Props in mentalism are something of a contrary subject aren’t they?
There’s that old quote that everyone seems to attribute to either Dunninger or Fogle about your fee decreasing every time you pick up a prop.
But is there anything in it?
First of all what is a prop and what is not a prop?
Most people agree that there’s no place for brightly coloured silks or coloured boxes in a mentalism act (there are always exceptions), yes in true theatrical terms props are any ‘properties’ that are used by a performer on his ‘stage’.
To reveal a drawing, a mentalist must use a pad and a pen. They are both props.
Now we know what a prop is we can get in to a way of introducing props in to our performances that completely changes the audience’s perception of them.
To make this example clear we will use the prop: a deck of cards.
How do we get an audience to accept playing cards as something a mentalist can use?
If you enter the stage holding a deck of cards then you are allowing the deck of cards to be part of your costume, something that the audience will naturally project their own thoughts and beliefs on to you.
Without any framing you are allowing an audience to make the decisions for themselves. Sometimes we use this to our advantage, and other times this is a terrible idea.
In order to ensure that the audience makes an assumption about us that we want, we must take a look at what their assumptions might be.
You’re a smartly dressed person, you’re on stage and you’re holding a deck of cards.
Most people have heard of magicians, far fewer people have heard of mentalists.
It is not too much of a jump for a regular audience to think ‘man in suit on stage with playing cards = magician’.
DOWNLOAD MY OWN SCRIPT FOR HOW I OPEN MY SHOW WITH TOSSED OUT DECK WITHOUT IT BEING SEEN AS A CARD TRICK
How Do We Change Their Framing Of The Cards?
We have to beat them to it.
To prevent anyone from jumping to ‘card trick’ we will introduce our premise and context before showing the deck of cards.
The cards might start off in your pocket, or in your case, on your table or elsewhere while you set the stage for the context that you want to create.
If we begin with empty hands and talk about how our Father was a hustler and got in to great trouble in those back street gambling games and had to leave London and move to New York – then the context is now set.
The routine is about a card hustler, a back street gambler – not about a magician holding a deck of cards.
In one of my performance pieces I talk about a television show I saw when I was young where a guy memorised a deck of cards.
It’s only after mentioning this television show that I introduce the playing cards.
For just over 5 years I’ve opened my show with a version of Tossed Out Deck that I created (I call it Passed Out Deck) and over the thousand or more performances I’ve given of this I’ve developed a script in which I stand empty-handed talking about how a great use for my skills is in winning in a casino.
Only after appealing to people’s natural greed and painting the picture of the casino environment, only then do I produce a deck of cards and have people think of one.
The key to introducing any prop at all is to not only motivate it’s use, but to build the context before you display it. That way you are in control of the context, you direct it’s use, and the audience members do not.
If it would help you to understand exactly how to apply this to a routine I’ve put together my script for how I introduce the deck of cards for my version of Tossed Out Deck. You can download it here:
DOWNLOAD MY TOSSED OUT DECK SCRIPT