The Magic of Puppets! - Part 1
by Steve Axtell / Axtell Expressions, Inc.
Creating the illusion of life. Wow what magic! Adding a puppet or two, to your already great magic show could really add some spice! It's amazing how much variety it adds. A short comedy routine with a puppet provides quite a break in the stream of magic - enhancing the show's effectiveness. Need an entertaining assistant to help with a trick? Use a puppet! Need to add some color and character? Use a puppet! You can learn ventriloquism or you could just do pantomime getting killer laughs either way. Because you are an entertainer wanting to increase your impact you might want to consider adding the Magic of Puppets.
Ive made it my career combining magic with puppets.Some of you may know me as the inventor of the Magic Drawing Board which is now a popular magic illusion on which you make a drawing of a cartoon face with a dry erase marker and it comes to life. Its an exciting example of combining magic with a type of puppet. I have also invented a device known as the Bird Arm Illusion which makes a bird puppet look alive sitting on your outstretched arm. My company Axtell Expressions also combine puppets with special effects like smoke breathing dragons, and water squirting elephants, or our Cry Baby with instantly changing faces.but enough about my work. Over the years, I have grown to meet some amazing entertainers and Ive collected a few of them from the ventriloquist world.
In this series I'll show you some real world examples of entertainers that combine puppets and magic. Meet Dan "The Magic Man" Cogliano:
I started as a magician and added ventriloquism to my act. After purchasing "Vern", my next decision was to determine which hand to use for the puppet. This needs to be determined before purchasing a puppet that is hand specific ( for rod arm installation or the bird arm illusion, for example). The problem is although the dominant hand is preferred for manipulating a puppet, it is also the preferred hand for doing magical slights (palming, for example). So, when using magic with a puppet, one has to determine the jobs for each hand. I decided to have my dominant hand (my right hand) do the magic and my left hand work the puppet. I feel I can do stronger magic when using my right hand and I have grown quite accustom to using my left hand for manipulating "Vern". I have talked to another magician who prefers using his dominant hand for the puppet, so it really is up to the individual to determine what is best for him/her.
I have found my "Vern" puppet to be much better at helping with magic than a standard ventriloquist figure. Did you know that you need more than one hand to use a one hand change bag? Who will put the silks in the bag and take them out? Why your puppet will, of course! It makes much more sense having a bird or other animal puppet use their mouth to help with silks than a human puppet or ventriloquist figure, since humans usually don't use their mouths as hands (at least the people I know). You can also use the puppet to take silks out of the change bag while you are not looking for some comedy. I use my "Vern" puppet to help display a 36" picture silk, which normally requires two hands to display.
A couple of magic tricks I have used with my bird puppet are: one handed rope knot (chapter 1 in "Abbott's Encyclopedia of Rop Tricks for Magicians"), one hand change bag and the switch can (look under change bags at www.laflinmagic.com for an example). I am starting to work on a routine with a chop cup which will be more challenging but it is definitely possible to do with a puppet.
More information on Axtell Vern the Bird can be seen here.
Next we will explore more ways you can combine puppets with magic!