Cues: Variations of the Second Sight Act by Leo Behnke
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii November, 2005)
The "second sIght" or "code act" has long been a staple, albeit also a relative rarity, in the business of professional mentalism. No less than Robert-Houdin featured it in his work (and the idea was far from new even then); few among us have not heard of names like the Zancigs, the Tuckers, and the Lunts; and the legendary Eddie Fields had an influence on contemporary second sight performers including Brian Gillis and Sisuepahn, and Danny and Jan Orleans. Veteran magician and author Leo Behnke has performed his own version of such acts with no less than six different partners over the years (which in itself may say something about the risks of trying to work a code act without marrying the other half). He now delivers to new students the benefits of his long experience in this efficiently assembled new book.
The first chapter provides a succinct historic overview, beginning with the Greek oracles and continuing promptly into a "history of acts," with single-paragraph summaries about individuals from Reginald Scot (who briefly mentions telepathic effects in Discoverie of Witchcraft) to the current code work of the Evasons (whom Mr. Behnke informs us studied with the aforementioned Tom and Elizabeth Tucker). The historical segment closes with a brief discussion of "types of presentations," which concludes with an invaluable reading list of 37 titles that will doubtless pro-vide invaluable service to serious students.
Part two, "The Inner Secrets," delves into the actual working of such acts, beginning with a discussion of "premise and philosophy," and addressing such theatrical issues as the "look" and "theme" of an act. Mr. Behnke then launches into his "Thought master System," which is the meat of the book. These 32 pages provide a manual of Mr. Behnke's particular approach. This is a "large system," as the author admits, and requires eventually loading a great deal of information into the heads of the performers. In return, however, those performers achieve tremendous flexibility, and there are countless items and other pieces of information that can be readily transmitted without resorting to lengthy and awkward spellings and multi-step transmissions. For example, by being able to cue numbers in two-digit pairs rather than merely single digits, the Thought master System reduces the number of cues by half, sending a six-digit number in three cues rather than in six. You have to memorize more, but you vastly improve the power of the weaponry in return. With 100 such numbers built in, you automatically hold the keys to 100 objects. "Put the two thoughts together and you now have a workable, expanded system that's still fairly easy to learn," as the author unarguably points out.
It would be purposeless to provide further details here; those with serious interest and you know who you are will find this material of inestimable value, and the rest will make little use of it. Then again, even armchair enthusiasts may well enjoy reading the detailed inner workings of a sophisticated code system, if only to further enhance their regard for those who expend the necessary effort to achieve true mastery.
The third and final section of the book, subtitled "The Real World," addresses practical matters of constructing, staging, and performing an act, along with a detailed discussion of the differences between venues and markets in which one might present such material. A further chapter deals with business issues including promotion-al materials and the like. The production of the book is bare bones but competent, much like the businesslike prose. Rest assured, if you have ever considered mastering a second sight code act, this book is nothing less than required reading.