Is the Appearing Cane the New Rabbit Out of the Hat Trick?

“The Chinese Linking Rings” and “Rabbit Out of the Hat” are magic “tricks” that mainstream audiences peg as stereotypes of cliched magic performances. While magicians perform these effects with relish and enthusiasm, astute lay audiences groan and chuckle when they see these items pulled out.

Sure, there are segments of the lay audience who do enjoy seeing these classics but, by and large, for mid-market events/ productions, bookers and clients expect much more. Consumers too.

I highly suspect that the appearing cane is the new magic cliche. Maybe, this is really more confined to Asia because I see so many videos of magicians who looked like clones. Everyone had the same hair, costume and you could mark off the effects they performed with a checklist. Excessive cane productions, silk productions, zebra silks, parasol productions, silk blendo, kabuki and snowstorm. A template act.

I remember watching an act live and it became a running gag in the audience when a cane(s) was produced for no apparent reason. I’ve been told that they are now floor mounted devices that launch these canes into the air?! :-O It gets numb after a while.

James Dimmare is the one guy I could accept doing his cane act due to his character and image. The cane is identifiable as part of his “natural” props as part of the theatrical suspension of belief. But, modern day “kids” with magic sticks… I’m not so sure.

We have had clients specifically request that we not do any magic acts that use “the magic stick and handkerchief”, which we don’t. If you have followed our career, you know we have been anti-top hats, canes, doves and other stereotypical cliches associated with magicians.

Here is a response from an “educated” layman on a reply on Facebook:

“As a non magician, I got to admit magic has a strong smell of cheese attached to it. Perhaps you feel that cliches can be refreshed, that seeing a man wearing a jacket with shoulders pads and pulling out rings, red sponges and rabbits isn’t cheesy. IMHO it makes me gag a little. I think Its ok for kids parties, nostalgic look back at yesteryear, but short of doing shows in black and white with a pianist hammering away on the keyboard it couldn’t be anymore dated if it tried using those ideas.
With the advent of YouTube explaining everything, I love the idea that perception and blurring reality is where magic can go. Pulling how many sponges out of anywhere is entertainment but the competion it faces for attention is no longer a spinning top toy or puppets. We live In the world of scientifc. Miracles. Pull a sponge out of a hat. Wow, let me use my ipad and link up with someone in new delhi and show them it, while viewing myself on an augmented reality map.
It needs to stop refreshing and start a Renaissance.”

Recently, I’ve watched 3 television shows that openly mock and expose the appearing/ vanishing cane. This does not count Teller’s visual explanation when asked what he hates most about magicians in their movie “Penn and Teller Get Killed”. Bear in mind, this was in 1989 and still rings true.

This entry  is not meant to disrepect the skill or enthusasim of magicians who choose to overuse the appearing cane but I’m just wondering whether they have even thought if it constitutes good magic?

While there is very little mainstream appeal for an act like this, I know that magic conventions would love to feature these acts. But being a commercial creative artist/ producer in me, I personally can’t stand seeing or hearing the sound of an appearing cane anymore. This has nothing got to do with how well the effect is done. To me, it is a given that it should be done well. If you do it badly and expose the secret, then that is even worse.

Some questions I constantly ask myself when watching an act produce excessive canes are:

1) What is the reason/ motivation for producing so many canes?

2) Why are you producing canes when your audience is wihtin hearing distance?

3) Why do your canes seem to droop after appearing?

4) Why are you not even attempting to hide the cane before you produce it?

I do know that one reason why there are so many magic clones producing endless canes is because of the influence of a small handful of magicians. When Lance Burton won FISM with his now legendary Dove/ Candles/ Card act, he spawned hundreds of imitators.

My suggestion to newer magicians who are attracted to model after other magicians or replicate effects they see others perform is try to catch yourself. It is a sad fact that magic is one of the arts that evolve the slowest. Compared to music, dance or film, the forward progession is lacking.

Having said that, I do know we are constraints by the technical aspects of the craft and there are limited techniques, methods and approaches that can be exploited.

My suggestion as one solution to cut through the innovation landscape is to develop the characters and personalities of the magician. Audiences are after all (I hope) still human and have an carnal instinct and intrigue in personalities. The marriage of great personalities and good (or even acceptable) content is one key to connect with today’s audience.


About J C Sum

International Headline Entertainer, Content Creator and Investor
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