MEMOIRS - 08 - Audiences

The mental attitude of a crowd of people watching a magical entertainment, is indeed curious. Not only do audiences differ very largely, but within certain limited they maintain a regular difference; what I mean is that the atmosphere created by the type of entertainment presented, can be recognised by the experienced performer; and to get the best out of his programme he must respond to that atmosphere. He, himself, as an entertainer, can, to a certain extent, guide or handle that atmosphere, to his own advantage. Since no two audiences are composed of the same individuals, they must all vary, and it is very remarkable how much they do vary; one being wildly enthusiastic and another, just limp.

Every performer, of course, has his own favourite kind of function, at which he likes to perform. I personally like private party entertainments, 21st Birthday parties, cocktail parties and the like. The atmosphere of such parties is conducive to my style of work. At these functions, the guests are gathered together for the actual purpose of watching a conjuring entertainment. The guests nearly all know each other, and the atmosphere is just right, and it makes it ever so much easier for the performer, and it helps a lot.

Then there is the Children’s Party, the dread of most Conjurers, but to me there is something spontaneous, warm and delightful, about children’s laughter and applause; and I always have a glow of happiness when I see the children sitting enraptured, watching me doing my magic.

Entertaining children is no easy matter, and there are few people who can do this successfully, and most of the Professional Conjurers fight shy of accepting an engagement for a children’s party; but Magic is a welcome interlude wherever children are gathered together, to make merry. How the children love a Conjurer! Mirth, Magic, Mystery; they dream and talk about it for weeks after the party.

The hardest audience to satisfy is one composed of schoolboys about the ages of twelve to fifteen years. They have eyes like gimlets, and think they see how every trick is done; and what they fail to see, they explain away in some ridiculous guess, which is usually miles and miles from the truth. A Conjurer deserves a double fee for performing before schoolboys. I often tell boys that there must be two different ways of doing a trick, "the way they think it is done, and the right way." At nearly all performances to boys, you will hear silly remarks from them such as, "It went up his sleeve", "He has a double pocket." "You stuck it under your beard, before you came onto the platform," "In your other hand." "You have a false palm in the middle of your hand."

These and other silly remarks are always heard from the boys of school age, and this very impetuousness leads the small boy to his own undoing, as a smart conjurer to-day, leads him up the garden path, oh, so nicely, and gently. At the finish, the boy’s own smartness turns the laugh against himself. But entertaining children is hard work all the same; the performer must be able to get the children with him, and not against him, and therefore he must study the psychology of the childish mind. Children must be entertained, not confused.


As a general Rule all children, especially boys, are very fond of watching a Magical Entertainment, but, of course there are exceptions, as the following incident will shoe.

I was fulfilling a contract to give a series of Children’s Matinees in most of the towns along the Reef, in the Transvaal. I was giving a twenty-minute programme of Conjuring, between the Pictures. One of the towns was Germiston, and when I arrived at the Theatre, I took my props round to the back of the stage, and then came to the front of the house to have a chat with the Manager, before the show started; and as we stood talking outside the entrance, the manager was called to the telephone and as I stood there waiting his return, a small youth sauntered up, with his hands in his pockets, and mistaking me for the Manager, he asked me if we had a good programme on, for that afternoon. Of course I said, "Yes, certainly"; and as my name was prominently shown in big letters on a poster in front of the Theatre, announcing that Harry Venson, the Famous Conjurer and Sleight of Hand Artist was giving a show there that afternoon, I proudly pointed to it and said, "Yes, my boy, you are lucky this afternoon, as we have Venson with his Magic on the programme"; and he said, "What! A Conjurer?" and I said, "Yes of course"; then he took the wind out of my sails by saying, "Oh, I don’t like Conjurers, can’t stand them at any price; they always give me the woolies," and off he went to see what programme they had got at the Kinema theatre round the corner.

In another town, after I had finished my turn at one of these matinees, I was making my way out of the Theatre, when a youth said, "Good stuff, Sir, good stuff." On another occasion the Compere had announced that Venson was such a clever Conjurer that he could turn a "Cow into a field"; but after my performance, a little girl came up and said, "Why didn’t you do that trick with the cow?"

Once, at a private children’s party, I was just going to start my programme, when a little girl, who had apparently seen me before called out, "Oh, Mr. Venson, don’t you remember me, I was at Mary’s party."

Experience teaches a Conjurer not to ask silly questions of his audience, for if you do, you are almost sure to get a reply, which is calculated to get a laugh against you. I remember once in my early days, asking the audience if any member could oblige me with an egg, and one man promptly replied, "If I had any eggs, you would have had one, ten minutes ago."

Once when I was acting as Compere, I had to announce a dancer who was getting a little old in the tooth, but could still put up a very creditable show; I finished my announcement by saying that no doubt some of the audience had seen the lady before, and therefore knew that she was a ‘finished artiste’, when a voice from the back said, "Yes, finished ten years ago." Nasty, wasn’t it?