to indicate definitely what is the nature of the intended effect, and to point out precisely where it begins and where it ends, a transition, however marvelous, may fall flat. The spectators may realize the truth of the matter after they have gone home, but that is not good enough for artistic purposes. They must, if possible, be made to understand what they see, the moment they see it. For these reasons, we may advisably prescribe the rule that:

(17) In every effect of pure transition, the beginning and end of the process involved should be distinctly indicated by some coincident occurrence.

That is to say, when such an effect is about to be introduced, its presentation should be subject to most careful preparation. It should be prefaced by stage business which will impress upon spectators the fact that something of a very unusual character is about to happen. Their minds should receive the impression that a weird and mysterious effect, demanding close attention, is on the point of being shown. And at the moment when transition commences, there should occur a definite halt in the subsidiary action--a distinct point of demarcation, showing that the interesting period has begun. In like manner, at the end of the transition, there should be a similar (or, rather, a converse) break in the proceedings, showing that what the audience was specially required to observe has been done. Ordinarily, the most suitable stage business for these two respective occasions is, in effect, such as will suggest the following idea. When the transition begins, the idea suggested should be, "Look! something mysterious is going to happen over there. What will it be?" When the effect has been shown, the suggestion should be, "Now you know what was coming, because you have seen it done and have watched the process from beginning to end."

As an apt illustration, we may mention the appearing to Hamlet of his father's ghost. The previous dialog has fully prepared the spectators for what they are about to see. Indeed, Hamlet has gone to the battlements for the express purpose of meeting with the spirit form of his father. All are expecting the ghost to appear. What happens, so far as our present inquiry is concerned, is given by Shakespeare in two exclamations and a stage-direction, thus:

"Horatio--Look, my lord, it comes!                                                       (Enter Ghost.) "Hamlet--Angels and ministers of grace, defend us!"
Now, translating "Enter Ghost" as meaning the gradual materialization of a spirit form, we cannot help seeing how well the two exclamations serve their respective purposes. Horatio directly calls attention to the misty outline in course of formation; and, when the development has matured, Hamlet's words leave no doubt that the figure now standing before him represents the fulfilment of his expectation, and also that of every onlooker. There is no possibility of mistaking the situation. The effect is complete. Nobody can possibly anticipate any further development, for the moment.

Reduced to their most practical form, the facts of this present discussion may be stated thus: When effects of transition are presented, the audience must be shown when to look, where to look, and when to applaud. If left to discover those things for themselves, spectators may almost certainly be expected to fail in the discovery. Nine times out of ten, spectators cannot be relied upon to see things which stare them in the face, or to understand things which are as simple as A B C. This is a fact to which some exponents of magic owe a lifelong debt of gratitude; since, but for that fact, they could never hold up their heads in public. And to speak the entire truth, it is a fact in which even the most skilled magicians find comfort when things go wrong.

But we cannot have it both ways. We cannot expect the public to keep a bright lookout for things we want them to see, and, at the same time, preserve their normal blindness to the things we want to conceal. The art of magic essentially depends for its success upon the skilful maneuvering which enables a performer to subdue the critical and observant faculties of his audiences. The subjugation of those faculties is the first necessity imposed upon him by his art. After that comes the process of suggestion, whereby his audiences are led to adopt the particular attitude of mind he wishes them to assume at any moment. It naturally follows that, when we have lulled a spectator's reasoning powers into a state of comparative rest, it is absurd to expect that he will at once grasp any idea which, in the ordinary course, would occur to him. We must always remember that, having induced a marked condition of mental receptivity, we cannot expect our subjects to conceive ideas other than those we convey, either directly or by suggestion. It is impossible that, at one and the same time, spectators can think as we want them to and also think as they ordinarily would. This being the case, it is easy to see how necessary it is to make everything clear to one's audience; even though, in order to do this, one may sometimes be compelled to state exactly what is about to take place.


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