Jim Cellini’s Lecture — Smooth, Polished and Powerful

Check out Mr. Cellini’s DVD on Street Performing at Penguin Magic by clicking here.

There are three things a street magician needs to know to be successful: How to stop them, how to keep them and how to make them pay. Ironically, these are the same three things every successful gigolo needs to master. (See my current lecture, “How to stop ’em, keep ’em and make ’em pay ? a Guide to Being a Gigolo.” I will finish the lecture notes during the off-season for gigolos or when I can finally get some space from this rich heiress I am currently kept by. Soon I will start using my enviable gigolo skills on human women heiress types.)

With the polish of someone who has done this before, Mr. Cellini performed his approximately 15 minute street act with the incredibly smooth handling of his Vanishing Silk, Cut and Restored Rope, Professor?s Nightmare, Cups and Balls. He told the substantial crowd of magicians that the tricks were selected not because they have some intrinsic “street magic” quality, but because he had been performing the very same effects for years. As a consequence, he felt comfortable with the routines, the sleights necessary and could focus on his presentation in a street setting.

The key to performing anywhere, including the street, is to have a crowd to whom you can perform. Anyone can do tricks in the street for themselves but the key to being successful is to be paid, and to be paid requires there be at least some crowd with money watching.



Check out Mr. Cellini’s DVD on Street Performing at Penguin Magic by clicking here.

There are three things a street magician needs to know to be successful: How to stop them, how to keep them and how to make them pay. Ironically, these are the same three things every successful gigolo needs to master. (See my current lecture, “How to stop ’em, keep ’em and make ’em pay ? a Guide to Being a Gigolo.” I will finish the lecture notes during the off-season for gigolos or when I can finally get some space from this rich heiress I am currently kept by. Soon I will start using my enviable gigolo skills on human women heiress types.)

With the polish of someone who has done this before, Mr. Cellini performed his approximately 15 minute street act with the incredibly smooth handling of his Vanishing Silk, Cut and Restored Rope, Professor?s Nightmare, Cups and Balls. He told the substantial crowd of magicians that the tricks were selected not because they have some intrinsic “street magic” quality, but because he had been performing the very same effects for years. As a consequence, he felt comfortable with the routines, the sleights necessary and could focus on his presentation in a street setting.

The key to performing anywhere, including the street, is to have a crowd to whom you can perform. Anyone can do tricks in the street for themselves but the key to being successful is to be paid, and to be paid requires there be at least some crowd with money watching.

(Please do not perform tricks alone in the street without first checking your local ordinances. In our home of Mystic Hollow, Michigan, it is illegal to perform any trick or “magic movement” in or on any public throughway if one is “alone” or “with puppets only.” Ironically, you may have your puppet perform a trick or magical movement in the street as long as the puppet does not look human. As an accomplished attorney, I know that there is a loophole. Many magicians I know do not look human and the law says nothing about a bug-eyed, blubber-eared magician performing his or her impression of a non-human looking puppet doing a trick or magical movement.)

One of the best methods to draw a crowd, use an image or a costume. The way a magician is dressed helps an audience see him or her as a character.

Mr. Cellini took us through the history of his stage/carrying case. He used to carry all props in a doctor’s bag but this got a bit heavy. He moved to bag, folding stand and a tray but this too could get heavy and caused problems for his sciatica. He finally evolved his method of carrying his equipment to a well-designed trunk that served as a stage, a table, a seat and a rolling prop storage unit.

Mr. Cellini’s method of performing and of lecturing seemed to be a genuine reflection of who he is: smooth, professional and almost gentile. He clearly has performed his street routine more often than he could remember and so it would make sense that his presentation of the act would be polished and professional.

But so many magicians on the lecture tour are fantastic at performing and much less polished in the lecturing skills. They seem almost disjointed. I suppose it is like asking a major league pitcher to stop in the middle of a season and explain precisely how he throws his most complex pitch. The communication from thought to action is more direct than from thought to explanation. Mr. Cellini’s lecture, then, was exceptional because his explanation was smooth, informative and very well-organized.

An example of his thought process was presented as he explained how and why he learned to handle loads while performing in the round. He found that unlike a traditional performance setting, he could not get away with simply palming and making his hand appear relaxed. Someone will always have the bad angle when palming; especially if the audience is behind the magician.

He was being caught out often by his audiences and consulted a friend in the business: his friend said, “You want to keep them from seeing the ball in your hand? Keep your damn hand closed.

The answer was to not palm the ball for transport to the performing surface but to bring the cup or container to the ball to be loaded against his body. He performed this method several times during his Cups and Balls routine and it wasn’t until he explained the approach that I truly noticed how often he had used it.

One of the more interesting inventions was Mr. Cellini’s Toppit. It was not unlike the Michael Ammar pattern but used magnets to hold it in place when it was needed. When Mr. Cellini wanted to open his jacket, the magnets released and the jacket looked normal inside and out. He also showed a unique placement of the Toppit to allow for items to be ditched without causing the jacket to sag. I don’t want to tip the Toppit trick to the totality of teeming tricksters so I’ll let you check it out when Mr. Cellini comes to your town.

During the break, I had a chance to meet Mr. Cellini’s wife. She told me they had met in Zurich while he was performing in the street and she was working as a demonstrator in a magic shop. Mr. Cellini came to help with demonstrating the effects at the shop and shortly thereafter they became, in her words, inseparable. That was 17 years ago.

In the second half of the lecture, Mr. Cellini taught how to cover up mistakes, bring spectators closer and how to deal with the very likely circumstances that any street magician will face. The key to each contingency, according to Mr. Cellini, is to have ready lines to respond verbally and keep the audience engaged. For instance, if one or two spectators begin to leave, the magician must say something to encourage the others to stay. Mr. Cellini suggested the tried and true, “Hey, I didn’t leave when you got here” or “They love the show, they just want to rush home to tell all their friends.”

In the unlikely event that the performance of a miracle would be met with silence, Mr. Cellini encourages the audience to applaud, with “Thank you for that wild round of indifference.”

Mr. Cellini then took us through the effects in his street act and instructed with the patience of a saint. He taught us as if he had all evening to spend on any item of interest and provided variations or riffs on the basic effects or methods.

For the adventurous among the crowd, he taught how to tongue palm (what a strange mix of words) a lit cigarette, blow smoke, show your mouth empty and then produce the same lit cigarette at the completion of the trick.

I tried it with a stick on the way home and nearly pierced my upper palette when I hit my gag reflex, began to puke, reacted by slamming my mouth shut and driving the stick up into the roof of my mouth with my tongue. There was a sick moment where I thought about doing it again but realized it made much more sense to take the plunge and use a real, lit cigarette because the smoldering tip would serve to cauterize the bleeding puncture wounds I would likely receive.

I looked around the bus terminal on the way home but couldn’t find any cigarette butts that were either lit or tasted good enough to keep in my mouth for more than a minute or two. I did find some great chewing gum that someone had left near an ashtray in the back of the terminal ? I think it was gum ? that was solid enough to practice the trick. I still need help but I’m getting there.

Mr. Cellini is well-known not only for his street performance but also, and more particularly, for his Linking Rings. He performed his effect to a wonderful rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and like everything that went before, the effect was flawless and impressive.

Mr. Cellini observed at the outset of his lecture that to be a magician meant more than you are an actor performing the role of magician. The magician must perform as a magician would perform, think as a magician would think and be a magician thoroughly. The best way to learn to be a magician ? and not merely a performer accepting the role of magician ? was to actually take your act to the street and perform. That is why he suggests selecting three or four tricks you’ve done for years so that you can focus your attention on the three elements essential to the success of any magician, whether on the street or not: stop them, keep them and get them to pay.

If you have a chance to see Mr. Cellini lecture or perform, don’t miss it. This was one of the most inspiring lectures I have seen. He clearly wanted every member of the audience to walk away with the conviction that they could do street magic and be a success. There was no professional arrogance or finger-flicking elitism. Mr. Cellini loves to do what he does and sees no reason for any magician to fear the vanishing art.

His DVD on street performing is outstanding, by the way. It was for sale at the lecture for $60.00 but is less at Penguin Magic. If you think you might want to learn this great craft, you should consider the investment in the DVD.

Inside Magic Review: Four Out of Four!
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