The routine wasn’t retired because of the fire, or more precisely, any danger caused by it. In fact, the fire was produced (and extinguished) using probably one of the sturdiest magic utility production items there is - the Dove Pan. Actually, I was using the Dove Pan’s smaller cousin - the Chick Pan. Let’s just get the names out of the way. First there was the Pigeon Pan, invented back around 1888. Still being sold now is the large Duck Pan, followed by the Dove Pan, and finally the smallest, Chick Pan. Depending on whatever fowl you may have, there is a production pan for it!
All of these pans work the same way: An empty metal pan is shown and some “ingredients” are added to it. Most often (although this wasn’t the case with the original Pidgeon Pan), some lighter fluid or flash paper is added at the end. The magician “mixes” up everything, lights a match and tosses it into the pan, where a bright flash of fire occurs. As the flames are burning, the magician brings out a metal cover to place over the pan, extinguishing the fire. The magician quickly removes the cover to reveal a live bird in the pan.
A word about flash paper: It was a revelation to me as a kid. You just tore off a little square of what looked and felt like tissue paper, crumpled it up into a ball and held it at your fingertips. Then you lit it on fire. Whoosh! It goes up in a quick flash of flames so fast that it doesn’t burn your skin. Well, it doesn’t if you do what you’re supposed to and toss the paper into the air (or pan) after it is lit, but still. It was hard not to just play around with flash paper. Using it felt like you were a wizard who could create fire at your fingertips. Todd, my old friend and magical partner in crime for a while when we were kids, confessed to me that flash paper turned him into a “casual pyromaniac” at the time. Howard, another magical friend, told me he brought his flash paper shooter to high school, where it was immediately confiscated, never to be returned.
The Dove Pan was a staple of my magic show when I was eleven-years-old. I didn’t have doves (couldn't afford them, was scared of them), so I produced other items - sometimes a simple baked good my mother had made, candy, spring flowers, a rubber chicken. For one show, I felt I needed to up my game, so after the big flash I lifted the cover to reveal a two foot long rubber lizard covered in green slime. A girl in the front row screamed and ran away.
Because of the secret to the Dove Pan, you are not able to put any substantial ingredients into it, lest they be displaced and spill all over when the cover (and gimmick) is placed over the pan. So it was usually just a sprinkle of glitter, a cracking of a fake egg - that sort of thing - followed by the flash paper (I can’t recall what reason I gave to needing “tissue paper” to bake a cake or produce a rubber chicken). However, sometimes I would pour milk, lots of it, into the pan. I was able to do this by using my Milk Pitcher, another classic magic utility item (Hint - the milk isn’t really poured. It just looks that way, convincingly, if I do say so myself). I thought using the two items together was a good idea of mine, but it was probably suggested to me by the magician at the magic shop.
Removing the red scarf by the corner, I did some business with it inside the stage before I briefly took it out of sight, only for it to reappear in my hands again, but this time it started to move on its own. During that brief moment when my hands were out of sight, I substituted the regular scarf with a “dancing hanky” of the same size and color. The Dancing Hanky is a wonderful, simple and effective item that can be made to move and jump around by using the thumb of one hand. You have to keep it in motion (and a dark backdrop helps), but with a little practice it looks like it is alive.
I pretended to grab for the hanky as it kept jumping away from my hands (a classic move) before letting it jump behind the stage where I switched it back to the regular one, along with stealing a thumb tip. A vanish of the hanky at the end, and the routine was done.
As much as I like that old routine, I’d rather come up with something different this time around. I’m playing with the idea of producing a pan full of clear crystal rocks that I would then turn into a clear crystal figure of a lady (an item I already own from another magic trick). Perhaps I would also use a milk pitcher-type custom made test tube to "pour" the liquid into the pan along with some sand and magic dust (glitter) for a sort of laboratory-type routine. We’ll see.
Whatever routine materializes, I am looking forward to bringing back the Chick Pan, an old friend (my original Dove Pan has been long lost to the ages), where the fire burns bright as the audience’s eyes widen with surprise and amazement (and maybe a little fear - it is fire, after all).