The following document is an abstract of a paper accepted for presentation at the Visual Delights III — Magic and Illusion conference at the University of Sheffield, July 15-17th 2005.
The pitch: Accurate and otherwise public lectures, agile and amusing monologues illuminated by lantern slides, welcomes you to query the prestidigitator, the one, the only Presto. Fancy histories, "sciences" and pitches for social phenomena are packed up and brought out on the road in this series of lectures. Presto the prestidigitator conjures up equal parts snake oil salesmen and professional know-it-alls, whose pitches make you gasp, cackle and rattle back.
You're in, the show begins, the emcee stirs the crowd, and Presto makes his presentation complete with slides! You clap; maybe ask a question--chances are there's a well-reasoned or at least charmingly evasive response. Then its time for a break. Want more? With 15-minute shows cycling through topics from The Pneumatic Transit System to Treadmills for Social Reform and Renting a Dog, Presto's talks tickle many, or at least a few, idle fancies.
The background: With inspiration from wandering griots, Chattaquas and other itinerant storytellers, Presto's Travelling Lecture Series is the spoken word project of Everyday Places. Since 1994, Everyday Places has brought small-scale nomadic structures and scenarios to city streets and village roads, and has appeared at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival in 2001, 2003 and 2004.
These illustrated lectures are, in fact, performances derived from oral traditions popular in mid-nineteenth- to early twentieth-century revivalist camps that set up summer institutes to advocate for all manner of interests from the Methodist ministry to bogus scientific institutes. Using early projections and simple illusions like magic lanterns and projected thaumatropes, these sequences of lantern slides are partly illustrative and partly evocative. With verbal and visual threads of information running concurrently as cues and prompts that ultimately collides, Presto offers illustrated lectures between edification and entertainment.
3 May 2005