Every once in a while all of us wand wielders sit though a magic show that is so awful, so revolting and so stomach turning that we leave the performance and want to rush home and burn our equipment. At best, we have to spend all the drive back home with our spouse explaining how the show wasn’t really all that bad.
One of my most memorable stories was when I lived in the Carolinas in the early 70s. Back then; a person could make a fair living doing school shows, service club shows, Cub Scout meetings and birthday parties. The hills of Western North Carolina were filled with little mill towns and each town had company and community spirit.
One such enterprising performer was a bit of a local legend in that area. For purposes of this story let me call him Luke Porter. That is not his real name but I have every desire to let the dead rest in peace. His wife was Opal. Luke was a rather rotund character with thinning gray hair on the sides and patches of hair in the middle. His face was deeply wrinkled and resembled fifty miles of bad road ahead. He had a pencil thin moustache. His massive hands looked like they belonged to a plumber. In fact, his whole personage resembled a country plumber and that would be complete with a big potbelly and a belt that allowed it to hang over. Luke wore a tailcoat outfit that had been homemade by Opal. The store-bought black pants did not match the shade of black on the tailcoat! The tailcoat had actually been constructed by cutting down a black suit coat and merely tacking on tails made from black cloth. Are you getting the idea that this was not your class act?
Opal was very grandmotherly. Her gown was homemade out of lavender satin and she barely fit into it. It was sleeveless and allowed a generous hanging slab of arm flesh to flop around. She wore loads of powder that accented her wrinkles and bright red lipstick that was the popular shade in 1954.
Luke had a bit of a speech defect and could not say the sound of “r” very well. He also had a curious shaking in his hands. He moved like an elephant. To his credit he did have a warm smile and enjoyed what he was doing even though he was clueless as to how he looked and acted to the audience.
Luke and Opal traveled to shows with their son-in-law, Theodore. “Theo” was very thin country fellow about 40 years old. He had a receding chin and a bit of an overbite. His eyes were droopy and nose long. He wore a blue velvet sport coat that was two sizes too big and white pants and shoes and a long paisley necktie. Theodore was a frustrated Pentecostal evangelist. He had all the hand motions and staccato speech pattern with a deep breath between every 3 words. Theo carried props on and off stage and did his own specialty act in the show. Luke paused the show for a special word about each person’s soul and where they would spend eternity. Evangelist Theodore came out with an easel and some flannel pictures and preached a down home sermon.
The team rode and carried their props in a converted step van, better known to most as a bread truck. It had been painted white and Luke had free hand lettered the name of his show on the side. It said, “Luke and Opal Magic Shows. The best in magic shows. Call 704- xxxx” (The number ran down hill, as did the whole lettering.
Luke made almost every prop in the show. He must not have known about such things as sandpaper or a square or putting an undercoat on plywood before he painted. He made an attempt at creating a fabric backdrop by using plumber’s pipe. The backdrop fabric had huge gashes in it. After the show I asked him about the gashes and he said, “It allows the wind to go through it so it doesn’t blow over when we do outside shows”. His stage lighting was a pair of outdoor floodlights mounted on a square of plywood that sat on the flood.
The show opened with a very scratchy instrumental playing on a phonograph record. Luke plodded out and tried to do the gloves to spring flowers. He tossed the gloves into the air and they fell to the floor as he was trying to get the spring flower packet to open. Bautier DeKolta, the inventor of spring flowers, would have had a stroke watching this.
My wife commented on the way home that as low-class as we thought the show was, the audience enjoyed it. It really does not take a lot to please an audience if they can connect with you.