Probably the most fascinating tricks in all the range of juggling are those done with such articles as silk hats, umbrellas, walking sticks, cigars, etc. This branch of the Art equally enchants a drawing-room audience or one of costermongers, when gone through with fair skill, gracefully and with easy nonchalance. The number of tricks that can be performed with an ordinary tall-hat, a pair of gloves, a cigar and umbrella, is practically without limit; and a special charm about this style of juggling is that often the simplest little feats are the most appreciated. Another advantage is that, once mastered, they do not demand such constant practice to keep in form as do most other kinds of juggling. Another point is that, should a slip or miss occur, it may be turned to the performer's advantage in such a way as to leave it doubtful whether the slip was really accidental or for effect - "as a blind," as the gallery would put it.
Most Jugglers now commence their act with articles such as a hat and walking stick, cigar and gloves, etc., which are certainly appropriate to evening dress, in which a good many Jugglers now appear.
The well-known Max Cincinatti goes entirely through his splendid turn with nothing beyond these and similar impedimenta. Some of the tricks performed by this and other artistes are wonderfully skilful, and have of course taken years to acquire, as in other advanced stages of the Art.
Before going further, let me refer a moment to the belief entertained by many people that all the articles used professionally by Jugglers are weighted at one end so that the weighted end comes down first. A minute's thought on this subject, at all events a minute or two's practice with weighted articles, will be sufficient to convince anyone of the folly of this idea; and to prove that it would require infinitely more practice to catch articles so weighted than when not weighted at all. There are a few things such as umbrellas, spinning bowls, billiard balls, and one or two others that can be "faked" to advantage, and this is dealt with in its due place; but in the great majority of cases the things employed are just as they are in ordinary use. However, to pass on to what is sometimes termed Modern Juggling, viz. - Silk Hat and Umbrella work, etc.
The first things required are, a tall hat, an umbrella or walking stick and a pair of gloves. The hat can always be obtained at a second- hand wardrobe-dealer's at a trifling cost. Get one to fit nicely, not too large, but just as if you were buying it for ordinary wear. Do not entertain the idea that a hat must be half-a-dozen sizes too large, so that it may the more easily "flop" onto your head when being caught. You might almost as well utilize a bucket for the purpose for all the artistic effect you would produce. Get as low a crowned one as possible; the higher it is the more difficult it is to catch or balance.
Next procure a pair of gloves of any thin material, cotton for preference. Roll them into a ball, and give them a stitch here and there to prevent them unrolling. The umbrella, or stick, follows next in importance. For general work a stick is preferable to an umbrella, and it is lighter and less awkward to handle. A very serviceable stick may be had from any wood-turner for a trifle. Have it the same length as your ordinary walking stick, of fairly light wood and slightly tapering. A medium-sized malacca cane makes an ideal juggling stick. Have no curved or crutched handle. An ornamental silver or gold mount is quite permissible, but this must not form any appreciable projection nor deviate from a straight line.
The kind of practice called for in taking up any new tricks will suggest itself to the pupil who has taken note of the advice and instructions already given. Practice means acquiring familiarity with any and all possible forms of juggling: and success means becoming proficient in each feat or "trick" before passing to one more difficult. Practise assiduously until a good balance can be maintained, as a good hat-balance will be found very useful in this class of work. Do not practise balancing it only inartistic, but useless from a practical point of view, to balance hats on chins. The correct place to balance a silk hat is on the bridge of the nose, (fig. 8.) Always keep your eye on the top edge of the brim. It is not so difficult to balance a hat as it appears when first attempted, and it will not take long to learn. In the figure, you will see that the crown of the hat, when balancing, is facing in the same direction as the performer. Rather more difficult is what is termed the "reverse balance," i.e., with the crown of the hat facing backwards (fig. 9.) In the "reverse balance" the hat must be placed at the junction of the nose and forehead so as to enable a sight to be obtained of the upper edge of the brim. The line of sight is indicated by the dotted line in fig. 9. The head must be thrown a little further back for this balance than for the preceding one, otherwise a view of the upper brim will not be obtained.
More difficult is the crown balance, which consists of balancing the hat with the edge of its crown resting on the upper part of the forehead (fig. 10.) This balance is by no means an easy on the chin. It is not one to retain, no view of its upper edge being obtainable. A good sight of the top of the article balanced is not only a great aid, but practically indispensable. A very easy and effective little trick can be performed from this balance. Balance the hat as in fig. 9. Allow the hat to remain balanced for a second or two: then, letting it fall gently forward, it will be found that the brim will almost fall into the mouth. Catching the brim between the teeth, the hat can be tossed on to the head with a backward throw, making it turn one revolution.
Another neat comedy trick, which if smartly done never fails to "go," utilises the crown balance. First, take hold of the stick by the middle, with the right hand, and let the arm hang down by the side. Next, take hold of the hat with the left hand and place the edge of the crown on the forehead. Balance it there for a second and then allow it to fall backward: as it begins to fall, move the stick so that the ferule end points upward behind your back and catches the hat as it descends. This will be found quite easy after a little practice. It must be caught without any apparent effort, indeed as if it had dropped accidentally on to the stick.
When a catch is missed, or by any mishap the hat falls to the ground, a neat way of making the best of the matter is to insert the toe inside the hat and throw it up with the foot. It is then caught on the stick or umbrella, whichever happens to be in your hand: or on the head for preference. Thus you can cover up a little mistake, and make it appear to your audience as if it were part of the "show." Of course, this throwing up the hat "with a kick" will necessitate some preliminary practice, but it will be found quite easy. In case of the "glove-ball" dropping (gloves rolled into a ball for the purposes of juggling are called " glove-balls ") walk calmly to it; and, gripping it with the inside of each heel, throw it forward over the right shoulder by a jump from the ground, and catch it in whichever hand you require it for the next trick. These methods of recovery will be found very easy and are very taking. They give an audience the impression that you are never at a loss with hand or foot to retrieve any little error you may make: even if they recognise that the article was not dropped on purpose! It also imparts a touch of humour that is always admired in a "straight" juggling act.
A straight Juggler is one who relies entirely upon his ability in performing genuine feats of skill to interest his audience. The Comedy Juggler on the other hand, does not always possess sufficient talent, and so affects a funny makeup (often of the genus tramp) and endeavours to amuse his audience by performing in a droll manner. Of course, there are notable exceptions to this rule. For example, that well known Juggler, W. C. Fields, who gives a most wonderful performance in such a quaint and humorous manner that it appeals irresistibly to the risible faculties of his audience, while at the same time leaving them marvelling at his extraordinary dexterity.
Very few Jugglers, especially those who perform in evening dress, omit to make use of the cigar. Of course, there are many tricks that can be performed with the cigar alone, but undoubtedly the best is in combination with the hat. There are few Jugglers who at one time or another have not made a feature of this trick: and although certainly not new, it is always received with favour. It is accomplished by placing a silk hat on the end of an umbrella, or stick, and a cigar on the hat, as in fig. 11. The hat and cigar are thrown off the stick simultaneously and the hat is, of course, caught on the head and the cigar in the mouth, (fig. 11.) The umbrella, or stick, should be held about its middle; and the hat and cigar thrown off the end with an easy upward movement. This should be done exactly the same as if the hat were going to be thrown on to the head without the cigar. It is essential that the cigar be placed correctly, the thick end resting against the brim of the hat. It is best to practise catching the cigar in the mouth first, as this is the most difficult part of the trick. The cigar must be caught first, as it has not so far to travel: but the hat is caught immediately after. Place hat on end of stick, or umbrella, and cigar on hat, and throw both articles in the manner explained. As the cigar parts company with the hat, try and catch the end of the cigar in the mouth, not attempting to catch the hat to begin with. When the cigar can be fairly often caught, then practise catching the hat at the same time. It is advisable for beginners, as pointed out, to catch the hat on the back of the head. It is easier, and gives the performer a fraction of a second longer between catching the cigar and catching the hat. A deal depends on the length of the cigar. I recommend a length of five inches. This can be easily fashioned out of a piece of wood and will be found very serviceable for practice. For "show" purposes (that is, when before an audience) have one turned out by a wood-turner. A showy cigar-band round adds greatly to the deception. Any wood-turner will make such a cigar for a few coppers. There is little occasion to paint it. A few hours' practice will take off the newness, and leave it pretty much the colour of an ordinary cigar. Have it made out of soft wood.
There are just a few tricks that Jugglers perform in which it is advisable to "fake" slightly the articles used: although it is not always necessary, and "faking," or preparing, does not always render the article easier to use. Take, for instance, the Hat and Cigar trick. Very few Jugglers perform the feat with, a real cigar. Most of them, as I do myself, use a "property" cigar; not because it renders the trick easier of accomplishment, but because it is always to hand, and ready for use. It is just as easy to perform with a real cigar. On the other hand, there are some tricks where a little clever "faking" makes the trick much easier.
A very entertaining and pleasing little feat, and one always sure of appreciation, is done by throwing up a coin from the foot, catching it in the eye and retaining it there as an eyeglass. I recommend this trick, as it requires but little practice and no great space in which to perform it. The chief thing required is a coin to fit the eye. When performing this trick, I use a half-crown piece; but for many of my readers this coin will be too large. A penny filed down to the requisite size makes a good substitute. A fairly new coin should be utilized, as the heavier the coin the easier the trick. The edge must be "milled" all round with a file, as this enables the muscles of the eye to get a better grip than if the edges were left smooth. The coin can be silvered, or nickel-plated, to give it a more artistic appearance than copper. The coin should be placed on the centre of the toe of the right boot. The foot is then slightly lifted off the floor and held a little forward while the body is balanced on the left foot. After a momentary pause in which to judge the distance, throw up the coin above the forehead. It is unnecessary to throw the coin more than six inches or so higher than the head. As it is just on the point of descending on the forehead drop the body a little at the same instant, to prevent the coin bouncing off. The head must be thrown well back as the coin is caught on the forehead-just above the nose, when possible. When the coin is resting in this position gently shake it down over the right eye (or the left, if the reader has more control over its muscles). When the coin is over the eye, open the eye fairly wide; and then close down the muscles over the edge of the coin, still with the head well back. A little preliminary practice at holding the coin, or a monocle, in the eye in the ordinary way is desirable. A neat way of introducing this trick is to take the coin from the waistcoat-pocket. After the coin has been thrown off the boot, caught in the eye and retained there long enough to obtain the due effect, it can be dropped into the waistcoat pocket again by just holding the pocket slightly open with the first finger and thumb and releasing the coin from the eye.
A trick invariably well received is executed with hat and umbrella. In this, the brim of the hat is balanced on the nose, and while in that position the umbrella, or stick, is laid across the hat resting on its brim and the edge of its crown. (Fig. 12.) An ordinary umbrella will give but little difficulty, as it has very little tendency to roll off; but the stick will be found a more difficult matter. The amateur will find it possessed by a "demon of unrest" prompting it to roll off. The difficulty can however be got rid of by the aid of our friend the wood-turner. Get him to cut a groove along the stick-not necessarily its full length. This will aid both in placing the stick in position and keeping it balanced there: the two edges of the groove resting on the brim and the edge of the crown, as in Fig. 11. The groove will not be visible to the audience.
This makes a charming opening trick: for, while the hat is balanced with the umbrella on top, the hands are at liberty to remove gloves, overcoat, etc. Then calmly, with a slight forward movement of the head, let the hat drop into proper position. The umbrella will slide down behind, when it can be caught without any apparent effort as it falls towards the floor, by the right hand being slipped round to the back.
I would strongly advise those of my readers who intend specialising in this particular branch of the art (often known as "Modern Juggling") to practise Three Hat Manipulation. It is a very good addition to one's repertoire, anyway; and is always certain of appreciation. It is absolutely essential, first, to be able to throw a hat from either hand and catch it neatly on the head. Hold the hat with the fingers partly inside, crown upwards, and the thumb on the top side of the brim. Throw it so that it turns one complete revolution, and drops comfortably into position on the head. As the hat is caught, the body should be slightly dropped (by bending the knees at the same second of time) so as to break the force of its impact and prevent the hat bouncing off should the throw be slightly faulty. If this cannot be accomplished with ease it must be practised until it can.
For the three hat work three silk hats are all the is props required. Some prefer opera-hats. They should be as nearly as possible the same size, shape and weight: and should be about half a size larger than the performer's usual size, so as to sit fairly loosely on the head. Amongst the many different styles of hat manipulation, one of the easiest and yet most artistic is the following.
Place one hat on the head, slightly at the back: and hold one in each hand, as in Fig. 13. Bend the body slightly forward. Throw the hat from the right hand so that it can be caught on the head; but before it reaches the head, the one already there must be snatched off by the same hand. This must be done very rapidly, as there is very little time between the hat being thrown and its being caught. Snatching off quickly and correctly is of the greatest importance, The real difficulty lies in the fact that the hand which throws hat No. 1 is also the hand which snatches off No. 2. But this difficulty, like others, must be overcome by practice. The best way to remove the hat quickly is to take hold of the front part of the brim with the fingers underneath and the thumb on the top. The knack of twisting the arm so as to get the correct hold necessitates some little practice, but it will soon come. The advantage of this method is that, even as the hat is removed, it is already in the correct position for being thrown again. As soon as hat No. 1 is thrown from the right hand, No. 2 removed, and No. 1 caught on the head: No. 3 from the left hand must be thrown and No. 1 snatched off to make room for it. When No. 3 is caught, the one from the right hand must be thrown again and so on. Keep the head well back, with the shoulders forward.
It is advisable to catch the hats somewhat on the back of the head, as this makes it easier to snatch them off: and it also leaves the sight unobstructed by the brim. The instructions given about dropping the body each time a hat is caught on the head must not be forgotten. If you are being accompanied by music, don't attempt to keep time with the instrument, but instruct the musician to keep time with you.
There are many other movements in juggling with hats, and should any of my readers purpose making a specialty of this particular line they will find little difficulty in originating tricks and movements innumerable with three hats. At any rate, once you know how it is done, you will be able to copy any new "trick" you may see done by a professional Juggler.
Another showy little feat is the taking of a match out of a match-box, throwing up the box a foot or so into the air, and lighting the match by striking it on the box as it descends. This scarcely requires practice. The secret is in the way the matchbox is prepared, or "faked." Get a few boxes of safety matches (Swedish for preference) and take off from two or three of them the sides used for striking the matches on. Glue these on to one of the match-boxes so as to cover the entire box. A match can now be struck on any part of it. All that is necessary is to take out a match, throw up the box: and, as it descends, simply take care that it hits the business end of the match you hold, which will immediately ignite. Remember in the preparation of the trick: (1) Choose a matchbox that fits together firmly. You do not want it to slide open and scatter matches in all directions during your performance. (2) Glue on the prepared sides with good strong glue, and let it get hard and dry before putting the matches in. (3) See that the box is filled with fresh matches, which have had no chance to get damp. Having the box full, of course, makes it heavier and so it will strike your match for you more easily in its descent. Remember in the performance of the trick (1) Look carefully at the match you take out of the box. This will give the audience time to see that you really have a match in your hand, and will give you time to see that its head is sound. A "dud" would spoil your trick. (2) Hold the match firmly, and close to the "business" end, to avoid any danger of its breaking on coming into contact with the box.
Another way of springing a little surprise on an audience is by putting the hand into the pocket and taking out a lighted match. This is very simple. All that is required being a piece of rough sandpaper, two or three inches long by half as wide, sewn inside the outside pocket of the coat. Put a few ordinary (not safety) matches into the pocket, and all you have to do is to put your hand in your pocket, and take hold of a match: strike it on the sandpaper as you withdraw your hand, and the thing is done. Have the sandpaper sewn on the inner side of the pocket, so that when the match is struck it can be pressed against the body. The above are, of course, Conjuring tricks rather than proper Juggling: but graceful and novel styles of lighting a cigar or cigarette during a performance always interest an audience. Such little "tricks" both serve to fill intervals between two pieces of "business" and give variety and lightness to your "show."
Never keep an audience waiting: your "turn" will be judged and appreciated for its smooth working from beginning to end, as much as it will for the cleverness of its tricks. One of the great failings of amateurs on the stage, or platform, is their bad habit of keeping an audience waiting both before beginning their "turn" and whilst changing from one trick to another.
Never keep your audience waiting. Be "on time" with everything.