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Topic: String Figures/Games
Message: Posted by: Scott Ocheltree (May 22, 2003 03:41PM)
Like Cat's Cradle/Jacob's Ladder/Many Stars. Does anyone here use them in their magic?They're not really "magical", but then neither is balloon twisting. I find these forms fascinating and have learned several of them.

I start my birthday party show with a coin and silk routine in which I involve the birthday child in some by-play with the coin, then I introduce the silk. I explain the silk has an invisible hole in the middle of it. I do a simple knot vanish— explaining that the knot vanishes through the "hole".

Then I pass the coin "through" the middle of the silk— again through the invisible hole.
In the past, I have produced a 6' rainbow TT streamer from the middle of the silk as a climax to the routine. I am thinking of replacing the streamer with a loop of string, explaining that this loop is the "magic hole". Then making a couple of string figures, one of which is a simple but animated one which involves the child. I would then give the string to the child before having them sit back down.

Was wondering what people here think of this idea, and if anyone else ever uses these when entertaining children.

If you are not familiar with them, here is an interesting website with quicktime movies of quite a few Native American figures: [url]http://dine.sanjuan.k12.ut.us/string_games/resources/cross_index2.html[/url]
Message: Posted by: Billy Whizz (May 22, 2003 04:58PM)
Never seen anything like that Scott. Just had a look at the web site, it's quite fascinating. I wouldn't use it in my show though, not entertaining enough for children in my opinion.
Message: Posted by: Emazdad (May 22, 2003 05:42PM)
Martin Probert, one of the inner members of the Plymouth Corle, does a lot of it Graeme. It's fascinating to watch in small doses as is his skill at oragami. (He doesn't own a telly.) But as you say, it's not very entertaining for children.
Message: Posted by: Cheshire Cat (May 22, 2003 05:55PM)
Ah yes, origami— was just about to look it up in Kama Sutra then remembered it's paper tearing and modelling! Many years ago when Donny Osmond was still Little Donny Osmond (or was it Jimmy?), I also remember a guy who did a Chapeography act— a piece of felt twisted and shaped into many different styles of hats. The same guy played a banjolele and sang to the kids (not at the same time!) Then there was also a routine with a huge concertina of paper, now what was that called?

Also interesting to read about Bubble Blowing in another thread. All these little diversions are interesting in their place, but not in the same league as puppetry, balloon modelling, juggling, plate spinning, vent dolls etc. as an alternative to magic for children. We also use 'fishing competitions' and 'reeling in' competitions as fillers. I'd also considered animal vivisection as another 'filler'— maybe just before teabreak at parties (no!— just my weird sense of humour!!).

I think a certain amount of eyes half shut imagination would be needed for some of those string shapes— especially "Horned Toad"!!
Message: Posted by: Scott Ocheltree (May 22, 2003 06:28PM)
aceparties -
Actually, origami is the Japanese art of paper [b]folding[/b], not tearing. Most basic origami forms are made from a single, square sheet of paper. And if, in your effort at humor, you meant to refer to the East Indian book of Tantric sexual positions, it is the [b]Kama[/b] Sutra, not Karma Sutra. Do a Google search, I'm sure you'll find some VERY interesting sites. Probably not good children's material though! ;)

The video examples on the website I referenced in my first post are instructional, therefore, quite slow. In performing the figures, they are made quite rapidly. I agree that it would be very difficult to build a show around these types of material, but that is not my intent. I am considering inserting these as a small part of a short sequence of material, kind of like a flourish.

I think it's amusing that you associate someone's ability to perform these feats to their lack of television. I do my best to limit my exposure to that drug as well!
Message: Posted by: Andy Wonder (May 22, 2003 07:15PM)
I thought it sounded like a good idea until I took a look at the web site. Maybe my imagination is lacking a little but I could not guess what any of those were supposed to be except maybe the star.

The concertina of paper Ace talks about is called a Troublewit (because you have trouble with it) and would be a similar style of effect for children. I think you would have more success using a Troublewit for children because it is a lot more visual. It just won’t fit inside a TT. :pout:

The other thing I would add is that this type of effect where you use a shape changing item to create different images really lends itself well to story telling. You could use your Troublwit or your string to illustrate a story as you go along.
Message: Posted by: Scott Ocheltree (May 22, 2003 07:33PM)
I guess I didn't communicate clearly what I was thinking. This is maybe a 1 minute bit (tops) inside of a routine where a chocolate coin and colored silk appear and disappear repeatedly. It is not a sustained 45 minutes of subjecting children to guessing what each shape is supposed to be. I probably wouldn't even give the names of the shapes.

My idea was to produce the loop of string and claim it is the magic hole in the silk, then do a couple of quick flourishes with the string.

Here's another link which might help you to better understand the concept of string figures:
They are often used in conjunction with traditional story telling. Many of the shapes' names seem only slightly suggested by the actual pattern, in much the way constellations seem to. Many children in this part of the world still learn and play many of these games.
Message: Posted by: Emazdad (May 23, 2003 02:04AM)
Hi Scott, I have a great deal of respect for anyone who puts in the hours of hard work to learn a skill, however it doesn't stop me finding humour in it. It's a standing joke of mine that anyone who has the time and patience to learn stuff like origami etc. or anything that takes a lot of hard work, time and patience either hasn't got a telly, there is no snooker or pool hall near them and their dad didn't have a secret stash of girly books hidden in the house. All these divert most of us when we're young from the more educational activities. I had a telly, and found my dad's mags at 13 so there went my teenage years. :)
Message: Posted by: p.b.jones (May 23, 2003 02:30AM)
I thought Troublewit would come into this thread. I have seen several presentations of Troublewit and I must say I found it completely boring... :thumbsdown: By all means try the string things but I think that it will not be a great hit.

The only thing I have seen that fits the bill for entertainment of this nature is a Chapau made by Wallis Wonders of the UK and I think they're no longer in business. This was not the old round bit of felt with a whole in it but a cloth covered disk of foam covered in flashy material. It also had a little peak attached to it. The best way I found to use it was as a running gag, changing the hat after each effect.
Phillip :thumbsup:
Message: Posted by: Cheshire Cat (May 23, 2003 03:12AM)
Thanks Andy for reminding me of the title 'Troublewit'. This is going back into the mid/late 70s when I used to play piano for entertainers. In view of the fact we seem to be putting on our 'serious faces' here Scott, (humor being spelled 'humour' here in the birthplace of the English language by the way), I must say that I personally, and I think most children and parents in my location, would find this absolutely boring drivel in any sustained form and yet another attempt at filling in time at parties with as little substance and as few props as possible. I understand you DO NOT propose this, and appreciate the theme of your posting.

I purchased an extremely comprehensive book on Origami back in 1980 and decided then that it would be of little intrinsic value in entertaining lively 4 to 7 year olds, although your posting has certainly created an interesting recollection of alternatives to magic. Strangely enough though, there are entertainers out there who will tenaciously persevere with 'oddball' entertainments. I know of brave individuals attempting to organise children with embroidery, and even a marionette show of Pilgrim's Progress!!

Thank you for correcting my mistake on spelling of Kama Sutra. As the current topic of conversation, I only ever glanced at it once to realise the impracticality and lack of satisfaction. What I can agree upon is your opinion of television. I spend a lot of my spare time trying to master those Chopin masterpieces I never seemed to have the discipline to get right as a young man, so I trust this meets approval. At the age of 13 thank heavens, I was totally locked into piano playing— although I did discover a few 'girlie mags'— heavily 'touched out' in the 1960s. (But I would have been devastated if I had thought my father possessed any!!)

Sincerely, - Tony.
Message: Posted by: Scott Ocheltree (May 23, 2003 02:55PM)
Hey Ace—
Sorry to get all "serious-faced"— it just seemed that comparing this type of material to animal vivisection came across as a bit offensive.

It's interesting to me how many working professionals have rung in on this thread to say that this particular idea or Chapeography or the Troublewit (had never heard of it before myself) or Origami or "whatever" "is not or can not be entertaining to children."

Yet almost everyone on this board would agree that it is not the material you use, but the presentation and performance skills that you employ. The number of performers here who list the Coloring Book in their top three amazes me, because I find this effect to be such an 'old chestnut" I can't imagine using it. However, I know there are many great presentations for this rather (in my opinion) mundane bit of business. Anyway, I have a couple birthday parties coming up in the next few weeks, so I'll let people know how it plays out.
Message: Posted by: Cheshire Cat (May 23, 2003 03:42PM)
Thank you for the word "sorry" Scott, and I in turn apologise for making frivolity out of your posting. I think almost everything carries well in both directions across the Atlantic apart from maybe humour at times.

Let you into a secret— we've always tried to purchase props that we assume our closest rivals would not be prepared to stretch to cost-wise, or very old props that could be renovated and then appear unique. I also greatly alter routines and even apparatus just to be different. If you can bring any of these old ideas into successful modern fruition then why not!

A lot of us also entertain children en masse— 30 or 40 at a time in Church halls etc., whereas others may just be moving from table to table in a 5 star restaurant on a Sunday lunchtime— in which case origami would no doubt be successful.

Message: Posted by: p.b.jones (May 23, 2003 04:50PM)
[quote]Yet almost everyone on this board would agree that it is not the material you use, but the presentation and performance skills that you employ.[/quote]Hi,
Yes to a point. But personally I do not think that means a crap item with a good presentation will out play a good item with a good presentation. Surely we are looking to make our shows the best we can? If we aim high on all aspects then I feel that if we fall short in some way we are far more likely to fall to a good solid place.

Message: Posted by: Mark Martinez (May 23, 2003 10:56PM)
Scott, the closest thing to the string figures that I use is the rubber band effect Star Gazer. Maybe you could add some more of these shapes into that routine. Good Luck!
Message: Posted by: Doug Howe (May 28, 2003 11:24PM)
I've tried the Troublewit at birthday parties, and you have to have a short routine. Today's children do not have the attention span for longer routines. Speaking of Origami (which was mentioned a couple of messages ago), Newspaper folding is a hit! Today's kids do not know how to fold hats or boats out of a sheet of newspaper. I've a small routine whereby the paper gets folded into a few hats, then a boat, which hits a rock, etc. and gets ripped into a shirt. Kids love it. They want to know how to fold the hats. I even taught our local SYM kids, and their parents told me how their newspapers were disappearing. It's such an old pastime that it's new again.
Message: Posted by: Mago Mai (May 29, 2003 06:52AM)

I remember when I was a kid my father tought my a string figure,I really liked it.

I have seen some kids at school playing with it and It look great.

There are some of those figures where you need another person to help you make them.

I believe it is just one of those games we discover with friends while going to school.

As of your routine,I like the idea of the string.Nice imagination.

Mago Mai

You might want to hand out some loops at the end of your show and give a prize to the first kid that makes a figure with it.

It is an excellent exercise for hand-eye coordination.I bet you they will enjoy it.Please give it a try and let me know how it goes.

Mago Mai
Message: Posted by: Scott Ocheltree (Jun 1, 2003 03:53PM)
Well, I did a birthday party show yesterday for about 20 2nd graders and wanted to let people know how this bit went.
I want to remind everyone that I am not a full time pro. Magic is a hobby for me, but one I take very seriously. I currently perform mostly for family and friends, but I donate children's birthday party shows as auction items to charity fund raisers. My goal is to refine my birthday party act into something I can do semi-professionally a couple weekends a month. To this end, I have been upgrading my props, refining my routines, and developing a storyline to connect the pieces.
The idea to include a couple string figures was inspired by several things. One was to replace the TT streamer I was producing with something more unusual. Another was to display an interesting skill (I am able to make several of the forms quite rapidly). The loop of string is introduced as being the "hole" in a magic scarf I use in the opening of my act . This joke went over well with both the kids and the adults. I then made 2 forms I find interesting and visually attractive (Navajo Door, and Osage 4 diamonds) This took less than a minute. The final form I made is a quick interactive one that involves 2 people. It looks like a cross. One person is holding the top and bottom spokes, the other person is holding the left and right spokes. When one person pulls out on their loops the other persons are drawn in, and vice versa.
Kids find this form very amusing. I did this at the end of my opening bit which involves the birthday child. When I was done I gave her the string and had her sit back down.
I was pleased with the reaction the kids and adults had to the figures. Again, these were produced very rapidly and were only explained as interesting things the "magic hole" could do. The birthday child was amused by the interactive one I used to include her, and liked receiving the string. (I have another magical gift and card that i produce for the birthday child at the end of the show as well).
The one problem I had with this was that since I did it at the very beginning of the show, the child sat back down with this loop of string and seemed distracted by it. I have read elsewhere on this forum how this can be a problem with handing out balloon forms during the performance as well, so I was aware this could be a problem and found it to be so. Not as distracting for others as a squeeky and possibly popped balloon, but still, I thought that the birthday child herself might have more easily enjoyed the rest of the show if she were not preoccupied by the piece of string.
This was the biggest group of children I have encountered at a home birthday party, usually they top out at around a dozen children. There were also more parents that stayed to watch than I usually have seen. Which meant that I encountered another thing I see other posters in this forum complain about. That is, parents chatting at the back of the room. They weren't too bad, but it would have been nicer if they had been quieter. If I succeed in doing this more regularly I will have to review the suggestions people have made here regarding parent management and develop some techniques for this.
I think the string figures would work better for me with smaller groups. I may also try to move this closer to the end of the show.
I have thought about having more loops of string and teaching some forms after the show too.
I wonder though about the balloon twisters and how they maintain order and make it fun for the children while they're waiting for their friends to get their models made. sitting through the twisting of 20 models seems pretty tedious.
Well, this post has touched on a bunch of different subjects now. But I do appreciate everyone's feedback on this idea.
Thank you!
Message: Posted by: Emazdad (Jun 1, 2003 04:19PM)
Hi Doug,

Personally I feel the string stuff is something that holds a very low entertainment value for kids and should be left for retirement homes etc where the oldies may appreciate the skill more, but if it works for you go for it.

We all learn from experience heres a couple of things you may find usefull.

1, get a PA system, then you can turn it up and the kids will be able to hear you over the adults, and if the adults get too loud don't be afraid to politely ask them to shut up. After all it's not fair on the kids.

2, Give the birthday girl the string when she helps, let her take a bow etc, then take it off her and put it behind you out the way. tell her it's so it stays nice and safe untill after the show. This applies to anything you give the kids. if you let them sit down with anything, they will play with it and it will distract the other kids as well.
Message: Posted by: MiNiM (Jun 24, 2003 04:46AM)
Hi Guys,

I've been using string figures (and Troublewit) for several years in kids shows and they're always very well received. The important part is to sequence them in a story form, with a fair bit of humour and mugging.I tend to think of them as an either/or type of effect for variety in a programme, though on storytellig gigs I've used both troublewit and several string stories, with a few magic tricks for variety!
If you want a routine, Scott, email me and I'll type one out. Lots of kids can do a cup and saucer and a few other figures, but when you do a moving figure like the opening gate, or man climbing tree you can hear the 'oohs and aahs'!


Message: Posted by: Scott Ocheltree (Jun 29, 2003 08:55PM)
Thank you!
I did another birthday party show today for a smaller group of kids.
I used this bit again and it played very well.
Some performers seem to think that you have to have the kids screaming and yelling the whole show. I think that you can have quiet and meaningful moments within a children's show as well. I have seen other performers I respect mention their use of the Troublewit elsewhere on The Café. I think these items are like anything else, it depends on the performer.
I wil P.M you regarding your string routine. Again, Thanks! :)