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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » All tied up! » » The Escape Artist - An essay (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

Mark Tripp
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The Escape Artist

There is an old axiom that those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it's errors. Those words ring with a somber note of truth in the light of events where performers have been injured or killed doing escape stunts. In putting this book together I have gathered my comments and my experience and said "*** the torpedoes" as it were. So let us begin.

In adolescent development, eventually something we call "borrowing light" comes up. Simply stated, this is when a person has a self-image problem. For many reasons, they take the image of another (or borrow light), to make up for their perceived shortcomings. Bruce Lee wouldn't get pushed around; I'll be Bruce Lee! Tom Cruise has lots of girls; I'll be Tom Cruise. This is normal and natural. Problems come in only when one of two things happen:

1. The person gets into a situation where they REALLY have to be Bruce Lee.
2. They never create their own light to live by.

If the person doesn't create a true self-image (and a realistic one at that), problems set in until there are major difficulties. For our discussion, lets look at how this problem has affected magic, and escape artists.

Want to know why Escapes are a "dead" art? Because there was only one guy to borrow light from, Houdini! Every escape artist I've ever met has been doing Houdini. The only reason magic hasn't died a similar death, is because there are many more people to borrow light from. Can you imagine what would happen if everyone in magic, EVERYONE, only did Blackstone? Or Thurston? Really think about that! Escape artists as a whole, "borrow light", from Houdini. The light isn't even true light, because it comes from the myth, not the man! A grown man who lived his life as Bogart would need help, so do escape artists.

If I came to you at a convention and said "You know, Thurston talks to me at night!" Or, "I'm Dante reincarnated". Or even "I'm the new Keller", WHAT WOULD BE GOING THROUGH YOUR MIND? Let's just say that modern medicine holds that people who hear voices have problems.

Let me add that if Houdini could be reincarnated, it could only be into one of these guys. So even if he was in one of them (and I doubt it), then all the others need help.


A disregard for personal safety, is a sign of very deep troubles, and needs professional care immediately! I'm not just talking about suicidal people, they're pretty obvious. I mean people who are always "accident-prone". People who take great risks, with a lack of concern, have a problem somewhere. There is no question in my mind, based on the accidents, that escape artist's in general have no regard for their safety. No REAL professional would set a rope on fire, or jump into a river handcuffed, UNLESS S/HE HAD A 100% SURE FIRE METHOD OF RELEASE. Anything else is foolish at best, and suicidal at worst.

To those of you following with me, see the problem? Entertainment isn't important. Who can pick which cuff faster or with only one finger is. Remember the "The amazing Joe”? I’ll bet money you don’t! This was the guy who tried to escape from being buried alive in cement, and died in the attempt!

What scares me is the way these people think. He who has a bigger flame on their burning rope, or more nails in their underwater trunk is the "real" Houdini. If I do something faster than Houdini, or something Houdini never dared to do, then I will be greater than Houdini! It just isn't going to happen that way. If the amazing Joe had escaped, we wouldn't have heard anything, only his death was news. The problem with these guys is they believe things about Houdini that simply aren't true. Like it or not, Houdini was vastly different from what the average escape artist thinks. Let's burst a few bubbles here gang!

1. Houdini could escape from anything!

Nonsense! There are any number of ways to secure a person where it's impossible to escape. Dunninger kept Houdini off his back about his ESP show by saying he would challenge him to get out of two Bean Giant handcuffs, behind his back, with the key holes facing each other. Houdini left Dunninger alone, because there is no way out of that. If you are an Escape Artist reading this, and REALLY believe you can escape from ANYTHING, please contact me. We will arrange a meeting at a convention this year. We will bet some money, and you will lose, period.

I have handcuffs or straitjackets you will not escape from. I can lock you into jail cells, and there you will stay. IT'S AN ACT! David Copperfield doesn't really cut himself in half! You can't really float ladies in the air. You can't read minds. You can't escape from anything; it's only an act!

2. Houdini defied death at every show!

Bull Droppings! His water cell had a six-inch air space at the top, bars to climb up and stay there, water release valves at the bottom of the tank, and a guy up above watching to insure he was out!!! The movie with Tony Curtis, WAS JUST A MOVIE!!! It was a wonderful, entertaining, work of fiction. Houdini's milk can had four huge holes in the lid! The lid was beveled to allow him to lift his head and breath forever if need be! Let me make this clear, HOUDINI NEVER TOOK A RISK WITH HIS LIFE! He never ever did! John Novak's Art of Escape books go into great detail about the real way Houdini's show worked. I suggest you look there for detailed explanations.

You may have seen my escape show, especially my water cell (which was Viano's), and think I'm giving you a line here. After all, my tank is only 30" square, with no air space, no bars, no water release, and no one watching. Let me say Viano didn't do that to "be greater than Houdini". He did it because today's audience would never believe Houdini's tank had all those safe things in it. Ours had to be as the audience thought it should be. Yes, your audience believes Houdini could get out of anything, and defied death. As an actor, playing the role of an escape artist (to change Houdin’s quotation a bit), you want your audience to believe those things about you. But, YOU must never believe it! Although the Viano show, with it's ten foot guillotine, and impossible water cell, looks like a foolish, risky, show, and in other hands it would be, Don was in control at all times! This brings us to the only true thing about Houdini's show.

3. Houdini was in total control at all times!

You *** well better believe he was. The word my friends is control! Controlling your body, your equipment, your assistants, and your audience! Everything was under Houdini's complete control at all times. Nothing was loose, or left to chance, NOTHING! If Houdini couldn't control it, he didn't do it! If he couldn't see what was going on, he had several assistants’ who could and did! I hate to break your heart, and spoil your image of Harry, but many of his "escapes" depended more on some good food, good booze, some money, or a good party, than anything he did with a lock pick!

Years ago I did a jail break with a phone room show for a police sponsor. I want to tell you exactly what happened when we discussed the "escape".

Sponsor: "Can you escape from one of our jails, like Houdini? It would get some great press!"
Mark: "Well I can get out, but you might not like it, what are you using over there?"

S: "We've got a brand new electric system."

M: "Oh, that could be a problem. I over rode one of those once and it took a whole rewiring job to get it back on line." (YES THIS WAS A LIE!)

S: "Gee the Chief wouldn't like that, but we really wanted to do it."

M: "Well let's go take a look"

Now when I got there I looked for a cell I could open. Finding none we had the Chief come down and explained the problem, I put everything on him. Remember they want to make money off this show. I'm not challenging them, or calling them names. They are on my side here. Finally the Chief said: "Do we have to lock the cell?"

BINGO!! They got great press from this, and so did I! The show was a big success, and everyone was happy! Notice I was never out of control, although it looked like I was. The day of the stunt I was locked in their strongest handcuffs, (supplied by me because all they had was the normal stuff).

I told the chief before the stunt "Look, I left my electronic stuff home. If you really lock that door I'm going to look like an ass, and no one will come to this show!" My friends, that door wasn't locked! Everyone wanted to be "in on the gag", and to this day, until now, no one knew the "fix" was in!

To sum all of this up, lets talk about what an Escape Artist, if s/he wants to be entertaining, and have a long life, should be:

1. First, he or she is an actor, playing the part of a superhuman!

2. Always we will be entertaining. It's not entertaining to take 30 minutes to "really" pick handcuffs off, when 2 minutes of gaffs will do as well! (I learned that one the hard way)

3. We will try to blaze new trails. Houdini's "I can escape from anything" is very old hat. Why not enter the fourth dimension, do a horror show on torture, an insane asylum, SOMETHING new and different. My show is like "Mark Twain Tonight" or "Barnum", a look into the life and death, of Houdini.

4. Our special effects (the methods) will deceive the audience into believing the danger, WHILE ALWAYS BEING IN CONTROL! Nothing is left to chance or guess work.

5. Realize some things just shouldn't be done. The burning rope straitjacket is one of them. If the rope doesn't burn through, then the audience believes it's fake. If the rope can burn through, you are an accident waiting to happen. Years ago, I had the idea of letting the rope burn through while I was hanging over a lake. Because I was over a lake, people would think I was in real trouble when I fell and went underwater, but I would surface, free! I never did it, although others have, one setting him self on fire because he used too much gasoline on the rope!!!

6. We will always remember Houdini was not a "real" person. Not even Eric Weiss was Houdini. Houdini was a "character", like the Shadow, or Superman. Under controlled conditions, Eric could become Houdini, like Michael Keaton can become Batman. If Michael started swinging from buildings, they'd lock him up. Remember that!

7. Remember the children watching you. I have the finest and most amazing bullet catch ever invented. I'll never do it again because I'm afraid of some child going home and shooting their brother or sister.

8. Lastly, be there to receive that applause! The 75 foot rope tie, done well, can get you standing ovations, I know because I've received them for it. Read every book you can on escapes and escape artistry. Stay safe.
Mark Tripp
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PS: If the dook locks and unlocks with a key, and the maxium security ones usually do, then there is a VERY easy way to do the jail break, even if the person inside the cell can't use the key.

More on that later.
Harley Newman
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Good stuff, Mark! Welcome back!
“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus” -Mark Twain

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Mark Tripp
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Thank you.

BTW, this was written before I knew Steve Baker. Even he will tell you it wasn't until he moved from "escape artist as Houdini" to "escape artist as stunt man", which is now how we define Steve Baker, that he really moved his career forward.
Harley Newman
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Yes. That's an important point. One of the Houdini problems, is that he defined the artform so strongly to himself and his body of work. So the EAs who have followed him, have done just that, followed him, in both work and image.

It's only in the last 10-15 years that EAs have started to break out of that mold.

I cringe every time somebody calls me a "modern-day Houdini".
“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus” -Mark Twain

www.bladewalker.com
Mark Tripp
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Quote:
On 2005-08-15 11:06, Harley Newman wrote:
Yes. That's an important point. One of the Houdini problems, is that he defined the artform so strongly to himself and his body of work. So the EAs who have followed him, have done just that, followed him, in both work and image.

It's only in the last 10-15 years that EAs have started to break out of that mold.

I cringe every time somebody calls me a "modern-day Houdini".


Copperfield has done the same thing with illusions, and the art form now suffers from the same problems.
Harley Newman
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Yes. It's a long-established stylistic tradition, and DC has followed the footsteps of Doug Henning, who picked up that grand-magic tradition after it was on hiatus for a couple of decades.

It's a problem with following a style, rather than what's necessary for a good script. We're in an age of action movies, so knowing how to set up and follow the psychological moments has become more important than it previously was.

Style still has a place, but when you get stuck in it, you take away the reality of what you're doing. This is a pitfall for most of the EAs I've seen.
“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus” -Mark Twain

www.bladewalker.com
Mark Tripp
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Well, if more people actually read and digested the first several chapters of "Our Magic".....
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