Saturday, September 05, 2009

Chan Canasta Forces A Word

In researching the book Chan Canasta: A Remarkable Man, I came across another version of Canasta’s famed book test, one in which he used a word constructed from letters called out by members of the audience. A video of this routine, as performed on a Dutch television show, has now appeared on You Tube. You will find it at the link below. Thank you Gaafman.

While the routine does not compare to Canasta’s Great Book Test it does show Chan demonstrating some of the skills that made him the first genuine psychological magician of the modern age. Chan billed himself as the psycho magician and there was a genuine element of psychology used by Canasta in his performances. Some of that can be seen in this video.

If you watch the video you will see that the starting point of the routine is Canasta asking members of the audience or panel to call out letters so that they can create a word. The word he wishes to create is Sprak. Let’s see how he goes about it:

“First of all, let’s start. Let’s make up a word,” says Canasta. “I go to the blackboard and I shall ask members of my panel and you ladies and gentlemen in the theatre to shout, to call out, any letter of the alphabet that you wish. Will you please do so, go ahead?”

A member of the panel calls out A. “Faster,” says Canasta, writing it down. Very quickly now we hear the letters K C and P and Canasta writes them down in no particular arrangement on the board. And then he does something very interesting. He shouts out S and writes it down with the other chosen letters. It is the first letter of the word he will force. The fact that he called it out seems to go by unnoticed.

“Who else?” asks Canasta and the letters Y and G follow. “Too many says Canasta but someone else shouts out O. He does not need another vowel. It might confuse matters. So he writes it in a smaller font and away from the rest of the letters.

Canasta recaps and writes the letters down a sccond time, in a line.

“We have here S P C K A Y G”

He completely ignores the O. Note that as yet he cannot make the word Sprak from the letters on the board. “I don’t think a word can be made out of it can it, in Dutch?” he says. But he leads the audience in the direction of his force word by appearing to try to make a word from those on offer.

He writes down S P A K, leaving a space. And then says, “R perhaps instead of C.” He openly inserts an R in the space to make the word Sprak. This is a very clever ruse. It sounds plausible “R perhaps instead of C” but provides the key to him creating his force word.

“Sprak is alright? Is that a word?” The panel tell him it is and that it means 'spoke.' Apparently unsure he asks if the spelling is correct. He is assured it is.

He underlines the word on the board. “Let’s take the word sprak and let’s make that our word.”

Canasta’s attitude to the creation of the word is interesting. At the conclusion it might be obvious that the word had to be forced. But Canasta always acts like any word could be chosen. Similarly he suggests that three cards that will be used to arrive at a page could be put in any order.

A common theme in Canasta’s presentations was that ‘whatever you want will be’ but you have to want it enough. And when he failed, as he sometimes did, the audience simply thought they didn’t want it enough. But next time they would try harder. Next time Canasta would succeed. It was all part of Canasta’s enduring charm.

Have fun studying the rest of the video and noting how careful Canasta is with his words. How he always appears to give the audience a chance to change their minds while in reality locking the doors on all other possibilities except for the outcome he intends. Every performance is a master class in psychology.