Paul Romhany is a performing magician whose fully silent Charlie Chaplin magic has taken him around the world. He shares seven tips for any performer who’d like to better their routine with silent elements…
Being able to perform without saying a word is an art within itself. Over the past twenty five years I’ve developed a full evening silent show, as well as being able to do a evening of walk-about magic as a silent character. Being able to perform silently requires a lot of work and thought in to the performance. When I finish an evening show I am completely drained.
An exercise: This is something everybody gets to participate in when they take my “Visual Comedy” Workshops at conventions, and it is something you can do at home. Take ONE effect you enjoy performing (let’s say it’s the Ambitious Card routine). Now go out and perform it without saying a word. You will find you will start to develop certain skills that make this work. Imagine having to ask somebody to chose a card without actually speaking? If you just ‘go through the moves’ the effect will be incredibly boring and you will lose your audience quickly. However, if you ‘perform’ and use facial expressions, mime techniques, humour etc you will actually draw people in to your performance.
The ability to perform in a crowd without speaking is very powerful. One of the advantages of having a walk-about show like this is that you could work in a very noisy bar and still do all of your material.
Here are SEVEN TIPS FOR PERFORMING SILENT – these can be applied to both close-up/walk-around and stand-up/stage magic.
Having a deep understanding of the ‘character’ you are playing in the performance is vital to your success. If you get the chance to study or take drama/acting courses I highly recommend this. If we look at characters in in a story, they are interwoven with the plot of the drama. Each character in a play has a personality of its own and has a distinct set of principles and beliefs. The actors who play the roles have the very important responsibility of bringing the characters to life. As a silent performer you also will be developing a ‘character’ – it may be an extension of yourself, or in my case, a well known celebrity. The minute my mustache goes on I am ‘in character’ – I become Charlie Chaplin. Every move, nuance and gesture has been studied and placed at a certain point for a reason.
For me personally, music is one of the most important aspects of my entire stage show. My background is in music and I spent most of my life studying and performing music. I know, within a few bars (music bars not the drinking kind) if a piece of music will work for a certain routine. Music can also help drive your character and keep you focused during your performance. It can also be used to create atmosphere and highlight certain points throughout your show. My signature routine is my Floating Broom. I know when I perform this that there will not be a dry eye in the house. Even my eyes aren’t dry because of the emotion of the song and what I am creating on stage. I use music to take people on a journey of highs and lows. For anybody who has studied the classic Chaplin movies such as The Gold Rush or The Kid, you will know that Chaplin takes his audience on an amazing journey where one minute you are laughing and the next you are crying. When people leave my show I want them to have experienced something similar – and music plays a major role in this.
An exercise: This is a great way to see if a piece of music will fit the ‘mood’ and effect you are trying to create. If you find a piece of music you like, play it to different family members and friends, asking them what pictures the music brings to their minds. For example, if you play something that makes them think of danger and death – then you know it won’t fit your flower production sequence.
Probably an obvious one – but having some basic skills of mime is very important. A good mime artist learns how to connect with an audience, and make them believe. When you think about it, a mime actually is speaking, but without saying a word. They are visually connecting with their audience, and as a magician you are doing the same. Just putting on some music and standing there performing a Three Ring Routine doesn’t do anything for your audience. By using MIME techniques you can draw that audience in and have them believe the rings really do link and unlink. I watched a VERY interesting documentary on television the other day. It showed Penn & Teller performing their ‘Clear Cups and Balls’ Routine. They showed the routine to people without showing Tellers face – just the hands – and everybody saw the loads. They then showed the routine WITH Teller’s face and nobody caught the loads. They then realized that the face played a major role in fooling the audience. A great lesson for us all here, especially if you are performing silently.
To create even a 12 minute silent act the show needs A PLOT. A plot is the order of events occurring in a play. Again I will mention taking people on a journey. A plot is the basic storyline that is narrated throughout a play. Cirque du Soleil are the perfect example of creating a storyline or plot for an entire show without using any dialogue. The entertainment one derives from a play depends largely on the sequence of events that occur in the story. The logical connection between the events and the characters (who enact the story) forms an integral part of the plot of drama. This can be on two levels, from an individual effect to the overall plot of the your show. I like my show to have structure, like any good story, with a beginning, middle and end.
As magicians we are trying to convince people that we have the ability to do things that muggles can not. If we don’t believe in it ourselves then we can’t expect our audience to buy in to it. I’m not suggesting I actually believe that I can float a broom – however when it comes time for the performance, in my mind I forget about the mechanics and believe the broom is floating. When I perform a coins across I forget that I have a shell coin, and each time one travels from one hand to the other I believe it is for real. It helps SELL my performance. Acting is all about believe and creative imagination. It is an alternative life. The audience is only going to believe that you are indeed the person you are playing (a magician) if you yourself believe that you are that person. To go from who YOU are to who you are ONSTAGE is a process. It will take creative imagination and belief.
MIND AND BODY
This will seem like an odd one, but I firmly believe that to pull off a great silent performance you need to be at the top of your game both physically and mentally. An actor must cultivate his mind and body as an instrument in portraying roles. His mind needs to be able to grasp things as astutely as a philosopher and his body must be able to portray a range of emotions. As I mentioned earlier, during a silent performance your mind will work a lot harder. You will need to concentrate more on ALL aspects of your performance.
Last, but by no means least, is that you enjoy the process of developing a silent act. If you enjoy it, and have passion this will come through to your audience who will go a long the journey with you. Get involved in various drama groups, read as much as you can, get out there and do it. One of the best things I ever did at University was to join the “TheatreSports’ Group – it’s a group of performers who improvise various scenes. Take acting lessons, get involved and above all ENJOY it!!