Performing Illusions with an Ad Hoc Assistant

Performing Illusions with an Ad Hoc Assistant


One of the challenges for illusionists is to work with regular illusion assistants for performances. Unlike a solo act where one can practice, rehearse and perform alone, most illusions require an assistant or “box jumper”.

While there are illusions that can be performed solo or with impromptu audience members, those would be the exception, rather than the rule.

For professional illusionists, most either work with regular assistants or have an assistant on staff (at least for a specified season or tour). Even so, there is a possibility that an assistant may not be available so a replacement may be needed. As such, most professional illusionists have a back-up assistant or have a few girls who are trained to perform different illusions.

In my case, I work with a principal assistant, but I have another girl who also knows the illusions. I also have several illusions that I can work with an ad hoc assistant.

An ad hoc assistant refers to someone you work with for just one show and does not need extensive rehearsal. This does not mean the person is a layperson. She is more than likely to be a dancer, model or someone who has stage experience.

Here is something you may not know, some professional illusionists (especially cruise illusionists) work with ad hoc assistants all the time and do not have regular assistants. They use illusions that are impressive but can be learnt fast. And, they work with a professional dancer (from the cruise production shows) who understands how to move onstage, count timing for music and present with flair.

If you perform illusions occasionally or on a part-time basis, it may be better for you to choose illusions that can be performed with an ad hoc assistant/ dancer instead of someone who is regular and/ or needs many rehearsal sessions to learn the illusion. This is practical and time-saving.

Here are some tips when performing illusions with an ad hoc assistant:

Choose Box Illusions with Uncomplicated Sequences

Many box illusions work well for ad hoc assistants. But, ensure the box illusions do not have long and complicated sequences that the assistant must remember.

A dangerous sword box that uses 12 swords and requires the assistant to move at precise moments 8 times to avoid the swords would not be a good idea. But a Zig Zag Girl Illusion or Modern Art illusion will be suitable.

I have several illusion plan packages such as “Inexpensive Illusions”, “Simple Appearances” and “Modern Tip-Over Trunk” which details building instructions for illusions that will work with ad hoc assistants. These are available at:

Do Not Choose Illusions that Require A Lot of Physicality and Coordination

As an example, the Sub Trunk is not a good illusion to perform with an ad hoc assistant as it requires a lot of practice and rehearsal. There is also a lot of coordination required with synergy between the performers. This is built up through regular rehearsal and shows so will not be suitable with an ad hoc assistant.

Work Out All Aspects of the Performance

When working with an ad hoc assistant, you must be 100% sure of how the performance goes and what the assistant needs to do. There should not be any “figuring out” done with the ad hoc assistant. She will work best with clear instructions where the illusionist leads the performance. This will also inspire confident in the assistant as it can be quite nerve-racking assisting in an illusion.

Have Videos of the Performance/ Assistant’s Role

Film the performance of the illusion and an exposed view of the assistant’s role. It does not have to be a professionally-produced video as this just used as a learning aid for the ad hoc assistant.

Showing her the performance (from the audience’s view) and then the exposed view of her role will help her greatly before she physically tries out the illusion. This will save a lot of time during rehearsals.

Use a Music Track with Definitive Music Cues

This will help the assistant keep track of time on stage. If the assistant is a professional dancer, she will count the beats, so the music cues are not so essential. However, having definitive cues or high points in the music will be very helpful.

Using a monotonous dance music track that repeats the same notes of music over and over throughout the track can be very confusing. So, choose a piece of music with peaks and valleys as well as climatic points that are matched with certain points of the illusion performance.

I hope this article provides some insight on working with an ad hoc assistant so that you can get the best out of your illusion performance if you do not have a regular assistant.

Check out my illusion plan packages “Inexpensive Illusions”, “Simple Appearances” and “Modern Tip-Over Trunk” which details building instructions for illusions that will work with ad hoc assistants.

I am currently running a sale this weekend for the above plans as well as several other plans and books for box-jumping illusions.

Check out the “On Sale” products at:

Sale ends on 15 Apr 2019.