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Topic: In depth discussion on Sword Basket theory
Message: Posted by: HighClass (Jul 13, 2013 12:11AM)
I am very interested in discussing theories on what makes the sword box a great routine. I am interested especially in certain aspects like...

What effect the audience should be seeing when performing the sword box, is it a disappearance, mutilation, puzzle, ect
What order the events should happen and why ( swords first,then step in side, or visa Versa ect)
Any tips and tricks that certain people have to make it better....

I have to do a version if this trick that has to be a serious piece so I am very interested in presentation ideas that are more on the serious side and not comedic. There are many great comedic routines and If I really feel like its it a great route to take but I want to put something serious together, any information however is appreciated.

I would like to really hear from people who do it and love it, or who have seen it and love it. Please don't post if you have something negative to say a about it because I have to do the trick, and don't want to dwell on why it doesn't work and just want to hear good theory on how to make it work. I will also be trying to pay close attention and use some of the theory in my routine. I am not looking to copy, but if you post great theory or advice I will definetly use it as inspiration. Please don't post anything you feel is uniquely yours or some else's intellectual property, if you have to in order to make a point, then please note it so I don't consider it for inspiration of my routine.

Also, I am mainly interested in the basic style sword basket, like abbots, or modern sword box, not the cardboard box with spears ect so please let's keep to those to keep this thread specific. The box I have to use is from the Jim sommers book build your own illusions, and is fabric so I think is already is a bit at a disadvantage because you can't have two girls or fire. So the routine needs to be really well though out.

One last thing, everyone is entitled to there own opinion and therory no matter what is is, but this thread is about how to make the sword box great, so please don't post negative comments about the sword box or any other posts on the thread, and I will probably not reponse back unless I have questions. I just want to sit back and listen.

For those of you who take time out of your busy day to resoond just know that your information, wether or not I agree is evterey valuable and will not call on deaf ears.
You are truly appriciated.....

Thank you
Message: Posted by: HighClass (Jul 13, 2013 12:13AM)
Please excuse some of the typos, the auto correct seems to have a mind of its own.
Message: Posted by: AlbertoGiorgi (Jul 13, 2013 05:47AM)
Buy Grand Illusions CD-ROM by Jonathan Pendragon. A great document with a lot of answers for you from one of the best magic thinker ever. An entire part dedicated to the sword basket theory.
Message: Posted by: HighClass (Jul 14, 2013 01:35AM)
Thank you Alberto, I will order that soon :)
Message: Posted by: Sam Sandler (Jul 14, 2013 10:20AM)
To this day I have yet to buy a sword basket cause I don't get it. I can not convince myself that it is worth performing.

I have asked here on the Café a few times to convince me and yet I still struggle with it.

I know you don't want negative comments but please don't take this as negative but rather as I am still seeking proof that it is worthy to perform

here is my offering to this effect to make it worthy to perform
I feel it would play much better as a comedy piece then a mystical magic presentation.

about 7 years or so ago I wrote a comedy bit for the basket and got real close to buying one. but even then I backed off.

I just don't see it being a good illusion.
maybe I am wrong but for me it does nothing...at least for now.

I am looking forward to reading what others have to say about this effect.

Message: Posted by: HighClass (Jul 14, 2013 03:10PM)
Thanks sam, I don't take that as negative at all. That is exactly the type of stuff I want to know. It's well thought out theory backed by experience and not an "I hate the sword basket" rant. And I also am not a big fan of the trick, and think it would work better as a comedy piece. I am just in a position where I can't do it as a comedy piece. I also am intrigued by the challenge of making a good trick out of one that I am not so sure is good. It's kind of like a challenge. Thanks for your input, that's exactly the type of stuff I like to hear, honest criticism about the trick. Thanks
Message: Posted by: Sam Sandler (Jul 14, 2013 07:45PM)
Highclass you are quite welcome.

I put the sword basket in the same catorgory as the chair suspension.
cute but not really anything to write home about.

but thinking about the swordbasket and your needing it to be an illusion not a comedy spot I am reminded of jeff McBrides routine (which did nothing for me either) although as I watched the audience I felt that they were indeed intrigued but still it seems that Jeff had spend a small fortune on decorations, set pieces and costumes and yet it still fell flat to me.

so here is my other thought I once had but it does not really fit my character and that was the other problem for me.

I don't recall any one doing it as an old time fakir. meaning build a story around the basket where things go into it and vanish explaining that how (maybe a witch doctor) or some one like that would use it to banish some one from the villiage.

maybe also show how you can produce things from it as well.
think about all the thing that could be used.
such as appearing pole, appearing ladder, as well as maybe some impossible objects BUT NOT AS BIG AS A PERSON!.

then take the story to the reason to get your assistant and tell the story of how they would banish some one. proceed to perform the sword basket.

show her gone and the bring her back.

of course there is much more that can be done but my thinking is that having a basket on stage and shoving a girl in it is not that different then all the boxes you shoved her in. just because you changed the box to a basket does not make it different.

there needs to be a REASON for the basket. why do you have it? what purpose does it serve?

hope this helps get your ideas flowing.

ps feel free to use my ideas here although I reserve the right to use them myself if I ever do take the plunge for a basket :)
Message: Posted by: Lou Hilario (Jul 14, 2013 11:32PM)
A long time ago, I used to combine the Vertical Asrah (Lipan) with the Basket. I covered my assistant with the cloth and she switched it with the Asrah Form, then I floated the form and made it vanish. I used another cloth to cover the basket again and revealed my assistant.
It's been years since I haven't used my basket now. But if ever I do, I would like to do it the way Ed Alonzo does with a "love doll".
Message: Posted by: HighClass (Jul 15, 2013 11:41AM)
All good stuff guys thanks for going into great detail... Now let me ask this,What do you think needs to be changed about the basket, for it to become a better trick than it is... And same thing please don't bash it but crtique it constructively. If I can eliminate some of the weak points, then maybe I will have a better routine.
Message: Posted by: chill (Jul 16, 2013 07:59AM)
Weave it around your assistant onstage?

find the smallest one your assistant fits.
Message: Posted by: jeffl (Jul 16, 2013 09:44AM)
My take on this could be "off base" so forgive me in advance, but if you're having trouble conceiving doing the sword box the way you envision in MIGHT make sense to consider very similar illusions that might offer an overall effect closer to what you're trying to accomplish, for example consider the Kovari blade box:

Message: Posted by: jeffl (Jul 16, 2013 10:20AM)
Or this sword "box" variation:

Message: Posted by: ClintonMagus (Jul 16, 2013 11:21AM)
I have always thought it would be more effective if the basket could be tilted to show it empty, or lifted and tilted. As it stands it is more of a puzzle, but I really like the Pendragons' take on it more than most.
Message: Posted by: Hector (Jul 16, 2013 03:42PM)
This was one of my very first illusions.

I loved it because it packs very small and plays very big.

The audiences seemed to like it as well. And for me has been one of my favourites for a long time.

Then, one day after performing it hundreds of times, I decided not to perform it anymore... just because :)

Yet one of my favourites.

Here is my presentation of it:


I hope you like it.

All the best!
Message: Posted by: 61magic (Jul 16, 2013 09:09PM)
I never considered the sword basket to be any more a puzzle than any other magic effect.
The effect requires a different presentation to really sell the vanish, some performers don't bother with the "step inside" move as proof the assistant is gone.
I've always felt that one move is critical to selling this to the audience.
Too many want to rely on the "open the doors" to prove the effect.
Think of old horror movies, they didn't need to show all the gore they scared you with shadows...
Message: Posted by: HighClass (Jul 16, 2013 09:53PM)
Hey jeffl, I wish I could pick something else to replace it but unfortunetly it has to be the traditional sword basket. Although you right if I had to pick a "spike" type of effect it would probably be a spiked of some sort where the girl actually disappears and you can show it empty. Which brings me to my next question... What do you all think the effect should be, girl disappears and you show the box empty by staving it. Or girl gets in the box and you stab it and people try to figure out how she is dodging the swords?

Hector wonderful routine, it definetly makes the routine much better... btw and 61 magic thanks for the input
Message: Posted by: illusions & reality (Jul 16, 2013 10:35PM)
I have seen two wonderful comedy presentations of the sword basket. The first, (my favourite), is performed by Denny Haney. Scott Alexander also performs that routine, with some touches of his own. Hands down, (pun intended), the best routines out there.

The next version was seeing Rich Marotta at the Magic Castle. Brilliant ending that made me wish that I had thought of it.

I know that both Denny's and Scott's versions are available on YouTube. I'd encourage you to watch and be inspired - don't give into the temptation to copy these excellent routines.

Message: Posted by: Ingo Brehm (Jul 17, 2013 12:16AM)
First of all get a deceptive prop. The smaller it appears to the audience, the better it will be. Then think about the plot. I never liked this illusion when it was presented as a "vanish" and the swords were put into the basket as a "proof" that the girl is really gone. I think it is better and more believable to let the girl "melt" into the basket behind the cloth and let her actually put out her hand from time to time during the sword phase to proof she is still there. Now the plot is about invulnerability. Always decide about your plot in the very first place!

From an asthetic point of view I think it helps to learn a bit about the handling of swords. Maybe you can take some martial arts lessons in escrima or other weapon based arts to make your moves more elegant (especially if you want to do it in a serious way).

The Pendragons talk about their take on this illusion on their first DVD of L&L. Maybe you should consider buying it.
Message: Posted by: HighClass (Jul 17, 2013 09:26AM)
Yes, I love Scott Alexander's routine! He's a friend of mine and that routine is top notch. If never had the pleasure of watching Denny perform but I would love to see it as well. If I can find it I will have a look. And don't worry, I'm not interested in copying. I guess I'm not really sure what the plot is supposed to be vanish or puzzle. And actually I'm not really sure which I like better. If it was a comedy routine It may be a bit easier.
Message: Posted by: SpellbinderEntertainment (Jul 17, 2013 03:06PM)
As said, deceptive props (and I might add somewhat authentic looking) are a key.

For me a meaningful, emotionally engaging, logical presentation truly helps heighten the magical impact. (You can find mine in my book.) I dramatically take my time with each plunge, not cavalierly shoving them through.

Another facet that strengthens the magic is distance or lack of, I perform mine in a Parlor setting, just a few feet from the first row. My stage is only ten inches high and covered with an oriental carpet, so at close range there’s just no place to “hide.”

Finally, I use a man not a woman, I think this makes the vanish stronger as he doesn’t seem to be able to fit or twist around the swords.

Mine was a very customized version (I provided fabric) made for me by Jim Sommers. I use genuine swords and spear.

Magically, Walt
Message: Posted by: john wills (Jul 18, 2013 08:25AM)
Yes, that's very important GENUINE swords and spear, not metal strips with some wooden grip.
Message: Posted by: MagicalMotivator (Jul 18, 2013 04:49PM)

For a more "traditional" presentation of the SB check out Milbourne Christopher (he has a very great way of showing it empty even though I am not a big fan of showing it empty and well as some nice general touches):


For a serious presentation I would suggest doing it as a "historical magical piece"; providing a yarn about why this illusion was first performed. For example, something along the line of a "young princess" proving her true love for the peasant man she wanted to marry, against her Father's wishes. (Any conflict driven story would work). In this case she is dressed in a tight fitting, traditional Hindu gown. The swords go in (each sword can represent something if you wish). She survives, but when she emerges she has a quite large, billowing wedding dress on to complete the tale.

Swords should be as large and realistic as possible. The centre post can be a transformation piece of the illusion. In other words the post has a skull on its top, but once in the basket the Princess's magic has the skull burst into flames and disappear, transform into a flower, be a large jewel that changes colour, etc. And after the centre pole transforms the swords can magically removed themselves from the basket prior to her coming out.

To make this really large use an overhead direct beaming down light and haze a little smoke into the air. As well you could build a backdrop piece to fit into the look and feel of the illusion and at the end her betrothed 'flash appears" to join her. BLACKOUT.

By transforming this into a "story" you can up the effect quite drastically.

Another different approach would be to present this as a historical piece and actually set the basket up in front of the audience as you explain different aspects of the illusion.

Just some ideas. Have fun with it.

Message: Posted by: HighClass (Jul 19, 2013 08:35AM)
Wow, lots of great thoughts and ideas... I really love the skull idea... And agree That a story can at least hide the fact that the trick may not be that great... Also when people talk about "real" swords what is the part that looks fake? The handles or the aluminum blade itself...
Message: Posted by: MagicalMotivator (Jul 19, 2013 08:50AM)
Handles and the blade both. You can tell a cheap aluminum sword from a real replica.

The type of sword used depends on the "flavour/theme/storyline". Best to go to a sword shop (tons of them around now with replicas) and take a look at what they have. But be prepared $ wise. 4 good replicas can costs more than the basket itself. Broad swords are the largest and most ominous looking, but nay not have the look you need. Indian sabers have been used a lot as have eastern blades. Obviously blades with a sleight curve have an advantage. Again best to check out first hand what is available.

Also when real blades are rapped together there is a real feel and sound to them that is quite apparent. But again it all depends on the presentation used.


Message: Posted by: SpellbinderEntertainment (Jul 20, 2013 03:35PM)
I was quite impressed with Christopher’s opening and ending. I have some comments about the middle.

On a large stage it’s a good idea to set the basket on a small platform of the correct style, so any idea of a trap won’t enter the audience minds.

I think it’s more effective to thrust the swords in slowly and deliberately, especially with the spear.

When he withdrew the swords he held them by the blade, a no-no I think, as it kills the idea that they are razor sharp.

If the basket is turned so the narrow side faces the audience instead of the wide one, there is a good optical illusion that the basket is much smaller. (It was a very nice traditional basket by the way.)

Again, the ending from his sit in the basket was impressive. There are a lot of details and nuance to bring to a performance of the sword basket (often overlooked) that can make or break how effective it is.

Magically, Walt
Message: Posted by: Magic Monkichi (Jul 21, 2013 02:41PM)
Penn and Teller also go over a brief bit of some information on the basket illusion on their special in India.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VB0Lexfqm_o (basket starts around 7:45-7:50). Not long but some interest information.
Message: Posted by: HighClass (Jul 21, 2013 03:12PM)
Great information, I am assuming there is a general consensus on the fact that the swords need to look as authentic as possible, I am assuming that in the case of spears, there is a little more room because people are not that familiar with spears, but the still should look heavy, sharp, and real. Now what is everyone's take on how the swords should be thrust into the box....

Slow and deliberate! Or fast and making it appear as if it is random!

I think both have some good points but please share your answer and why.
Message: Posted by: SpellbinderEntertainment (Jul 22, 2013 04:21PM)
Why “Slow and deliberate! Or fast and making it appear as if it is random!”

The performer must be clear on what the effect is ABOUT for him, what the PLOT is, what the MAGIC moment is, and where in the plot it occours. This carefully thought out scenario will determine the mood, style, order, and perception to the audience of what has been demonstrated.

So it depends on the effect you want to create:
a) That is assistant is stabbed then restored and does not vanish
b) That the assistant has vanished right away then swords thrust
c) That the assistant vanishes near the end after being impaled

If it’s (a) you want to thrust slowly as if you’re shoving the swords through a living body (the Fakirs sometimes used goat blood.. eww.)

If it’s (b) you want it to seem the basket is empty right away, so you thrust fast as “proof” that they’re gone.

If it’s (c) again you want the illusion of a solid body being pierced, then the body does not “vanish” until you step into the basket.

So… is the person “killed” then brought back to life (a) or do you make them vanish and show that by filling the basked with swords (b) or do they suffer the pain of the swords, the body vanishs at the point you get into the basket, then tthey reappear alive.

A few other things to ponder…
--When they step in the basket do they fit?
--Is it such a tight fit the magi has to force the down?
--Do they “dissolve” under the cloth as it sinks down?

After the swords, I think the spear is needed to fill the center of the basket. It can also be thrust if hard and thudded on the floor a few times (quite chilling.) I also thing it is imperative that the magician sit in the basket if the assistant is meant to “vanish” at any point.

So you have three (or four) stages of magic and/or torture:
--Why/how the body goes into the basket
--The insertion of four swords
--The insertion of the spear
--The filling of the basket with the magician’s body
There has to be a build and crescendo, more drama and excitement evolving at each stage.

Magically, Walt
Message: Posted by: john wills (Jul 23, 2013 08:04AM)
Message: Posted by: paulapaul (Jul 23, 2013 11:09AM)
Rick and Walt offer such rich thoughts. My offering is more about mechanics than motivation. Here is my 2 cents worth. For me, the basket was a tempo-changer and a spunky bit of fun. Not comedy, though.

I did show the inside of the Basket.

I used the illusion for years. There are a few things I did to make it play well. I used a good vanish – which got applause easily. I used very punchy music, and had strong music cues for the “miracles”. I did not stop long for applause for the sword penetrations, which did not draw applause easily. And, sitting in the basket was done to a strong music cue, with “sell” moves – which sold quite well. Now, details on each.
1. The vanish: Rather than wait for the assistant to be fully in place, this vanish happened instantly. All you need is for her body to be even with the lip of the basket. Here is what it looks like: Cloth goes over assistant, tap cloth & assistant's head 1, 2, 3 times. On the 3rd tap, pluck the cloth slightly upward and instantly let it drop. A light weight cloth will waft down a bit more slowly than a heavy one. Once it settles, I pause, look at the audience, LET MY SHOULDERS DROP, give a small smile and look back at the place where assistant used to be. (No big arms open styling. The soft sell is plenty.) Then I pick up the basket lid and place it on the basket as I remove the cloth. This action, plus picking up the first 2 swords, gives assistant plenty of time to do what she needs to do. I’ll send you a couple more notes by PM.
2. Sword Penetration: A practice I used in all routines was to make a chart after each show as to where applause came and when. Then, I would discourage applause on the moves that got weak applause. This made the strong applause moments get applause even easier. The sword penetrations never did that well on a scale with the other effects in the routine. However, I DID cue the audience that something special had happened by looking at them briefly while moving to remove the swords. Moving is the key to killing the applause.
3. Punchy music: I. too, had plenty of comedy already. I needed a pushy tempo. I used a really punchy, drum-laced “amazon” sounding number by Yello. All I have to say is “Yello”, and you know there are tons of cues to work with. I edited the heck out of it. It was named something like “The Jungle (Yes To Another Excess)”.
4. The strongest effect in the routine for me was sitting in the basket. It always got good applause by itself. Here are the things I did to punch up the applause: Stood in basket, with slight pause before sitting. Upon sitting, I looked at audience, spread my arms beside me (and beside the basket), opened my hands and then immediately dropped my hands AND SHOULDERS and laughed. Nice laugh. I usually rested my hands before me, sometimes under my chin. I also cheated, big time. As I sat down, the music ended. There was a 3 second pause before music started again. Once it started, I stood up.
5. Sadly, you have hit the high point of the act, and still need to finish the routine. I used the reappearance of the assistant and the Company Bows as one applause cue. Better to bundle them and get out of Dodge rather than labor the moves that follow sitting in the basket.
I hope this gives you a bit to chew on. I sure loved having the basket for a good 3 minute piece that helped in the overall structure of my show. And, as has been pointed out, it is easy to schlep and gives a full-stage moment in your offering.
Message: Posted by: paulapaul (Jul 23, 2013 01:06PM)
The music was a combination of "Great Mission" and "Gotta Say Yes To Another Excess". I edited out all the talking, and timed the accents to the effect. My edited product ran about 2:40. Yes, it's a 1980s release. But, Yello is my hero, still!
Message: Posted by: HighClass (Jul 23, 2013 11:17PM)
Wow, thanks for all the info, I love this type of in depth discussion on magic effects. I think if more people discussed effects like this there would be less "bad illusions" thanks all of you for the detail and time you have put into the posts.
Message: Posted by: magic4u02 (Aug 18, 2013 10:28AM)
This post is not to bust on anyone or point fingers. It is simply sharing a point of view and backing it up as best as I can. A few suggested they would not do the chair suspension as it lacks in any real "wow" facor or "oompth". They feel that it is too easy to figure out and therefor becomes boring.

As many know I love the illusion and I feel it gets a bad rap a lot of times. I will tell you that this illusion (when performed properly and with a good routine) plays amazingly well, entertains like crazy and yes.. WOWS people. I perform this illusion a lot of times and I always get great repsonses from it.

TRUE STORY: I performed this illusion just yesterday outside at a birthday party with people at weird angles. yes that seems crazy, btu I knwo the illusion well enough that I can handle any situation I am faced with. Everyone stopped to watch the illusion and routine. not just the kids, the adults stopped and came over to watch as well. Everyone was silent and yes jaws did drop. I heard a lot of amazing reactions. I am used to it. It happens a lot because when performed properly, this really does sell.

How do I know this? How do I know it works well and that it amazes and entertains? People TELL me. I do not even have to ask them and it is not just children. I had 3 full grown men come up to me and without me saying anything (not a word) the first thing out of their mouths was THAT chair suspension illusion. No lie. The comments they were giving me was amazing.

"Loved the show it weas great but that chair trick you did was simply awesome. how in the BLEEP did you do that!" His words and not mine.

"The show was fantastic and you are so good with the kids. I even loved the show. But I must say, that chair floating trick you did was CRAZY cool. I have no idea how you did that and I am still baffled. thank you."

I swear I am not making this up. These are comments I heard from grown men who were not provoked in the last. they came up to me to talk about it.

Now once again this is not iamed at me putting anyone down. It is just simply to say that the chair suspension CAN be an amazing illusion. It CAN baffle and amaze just like any other illusion. it is all in 1)knowing how to properly perform it and 2) having a good routine.

Hope this helps.

Message: Posted by: David Charvet (Aug 19, 2013 10:47AM)
Here's a great performance of the sword basket by Fred Keating from a silent home movie at one of Meyer Silberstein's magic picnics in 1957. (Music was added, although I am sure this is not the music Keating used. This film also has some wonderful silent footage of other "greats" including Blackstone, Vernon and Flosso.)


Notice the way Keating "sells" the effect. Certainly one of the best performances of the basket I have seen. Of course, Keating was and ACTOR. As usual, it isn't the prop, it's the performer.