Fooling Garwulf
Women in Magic and "The Invisi-Ball Thread"

Robert B. Marks | 14 Jul 2015 15:00
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Peter Boie: While Shin Lim was enchanting, Boie presented a legitimately spooky performance. One of the reasons this worked so well was that, as Penn noted, Boie did not use any gimmicks in the trick itself. He presented it as it would be if he was really conjuring spirits, and his masterful use of a smoke machine helped create an atmosphere emphasizing the eeriness of the spiritualism. He didn't fool them, but it was a wonderful performance all the same.

(The spiritualist movement as we know it began in 1848 when sisters Kate and Margaret Fox, 1837-1892 and 1833-1893 respectively, claimed to have made contact with a spirit, who communicated using rappings. The Fox sisters became famous mediums in America, and the movement they started was so strong that it survived their admission in 1888 that the entire thing had been a hoax.)

Penn and Teller: This trick harkens back to the little plunger of the previous episode. It's just sheer delight, and you could hear it in the reactions from the audience. Penn really did reveal the secret - it is done with a thread - but it is also a routine where you stop caring about the method once the trick has begun. It's great magic, and the sort of thing that makes you happier that you've seen it.

Going back to the first act, Leon and Romy are a male and female duo, where it is very clear that both are equal partners in the magic, as opposed to Romy being Leon's assistant. And this brings me to women in magic, which is a far trickier subject than it first appears. We have a certain image of the challenges that women face in trying to make themselves known that was well captured by Burt Wonderstone - not being taken seriously, relegated to the role of assistant regardless of talent, and having to deal with the sexual advances and sexism of male magicians.

On first glance, there is certainly some basis to believe this. While there have been some illustrious female magicians in the past (Adelaide Herrmann, 1853-1932, a showgirl turned assistant turned magician who became known as the Queen of Magic in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, comes immediately to mind), they are by far outnumbered by men, even to this day. In the 1940s, Dariel Fitzkee (1898-1977) advocated against relegating women to the assistant role, stating that they should be treated as full magicians. In the late 1960s, Henning Nelms (1900-1986) wrote a highly influential book, Magic and Showmanship, that firmly cast the role of assistant as being female and discussed the problems of recruiting women into the part.

But while this may have been a reasonable description of magic in the 1960s or '70s, it bears little resemblance to magic today, as I discovered upon beginning the interview portion of my research. Knowing relatively little about the subject outside of history books, books on performance theory, and a few online articles, I reached out to Christen Gerhart, a magician, magic critic, and judge on Wizard Wars; Misty Lee, a stage illusionist and theatrical seance medium who in 2010 became the first woman in the history of the Magic Castle to become a staff Medium for their magical Houdini Seance; and Suzanne Sinclair, a professional close-up magician who has been performing since 1985.

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