Many years ago, during the first performances of Suitcase of Wonders, Smallini would speak to the audience by way of P.T. Widdle’s mouth. While moving the Smallini figure slightly with his fingers in full view of the audience, Mr. Widdle would speak as Smallini during the magic tricks. For a couple of reasons this technique never really quite gelled in my mind. First, I noticed audiences looking back and forth between Smallini and Mr. Widdle standing above speaking, which distracted from them seeing all the action on the stage. Secondly, and quite frankly, I never felt fully comfortable with my vocal acting as Smallini. While I did like the patter I wrote for him, my natural voice didn’t seem to be Smallini’s, and I could not find an accent that I thought fit quite right. Eventually, I dropped the idea of Smallini speaking altogether, deciding that it would be best if he were silent throughout the show.
Even though I enjoy performing with the silent Smallini, I’ve never fully lost the notion of him speaking again in some way. Not long ago, while doing research for my Houdini tribute show, I listened to the fabled and brief recording of the famous magician addressing his audience. I liked the tinny sound of the recording and the halting, confident way Houdini spoke. I thought Smallini should sound that way if he ever spoke again.
At the start of the Vanishing Elephant trick, Smallini is on the stage apron in front of the curtain. He’s positioned there as leftover blocking from when he used to perform a prelude to the main trick. Before raising the curtain I move Smallini a little bit with my fingers on his clear acetate stand that sticks through the back of the curtain. The audience always smiles and giggles at this.
During a rehearsal of that trick, it occurred to me that if I ever wanted Smallini to speak again, it could be as introductions to the tricks when he’s standing in front of the curtain. While this would solve the problem of the audience missing action on the stage while they looked back and from between him and Mr. Widdle, I still would not feel comfortable voice acting Smallini in real time for the reasons I previously stated.
Then I realized that “real time” was the problem. The Houdini recording gave me the idea that I could perhaps fashion recordings of Smallini that play as he introduces the tricks. For the Atlas Obscura show I created two introductions - one generic and one mentioning the specific event. I recorded my own voice but filtered and changed it so that it was higher pitched and slightly distorted, sounding similar to the Houdini recording.
One of the introductions went like this: “Hello Ladies and Gentlemen. My name is Smallini, the World’s Tiniest Magician. Thank you for coming to the Great Forgotten Garden Party, and enjoy the show!”
I’m pleased with this new way for Smallini to speak. In the future I plan to customize the introductions to specific tricks, while also incorporate some subtle bits of business for Mr. Widdle to engage in while Smallini is speaking, like looking impatient or bored. I’m also toying with the idea of removing my arm from the theater halfway through the introduction, and Smallini would still be speaking and moving (that would involve some simple robotics under the stage).