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James Malone-Lee
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Some years ago I was watching a stage magician who had a female assistant. I think that her job was to supply him with various bits of kit as he worked through his repertoire. What caught my attention was the fact that the assistant kept moving her lips and mouth as if she were speaking, although the movements were very exaggerated. The illusion created was that she was maintaining some sort of mimed, running commentary on what he was doing. I was so intrigued by this, as it seemed so strange, that I completely missed what the magician was doing.

Would anyone enlighten me on what this was all about? Is it still practiced?
magic 12376
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She was probably cursing the magician out under her breath. Smile
Ronald R. Romiski
James Malone-Lee
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At last an answer! But a wrong one, they were too besotted by each other. James
Ty Argo
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Perhaps she was telling him the finale had fallen apart backstage (use your imagination). It would be kind of embarassing to try to get your effect out and it's either broken or your assistant just won't bring it out. That way he'd know to skip over it. Just a guess.
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King Of Pop
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She was just bored from what she was doing. Smile
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I saw a similar situation and I know what you mean by those moving lips James Malone. The assistant I saw apparently yappin' away while executing exagerated "letter turning girl" moves appeared to be saying:

"Geez...can they get this theatre any colder?! I mean I'm practically naked in this outfit people!"

Followed by:

"Just one more stupid town and we're done for the season..."

Followed by:

"I swear...just one more crying kid in the audience and I'll be putting him and his mother in the guillotine."

Followed by:

"God I gotta get a real job...working for this womanizing whiskey breath nincompoop they call a magician is total hell."

And on and on. I, just like you Malone, sort of missed the "magic" as I was amazed by her behavior. I wondered if she really thought I or others couldn't notice this. Come to think of it, it serves as a very effective form of misdirection. I wonder if anyone else noticed she appeared to be talking to herself while the magician loaded a elephant into the trunk.
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We had to get on to one of the prettiest assistants that the park ever had one time because she was saying the magician's lines along with him. I will never forget the look on her face when we told her. She had no idea she was even doing it. Oh well, she wasn't the smartest one we ever had, but man did she look good in the pole-sub costume.
Bob Sanders
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Work long enough and hard enough together and we learn each other’s lines. Mouthing them sometimes appears too. Fortunately or unfortunately, this is a disease of the well rehearsed. Personally, while I see it as something to avoid, I never see it as "bad" partners.

In four areas of show business rodeo, music, magic and politics (yes, I said that is show business too!) with which I have spent a lifetime, it happens. In rodeo the flag girls, pickup men and guys working the arena gates will sometimes move their mouths with the announcer. On stage we see band members, light and sound people singing along with the singer or even playing non-existing instruments or directing the music. In politics we will see the security, driver, assistants, and other staff mouthing the speech with the “boss” (in media known as “the great talking head”) when he/she is speaking. And this article began because we have seen magicians’ assistants do the same.

Why does this happen? My explanation is that the others working with the act know their business. They are paying attention, know everyone’s lines, and are taking part in the event. Beyond that, all are based on repetition and timing. The lines tell us where we are now and what comes next. It keeps us all on beat. It makes things work.

In rodeo, the flag girls need to know when to move and when to be still. (Even the horses take the cues.) The same is true for the pickup men, gate crews, and the others. They are measuring time to make things work right. A gate opened or closed is a cue to an animal as well as many of the people in the show. The band director watches too!

In music concerts, the same is essentially true. Lighting, sound volume, special effects, pauses and dancing all work from cues. Again knowing the lines measures where in the show we are. It tells us what to do next. And it keeps us together (even if we are off time!).

In politics, everything has a schedule, even the speeches. While the support staff’s job is to be invisible, they are there and they know the boss’s lines by heart. They know when to start cars, get coats, block doors and isles, and move. This is again just counting and measuring for cues. Next time you are in that environment, see if you can spot who are the “Clock”, question from the audience “Spotter”, and “Surveyor”. Watch sharp politicians hold up their hands for applause and step back from the podium when the “Spotter” stops looking into the audience and faces the speaker only. He/she may also put the papers or coat under the arm so clapping is possible. It is also a cue to not take any more questions from the audience. (I know, you thought questions from the audience weren’t part of the act.) It makes things work as planned.

In magic, the same holds true. There is a time to load animals, light candles, cause a distraction, point, smile, stop, and move the curtain or prop. Timing is of the essence in many cases. The music comes and goes. The lines mark the time. Animals, volunteers, different stage sizes and layouts all change timing. The lines are the cues.

No, mouthing the lines is not desirable and should be limited, if not avoided. Many will go unnoticed except by another entertainer.

However, never forget the value of the assistant or assistants in cueing the audience when to applaud. They know their jobs and it is to be in correct timing with the act. It makes things work!

For those who remember or worked with or were schooled by Tony Slydini, we knew Tony worked with a ticking metronome. As students we hated it. He taught us and showed us that timing was of the essence.

Bob Sanders
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She is probably trying to memorize her words or counting down the beats of the music for a cue of some sort.
"You may think that i only talk of things from the past, you know, history, well magic is history"

-Guy Jarrett

"Curiosity isn't a sin Harry, but it should be exorcised with great caution."

-Albus Dumbledore (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)
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