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The Great Illusionist


The below activity is designed to respond or prepare students to see The Great Illusionist, however it can be completed as a standalone without seeing the show. It plays with form more than content and explores simple illusions and ways of presenting them. In the downloadable PDF we have included one way to build stories around these illusions but other play building exercises can be found in the notes for other shows on the Sydney Opera House teachers resources page

There are many websites which deal with fun magic tricks for young learners. Some are super simple and others more extensive requiring preparation and practice. This video is full of easy tricks to learn, some of which are highly theatrical. Get your class to watch these tricks. Split the groups into pairs and get them to pick one or two tricks. 

They must at first learn the trick so that they can do the trick for each other, before they perform it for others. Tricks require practice and feedback which is why they need to work in pairs. They must both learn the trick.

Presenting the trick

A good presentation requires some theatricalisation of the routine. This can be the classic magician routine where they are over confident and full of pomp and ceremony, or it can be the bumbly clowns getting it all wrong. Or anything in between. In the Great illusionist Het Fillial, the performance company, weave their tricks into a narrative.

To practice the presentation ask students in their pairs to think of a name for their characters. Ask them to respond quickly and intuitively. This will give you lots of information as to whether their magicians are the over confident show biz type or leaning more towards the bumbly clowns.

A great way to start a presentation is to make an ‘entrance’. A good entrance sets the scenes and can be the funniest part of a routine. 

Complete Resource Pack

The complete Great Illusionist teachers resource pack including suggested curriculum links

Exercise: Hide and Seek

Get the class to look around the room from where they could make an entrance. This could be from behind curtains, entering through the door or from under the desk. Many classrooms have nooks and crannies that can be used as mini theatres with a small off stage areas where a student can hide and pop out from. 

A nice way to get students to see these nooks and crannies is to play hide and seek in the class room. Play hide and seek until as a class you have found some good theatrical spaces to emerge from. Play at least 5 times to stretch people’s imaginations. Encourage crazy places to hide. Sillyness will elicit the best and most theatrical places.

Get five or six students to go to their favourite hiding spots and then one by one get them to make an entrance. After a couple of these entrances, give the direction for the next person to start very slowly. Just make a hand or foot enter first. See if they can slow it right down and make the hand or foot perform for up to 10 seconds before the rest of their body is revealed. See how slowly they can do this. Can they enter backwards? Is this funny or dramatic. Can you play music to make it have an emotional tone?

With the next group get them to enter (learning from their friends ) and then introduce their character by saying something like:

“Welcome ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming. My name is …….. and I will now perform for you a magic trick”

Explore entrances and simple performances of the tricks in as many of the nooks and crannies around the classroom or hall you are working in. There are always more options than you see at first. Hide and seek is a great way to flush these. Play it to the point of silliness where people are hiding behind people or in completely ridiculous places. These will be great mini theatre where they can make entrances from.

Presenting in Pairs

Using all the entrance spaces from the above exercise get the pairs to present their trick together. Before they do their trick,  they have make an entrance that fits with their characters. Two people entering can be super fun. Once they are onstage they have to introduce each other and then introduce their routine.

In most two handers, whether it’s a magic trick or joke telling duo, there is usually a high status character and a low status character. Or a boss and slave, or boss and helper. Get the students in their pairs to play either the boss or the slave.  This will help them when they start to introduce their characters and do their trick. The more the boss is bossy or the helper is not so helpful, the funnier it can be. The boss is not always the magician! Sometimes the boss in the routine is actually the magician’s assistant.

Further resources for status work

For more information about this type of status work please see this link. It provides an overview of the Status and how it can be taught. Keith Johnston is renowned for bringing this work to the fore with his book Improv. See this interview with Keith Johnston for the origins of status.

More lessons!