For a number of years this fishbowl Production was used as the opening effect in my stage shows. It is quick and very astonishing because a very large howl is used and the production is made on an undraped table so far down stage that it is almost against the footlights. The trick is completely mystifying to the lay audience and to magicians as well. Although I believe that it is wrong to design shows to fool other magicians, it is rather satisfying to find a trick which they don't catch and which at the same time is liked by the general public.
The curtain goes up and two assistants are standing on the stage. Both are wearing red uniforms with capes lined with gold. The capes are thrown back so that the linings show. One assistant is a girl and one a boy. They both stand in the same way--with the right arms behind them and with the left arms bent at the elbow so that their left hands are over their hearts. The girl has a silk cloth of heavy material over her left arm. The girl stands a little to stage right of the center of the stage and the boy stands opposite her on stage left. The magician walks in rapidly and quickly pulls the cloth from the arm of the girl. He opens the cloth with a jerk and catching hold of one corner tosses the cloth so that the boy catches it by the opposite corner. The magician, and the boy, rush down stage holding the cloth. It is held over an undraped and empty table and jerked away by the magician. On the table now stands a large glass fishbowl three-quarters full of water. The cloth is tossed to the boy and the magician takes his bow.
The fishbowl should be described because, while it is quite a usual design for fishbowls, it is not the design usually used by magicians. It stands twelve inches high and is fourteen inches in diameter at its widest part. It has the usual small rimmed neck but the body of the bowl is tapered rather than being round as is probably more common a design. This vase shaped bowl, I found, looked bigger to the audience than does a round bowl--of course, either looks infinitely bigger than a flat bowl.
The boy assistant actually has the bowl behind his back and brings it out with his right arm under cover of the cloth as he and the magician walk down stage. The point is that without a gimmick it is impossible for the assistant to grip the bowl so as to hold it behind his back and anyway it is far too heavy a bowl for him to hold merely by the strength of his arm. The gimmick consists of two parts. One part is a wire twisted around the lip of the bowl and again twisted to make a small wire loop at the side of the bowl. This wire when finished looks like a figure 8 with the lower loop big enough to go around the bowl and the upper loop about a half inch in diameter. The second part of the gimmick is a leather strap with a buckle.
This strap--I used a dog collar--is covered with the same red material that is used in the uniform. To this strap is fastened (and most securely) a harness hook from which the spring has been removed. This strap is fastened about the right arm of the assistant just above the biceps and so that the hook hangs down on the inside of the arm. To get loaded the assistant bends over a table upon which the bowl has been placed and hooks the wire loop on the bowl with the harness hook. He then stands and the bowl hangs down. He curls his arm around and his hand under the bowl and pushes the bowl behind his back. The weight of the bowl comes entirely on the strap on the arm. The only physical effort the assistant has to make is to push the bowl behind his back, which is very easy. The reason that the bowl is only three-quarters filled with water is, first, because the water more easily may he seen than in the case of a full bowl and, second, because it does not make the bowl so heavy. A bowl of this size will hold about an average pail of water.
Under cover of the forward run with the magician, the assistant swings his arm forward and the moment the bowl is above the table, he stoops until the bowl rests on the table and the harness hook is out of the wire loop. He then steps back and stands a few feet away until the cloth is tossed to him. The cloth and rubber top usual for such bowls is used, that is, sheet rubber on the inside and canvas on the outside with a rope run in the hem. The rope is made of such a size that it will fit tightly over the lip of the bowl. A corner is left of the cloth or an extra small loop of rope is made so that one or other is available to catch hold of and more quickly and easily jerk off the cover. The cloth is essential, for the rubber covers used with the smaller bowls will not hold the weight of the water in so large a bowl.
The table upon which the production is made should be quite heavy so that it does not tip or collapse when the bowl lands on it. I used a heavy Kellar base with a fiveply round board top ten inches in diameter. It is essential for the full effect of the trick that the table should be of the simplest possible construction
It has always seemed rather silly to me for a magician to produce something for which he has no use and so immediately the bowl was produced I went into the "Winter in China" effect and used the water in the bowl to wet the pieces of torn paper. When that trick was over the bowl was removed by one of the assistants. But whether you wish a bowl production as a trick to lead into another or as an effect complete in itself is not the point at the moment. You will find this less bulky to carry about than the special table jobs and besides you will have a much larger production. You will have to rehearse with your assistant but then what trick is there in which you can use an assistant without rehearsal? The main thing with this trick, or, for that matter, with any other, is the effect upon an audience. To an audience it is real magic, as years of performance have proven.