Theater Training for Magicians
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By Bob Fitch
From the March 1999 issue of The Linking Ring, reprinted with permission.
In the history of Magic, utility devices and unseen gimmicks for various secret functions have stood the test of time. And they have remained with us in pretty much the same form as originally created. Pulls made out of wood, now are made of metal or plastic.Thumb tips made from paper graduated to metal, then rubber or plastic as our technology changed.
But in spite of our familiarity with these props, the real secrets of their usage have been guarded scrupulously by a few and remain unknown to most (even today). The Topit is one of these. Based on the old “Poacher’s Pouch”, used by English street thieves during the mid-nineteen century, Harold Comden tailored it for Magical uses. Gus Davenport elevated it to new heights with his vanishing tobacco trick. “Topit” is actually a copywritten term owned by Davenports in London.
And though Patrick Page put out the original booklet & practice pocket, relatively few people made use of it. There are several reasons for this. First, people using it don’t really want to pass on their hard earned knowledge; Two, it was overshadowed by “Lapping” for years; Three; Its a lot of work to become facile with it, to become natural in its use..It has to be set up, and the moves choreographed. This takes time and discipline. And perhaps for most the payoff isn’t big enough. Fourth; Creativity is limited by our own first impressions, like: “oh, you just get rid of stuff in there ...Toss it in” etc. And experimenting stops. And portly men will say, “I can’t use it. Can’t get around my tummy!”
Yet for years people were fooled by the likes of Patrick Page, Ger Copper and Fred Kaps and Derek Dingle. I had no inkling of this gimmick until I visited Davenport’s in 1965 and Patrick Page vanished a ball for me. I got so excited, that a whole new world seemed to open up for me. I suddenly realized that what ‘lappers’ could do, I could emulate standing up. I was too hyper to ever sit down at a table and perform. I was so envious that those Slydini types could do such perfect Magic. But no more. This was a perfect tool for me. I put together a booklet on ideas and usages for the Topit in the late Seventies and gave lectures on the subject.
With the advent of strolling magic, and corporate parties ‘Topit’ became the tool for the Eighties. The timing was ripe for Michael Ammar to popularize it with his book and video tapes. I used to hear magicians say to Michael...”Hey Michael, let me see you toss something into your Topit!!! Like it was a basketball hoop rather than a sacred secret gimmick. Such is the fate of popularity.
Even though it became a rage and a few more magicians are using it. It still does not have the appreciation of more dedicated users. Perhaps that's the keyword ...dedicated. For to use it properly, you have to understand what an audience sees; you have to understand your own style of body language. In short, you have to live with it. You have to learn how to attach it; how to open it and literally routine your moves to vanish, change or switch something. For the magi who wants a quick fix trick, the Topit is not for them.
At one of my lectures, someone complained that the Topit was ‘old hat’.. “we know about that!” , as if it were an out of date computer model or an old car...”Let me see you use it then, I replied”. He shirked and walked away. I called to him and said’ Stay, you might find some uses for it!”
Michael Ammar’s pattern, which created a back wall, coupled with Bobby Baxter’s idea of a side slot cut into the pocket in order to retrieve anything which was in the Topit was a step forward in Topit trickery.
Styles of usage vary with the performers. Michael has a laid back gentlemanly approach; while Carl Clautier’s has a highly charged, charming, expressive style; again different from the physicality that is mine. It always amazed me to see, at lectures, how many people had one sewn into their jackets, but never used them.
Like most gimmicks Topit is taken for granted. Nothing is known about it historically or philosophically except that “You toss things into it!” That definition has of course, as mentioned before, sealed its fate. The original handbook treats it mostly as a servante. Michael’s book contained about a dozen ways to get things into it plus some cool deck switches. To date nothing has been written to dispel the ‘tossing’ or dumping idea.
While teaching the workings of Topit to various magicians, I was humbled to find that I could not help the portly or muscle bound magician. He simply could not toss around his stomach. I realized then that I didn’t know as much as I thought I knew about it. But limitations often provide the fertile soil for new ideas to take root. And fertile it was; for it rekindled an excitement about new possibilities. What I found was that you could ‘put’ something into it or ‘drop’ something into it; use the breast pocket as another entryway to the Topit. There doesn’t have to be a jerky more, it could be effortless and with slow-motion. You could steal from it with either hand to produce something or to switch it...The Plumb line vanish; the Master move; Direct and indirect vanishes; changing or vanishing objects under cover of a scarf, a fan, or a fan of cards, a newspaper.
So now the portly magi could use it as a tool. The experimenting had paid off. But the real bonus that came was that now many of these new principles could be utilized with a “Double Breasted Coat”! Not all, but many. Remember we are no longer talking about tossing, but vanishing coins; 4 cards to pocket; a deck switch; sucker egg, etc..
It goes without saying that “Topit” is not for everyone. And that
it shouldn’t be used for everything. But I think you’ll agree, that this
process of discovery could be applied to anything, i.e. tricks, routines,
moves, gimmicks, life. As long as we don’t limit the possibilities with
narrow definitions or limiting first impressions.. Thoughtful research
showed me “that everything old is new again.” Or as Greater Magic
said “Old wine in new bottles”. My wish is that this article might just
stimulate you in your own search into this lovely art of ours. Top