Chapter 8 - Climax

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This branch of our inquiry brings us to a point where we meet with a distinct difference between the respective requirements of Magic and Drama. We find that, in this instance, the two sets of conditions are entirely dissimilar. Therefore, except by way of antithesis, the considerations which govern one case form no guide to rational procedure in the other. But, at the same time, this very divergence provides a source of useful information. We gain a better understanding of our own art, if we ascertain the differences which distinguish its requirements from those of an art more or less allied to it. Thus, we may with advantage make a brief digression from our direct course, in order to study "climax" from a dramatic standpoint. By so doing, we shall obtain a truer conception of the principles relating to our own particular case.

Broadly speaking, the primary basis of drama consists in the fulfillment of two vitally essential requirements, each exactly complementary to the other. The play which fails to achieve such fulfillment must fail entirely. In the first place, a dramatist has to create and sustain interest. In the second place, that interest must be fully satisfied. If he cannot interest his audience, his play is obviously hopeless. If, having interested his audience, he cannot satisfy the interest he has aroused, his play is worthless. There can be no object in putting on the stage anything that leads to nothing. The play which merely creates an interest to thwart it cannot have any pretension to artistic merit. The pretended art which provides no mental satisfaction is but a travesty of art.

Hence, since the drama undoubtedly requires both the creation and satisfaction of interest, we clearly see that the subject of "climax" has a most important relation to the adequate treatment of dramatic themes. It is impossible, simultaneously, to create and satisfy dramatic interest. The two processes must be distinct, and must be carried out in proper order. And between the two there lies the crowning point of expectancy-the climax of the play. The creation and development of dramatic interest represent a crescendo of effect, the highest point of which constitutes the climax. Then follows the satisfaction of dramatic interest, the unraveling of that tangled thread of events.

Thus, the climax of a play consists in a dramatic situation, the genesis of which has been revealed by previous events, and the supreme interest in which depends upon the suspense and expectation induced in the minds of the spectators. It is a situation in which no sense of finality can possibly exist. In order to bring about finality the situation must be resolved and rounded off, in a manner which will relieve the suspense and satisfy the expectations of the audience.

Now in a magical presentation the case is far different. It is true that the magician, equally with the dramatist, must both excite and satisfy the interest of his audience. But, whereas the dramatist deals with conceptions and processes of a nature familiar to all men, the magician's doings are entirely remote from normal experience, and certain differences in procedure are obviously requisite in the respective cases. The most notable difference is that, in dramatic work, the satisfaction of the interest created follows after the climax has been reached; while, in magic, the climax of events and the satisfaction of interest occur simultaneously. The dramatist's audience is interested in witnessing events which occur in accordance with normal experience, and which must be made to result in a more or less normal completion of the theme to which they relate. The magician's audience, on the contrary, is interested in witnessing events which have no relation to common experience, and can have no such emotional qualities as those associated with normal occurrences. In this case, the interest aroused is not that of witnessing the vicissitudes of human existence, but of witnessing operations performed, at will, by a being who possesses a power far beyond one's own. Therefore, the magician's audience is not called upon to sympathize with human emotions, but to take an interest in things which are entirely out of the common, and in events which are only interesting from the fact that they occur. So, in magic, the actual climax must necessarily represent finality. The climax comes when the magical event occurs; and, at the same time, the occurrence of that event entirely satisfies the expectation aroused.

From what has been said, it will be readily understood that the climax of a magical presentation demands even more careful consideration than the climax of a drama; because in magic the climax is also the completion. If the climax is not efficiently contrived, the completion must be inadequate. The final result must be imperfect. Thus a magician's stage business must be so organized that the procedure which leads to the final effect of a presentation will fully develop a constantly increasing interest; while, at the same time, due attention must be paid to the fact that the climax of interest and the satisfaction of interest have to be brought about simultaneously. That is to say, the magician, in leading up to his final effect, must bear in mind two points of fundamental importance. Firstly, he has to arrange the details of his procedure in such a manner that, as the climax approaches, the audience shall be compelled to anticipate remarkable results; and secondly, he must take especial care to guard against the production of an anticlimax.

The first of those two points is obviously important, and the mode of presentation whereby its observance may be insured is easily understood. The second point, however, concerning the avoidance of anticlimax, may not be grasped so readily. In order to understand it fully, one must first of all know what constitutes an anticlimax, and the reason why it is so detrimental to success. That knowledge having been gained, one may prescribe preventive measures of an efficient character.

What, then, is an anticlimax? It is a thing people often talk about as though its nature were commonly understood. In a sense, most people have an idea of the true meaning of the term, though it is very doubtful whether one person in a thousand could give a rational definition of it, or explain the detrimental quality it represents. Yet, unless this is done, it is impossible to talk sensibly on the subject; and, therefore, we must endeavor to arrive at the proper definition and provide the necessary explanation.

In itself, the term "anticlimax" suggests a general definition of its meaning which, although more or less correct, is far too vague to be of any practical value. It is obviously something which opposes the creation of an effective climax; and, as usually understood, it is something which occurs after the real climax has been produced. Beyond this, neither the term itself, nor the ideas usually associated with it, can be said to convey any definite information. Something more is wanted to enable one to speak with authority upon the subject.

We may take it that an anticlimax is an event which occurs after the true climax has been reached, and, thus occurring, detracts from the effect of a presentation. Now, there are only two possible sources from which such distractions can be derived. Either the climax is not complete in itself, or some new subject of interest is introduced afterward.

On thinking this out, we arrive at the real nature of an anticlimax. It is an occurrence derived from either unsatisfied or redundant interest. The climax has not been efficiently engineered, or is marred by faults in the subsequent procedure. In short, the effect does not end where it ought to end; the interest does not culminate at one single and definite point, but is subdivided and, consequently, reduced in its final value. A complete and perfect effect must necessarily have far greater value than an effect which is marred by incompleteness, or by subsequent distraction of interest. It follows that, in order to avoid anticlimax, we must leave nothing to be explained after the climax has occurred, and must introduce no subsequent matter of interest relating thereto. The rule should be:--

(18) In each presentation, the procedure should lead up to a culminating point of interest, at which point the magical effect should be produced, and after which nothing magically interesting should occur.

Otherwise, there is bound to be an anticlimax, more or less pronounced, and therefore more or less detrimental to the general impression produced.

Arising out of the conditions imposed by the preceding rule, there is another which is of equal importance in connection with certain forms of magical presentation. We refer to those presentations which include more than one effect. We can all recall to mind a number of instances in which several mutually-related magical changes are revealed in succession. The well-known "Cannon-ball and Rabbit Trick" is a case in point. Two hats are passed to the audience for inspection. Meanwhile, the performer produces a rabbit from among the folds of a feather boa borrowed from a lady spectator. The hats and the rabbit are taken upon the stage and, from one of the hats, a large and heavy metal ball is produced. One of the hats is then hung upon a candle, which has hitherto been burning upon a side table. Into the second hat the cannon-ball is placed; and lastly, the rabbit is wrapped in a sheet of newspaper. Then follows the mysterious transposition of the various accessories. The newspaper parcel is crumpled up into a ball, and allowed to fall lightly upon the stage. The rabbit has obviously disappeared. The hat containing the cannon-ball is taken up and, in an instant, the heavy metal sphere vanishes, the rabbit reappearing in its place. The lighted candle which previously supported the other hat, is taken from the folds of a handkerchief; and finally, the hat is lifted from the candlestick revealing the cannon-ball which has taken the place of the candle. Thus, instead of a definite climax comprising one single effect, we have, as it were, a protracted climax including a number of separate but interdependent magical occurrences.

In such a case as this, it may seem that the rule we have stated in reference to climax cannot hold good. But, as a matter of fact, the principle remains entirely valid. The climax is not really distributed over a number of effects; it merely remains in suspense until the final effect is produced. That is clearly so because, until the last development has been reached, the interest increases, step by step. The real climax does not occur until the moment the final revelation is made-or, at any rate, it should not occur until then. Any revelation made after the true climax has passed must necessarily constitute an anticlimax. Therefore, we may say:

(19) When a presentation includes a number of effects in series, the final, effect should represent the true climax, and its predecessors successive steps whereby that climax is reached.

From the differences in treatment required in the respective cases of drama and magic, it will be seen that when, as often happens, those two arts have to be combined, special precautions should be observed. Since procedure which may be admirably adapted to the requirements of one art may be fatal to the other, nothing is easier than to play hob with both arts when in combination. Thus, if magical effects have to be introduced into a dramatic production, or dramatic effects are associated with a magical performance, a clear understanding of the methods which should be adopted is most essential. Without such knowledge, a presentation which, if properly managed, might be a great success, may easily become a disastrous failure. In the case of a combination of magic and drama, the truth of the saying that there is no royal road to success finds a very special application. The only road to be followed with safety is the path of knowledge. We shall therefore give a brief consideration to the procedure advisable when magical and dramatic effects are associated.

As a point of departure, we may refer to a fact, not generally recognized, but amply demonstrated by experience. It is a fact that is useful in showing something of the normal conditions to be met when drama and magic are simultaneously employed. The fact to which we allude is this: Many magical effects which (if presented as separate items in a program) evoke thunders of applause, are received with absolute silence when introduced as episodes in a dramatic plot. This, at first sight, may seem strange, but the apparent singularity disappears when one comes to a proper understanding of the circumstances. There is necessarily a reason for the result observed, and one that is well worth ascertaining.

Looking at the matter broadly, it becomes evident that when magic and drama are associated, the diverse requirements of the two arts must call for a certain amount of mutual adjustment. Something of each must be modified for the benefit of the general effect. In Rule 5, we stated the fundamental principle of unity, which demands that every presentation shall represent a distinct and complete entity, comprising one definite effect. Thus we see that when a magical item (instead of standing alone and complete within itself) is adapted to form an episode in a play, it no longer conveys an impression of finality, however complete may be the dramatic situation attending it. That is to say, it ought not to convey such an impression, in the circumstances described. Of course, it is quite possible to pitchfork a magical effect into a dramatic performance, without reference to the requirements of the plot and without serving any essential purpose, and then make that interpolated piece of magic go with the audience, just as it would go apart from the play. That kind of thing, however, does not represent the combination of magic with drama. Neither art aids the other in the slightest degree; while the magic is being presented, the drama has to halt. When the drama proceeds again, the magic must be cleared out of the way. Procedure such as this contravenes every essential rule of artistic unity. It degrades magic to the level of mere padding, as music and poetry have been degraded so frequently in modern plays of the vaudeville order. The simple truth is that the artistic combination of various arts can only be achieved by subjugating those arts, one and all, to the general requirements of artistic unity. They must not each be called upon to provide isolated "turns," one down and t'other come on. Their contributions must be so dovetailed together that each item forms a necessary step in the progress toward one common end.

A magical item presented in the course of a play should, therefore, form an essential part of that play. It should be an episode without which the plot would be incomplete. Preferably, it should be so entirely essential that the play could not be presented without it. At the very least, it should add something of consequence to the general progress and to the final effect. In any event, it should not be a thing which may be replaced by something else, or left out altogether without materially affecting the action of the play. Aristotle tells us, as already quoted, that everything which may be put in or left out at will is not properly a part of the presentation; and that statement has never been gainsaid by any subsequent authority upon the subject of art. Therefore, we must always endeavor to arrange our procedure in accordance with either one or the other of two distinct methods. We must either produce a number of isolated and independent effects in succession, each being complete and self-contained, or we must make the individual items a series of stepping-stones toward one final end.

That, of course, is not to say that a series of magical effects may not be loosely strung together in the form of a sequence of events, or in a slight sketch, wherein the performers personate imaginary characters. Presentations of that kind have no relation to the case in point. The successive effects have no connection with any definite theme of dramatic interest. Each is complete and perfect in itself, and is only related to the others by a kind of natural order. There is no dramatic plot to be served by what takes place; and, for that reason, there is no question of combined effect to be considered.

When, however, we have to deal not only with magical feats, but also with dramatic construction, the "steppingstone" method has to be adopted. And in such circumstances, the more we reflect upon the subject the more clearly we see that "the play's the thing." The magical items are, as it were, beads held together and supported by the thread of dramatic interest. Thus connected, the beads form a chain of harmonious proportions. If we remove one of the beads, the general effect is marred. If we try to add an unnecessary bead, we must break the connecting thread in order to do so; and, by so doing, we cause the whole to fall asunder. The thread will no longer join up, and continuity cannot exist. The only thing to be done is to remove the superfluous addition, repair the broken thread and re-string the proper number of beads in their proper order. Thus, we arrive at the following rule:

(20) When Magic and Drama are combined in one presentation, the stage procedure should primarily be governed by the dramatic requirements of the case, rather than, by the normal principles of Art in Magic.

By no other means can such presentations be made to accord with the essential principle of unity. It is obvious that no possible sequence of magical happenings can, per se, form the thread of human interest requisite in a dramatic plot. At the same time, of course, such a sequence of effects may readily provide the means whereby a dramatic plot is carried out. But that is a very different thing from providing the plot itself. On the other hand, a dramatic plot may undoubtedly form the thread upon which magical occurrences depend, and by means of which they are so connected as to form one consistent and harmonious whole. The conditions upon which the very existence of dramatic- effect depends, require a connecting-thread of that kind. Without it, there can be no central support upon which the ultimate issue can turn. Since the principles of magical procedure are inadequate to provide the conditions requisite for dramatic effect, we are bound to fall back on the principles of drama for the main outlines of our presentation. Stated briefly, this means that when, in a combination of magic and drama, the respective requirements of those two arts are in opposition, magic must take second place.

No doubt, this may seem to impose rather a difficult task upon magicians. But to those who are worthy of being described as artists, that apparent difficulty soon disappears. Whatever we may do as artists, the first essential is to insure artistic unity. That being so, we can feel no pang in doing whatever may be necessary for the purposes of unity. We are prepared to sacrifice any personal foible or favorite method, in order that unity may be obtained. If we cannot sacrifice some amount of magical effect in order to gain the benefit to be derived from dramatic construction, we should drop the dramatic part altogether. We can only benefit by the aid of drama if we are prepared to fulfil the requirements of drama. If we seek to enlist the drama into our service and, at the same time, to retain the normal effect associated with each isolated magical production, we are bound to fail in our endeavors.

There can be no real difficulty in grasping the truth of this matter. A magical presentation is normally a thing complete and perfect in itself. It has its own involution, its own climax, and its own evolution. If we present magical effects in combination with a dramatic theme, we superimpose upon them a master-plot having a master-climax, and a master-evolution to be fulfilled, in order to produce unity in the final result. That being so, our magical items can no longer remain complete in themselves, without producing disruption of the dramatic theme and destroying its unity. The climax normally associated with each magical effect must be so modified as to form a stepping-stone to what comes after, instead of conveying an impression of finality as it ordinarily would. By no other means can artistic unity be preserved; because any other procedure would mean sacrificing that indispensable quality to the caprice of the producer of the performance. Better, by far, to leave drama entirely alone, than try to combine it with magic, and, at the same time, disregard dramatic principles.

The variation of procedure necessitated by the combination of drama with magic relates, of course, only to the general scheme of presentation-the unity of general effect. We must not run away with the idea that, because magic must sacrifice something for the sake of unity, everything must be sacrificed to the normal procedure of drama. On the contrary, in matters of detail magic has the right to demand the chief consideration. The broad lines on which the general effect is planned should certainly be guided by dramatic considerations, even to the detriment of magical interest. But, beyond that, magic steps into the position of command.

This follows as a natural consequence of the possible conflict between dramatic and magical requirements. The respective functions of drama and magic, when the two arts are combined, are perfectly evident. Drama provides the -theme of general interest. Magic provides the particular episodes whereby the dramatic theme is carried out with adequate effect. So long as each art is confined to the fulfillment of its proper end and aim, there can be no logical conflict between them. Therefore, as a corollary to Rule 20 we may say:

(21) When, in a combination of the two arts, the primary requirements of Drama have been satisfied, all subsidiary details of procedure should be dictated by the normal principles of Art in Magic.

Satisfactory provision for the exigencies of drama having been made, all other matters must be governed by magical considerations. It is when there exists either ignorance or neglect of the truths embodied in the last two rules, that we find antagonism between magic and drama in combination. We can quite easily understand how such antagonism arises, by recalling what so often occurs in practice. If a theatrical manager presents a combination of the two arts, he proceeds as though the magical details were of no importance whatever. He works entirely upon his usual lines of procedure. He acts as though he were producing an ordinary drama. The requirements of magic never enter his head. It is only after completing the production, from a dramatic standpoint--stage-business, scenery, furniture, fittings and dresses included-he begins to think about the magical effects which have to be introduced. The natural result is an entire failure in ultimate effect. The performance induces no sense of conviction in the minds of those who witness it. The magical occurrences essential to the theme are ruined, and in their ruin the whole production is wrecked.

Conversely, a magician has to guard against a natural tendency in the opposite direction. Some allowance, no doubt, may be made by others on that account, but he should make none on his own part. He should not allow his ideas to be dominated by the desire to make the utmost of his magical business, without regard to the dramatic theme with which it is associated. Otherwise' he will fail in the final result, just as surely as the dramatist who throws the whole of his energy into a drama, regardless of the magical episodes upon which his ultimate success largely depends.


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