The Standing Sawing is a group of related illusions in which a person is sawed in half while standing up, and without any cover over their body. Many of these illusions can be performed on untrained assistants, and so are suitable for use with audience volunteers, although others are more complex and require a properly-trained assistant.
Some versions of the illusion are best classified as penetration illusions, as although blades are thrust through the assistant to divide them, no separation of their body occurs. In other versions, after the blades have been inserted, the halves of the assistant are then pulled apart, showing that they have indeed been divided in two.
Related to this group of illusions is the Modern Art illusion, which is also a standing sawing, but one in which the assistant is enclosed within a box, while the Zig Zag Girl, Mismade Girl and Disembodied Princess are all also standing division illusions using a box to enclose the assistant.
The Blades of Opah
Invented by magician Robert Harbin, The Blades of Opah were possibly the first standing sawing illusion to be developed, and one of those that can be performed using a volunteer picked at random from the audience. One disadvantage with the illusion is that it needs two people to simultaneously operate the two sets of blades, and so cannot be performed by a solo magician.
In this illusion, a set of large angled stocks are mounted on a stand, placing them at waist level. Usually, a volunteer is picked from the audience and invited to join the magician on stage. There, they are shown the stocks, and also the two sets of blades that fit into them. These blades are narrow and mounted on two side arms linking them to a large handle, and resemble large versions of the blade used in the Head Chopper illusion. As with some versions of the Head Chopper, the ends of the blades project beyond the arms linking them to the handles, meaning that when inserted into the stocks, the ends of the blades project beyond the edge, allowing the movement of the blades to be seen.
Having been shown to the audience volunteer and their sharpness demonstrated by cutting vegetables such as carrots or cucumbers, the blades are inserted into the edge of the stocks. The audience volunteer is then invited to place their body inside the opening in the stocks by crouching down behind them and standing up. This places their waist area within the line of the stocks and blades. Taking hold of the blade handles, the magician and his assistant then push the blades into the stocks, driving them through the volunteer's body and cutting them in half. The blades are then withdrawn from the stocks, passing once more through the volunteer's body. The volunteer then climbs out of the stocks, and the magician shows the audience that they are unharmed.
The Scimitars of Baghdad
The Scimitars of Baghdad is a variation on The Blades of Opah, using stocks that are mounted horizontally, rather than angled at around 45-degrees, and that have to be opened to allow the assistant or volunteer to enter. Also like the Blades of Opah, blades are simultaneously driven through both sides of the stocks, meaning that the illusion cannot be performed by a solo magician. While some versions of the illusion use just one set of stocks around the assistant's or volunteer's waist, others use two sets of stocks, one around the assistant's waist and a second around their knees. Additionally, some versions also have a neck stock to restrain the assistant and stop them from moving at all - This variation is not usually used with audience volunteers. Once the assistant or volunteer has been placed in the stocks, the blades are inserted into them and thrust through to make the division. They are then removed, and the assistant released from the stocks. One variation of the Scimitars of Baghdad combines them with a version of the Twister illusion.
In this version of the illusion, an open-fronted box is used to contain the assistant, who is restrained within it in a spread-eagled position with their legs, head, shoulders and arms clearly visible. Having placed the assistant within the box, the magician and their other assistant use the blades to cut them in half as in the other versions of the illusion. However, once this has been done, the magician is then able to rotate the upper section of the box through a full 360-degrees, turning the assistant's upper body completely around while their legs can be seen to remain stationary. As the assistant's legs are in clear view at all times throughout the illusion, while their arms are firmly locked in place in the upper part of the box, this is a particularly baffling illusion for the audience.
Steel Plate version
Another variation on the original Blades of Opah illusion uses a large metal plate in place of the two blades, allowing it to be performed on an audience volunteer by a solo magician. In this version, the angled stocks are larger, rectangular and extend backwards behind the audience volunteer for a considerable distance. Having selected an audience volunteer and shown them the stocks, the magician then shows them the large steel plate that fits into the socks. This is a rectangular plate the same size as the stocks, with a hole in the lower part of it that matches the size and position of the hole in the stocks. The magician slides the plate into the top of the stocks and pushes it downwards, demonstrating how the lower edge of the plate passes through the hole in the stocks and, as a result, through anything or anyone in the way. Having demonstrated the cutting ability of the plate, the magician then pulls it back upwards through the stocks, leaving it wedged in the top of them clear of the hole. They then help the audience volunteer into the hole in the stocks, which places their waist in line with the path of the plate. With the audience volunteer in place, the magician then takes hold of the plate once more, and drives it down through the stocks, cutting through the volunteer's waist in the process. Having done that, the magician then separates the front and rear sections of the stocks, revealing to the audience that the solid steel plate now completely encircles the volunteer's waist, having passed completely through them. They then assist the volunteer out of the stocks and both take their bow.
Simon Drake sawing
In 1993, British horror magician Simon Drake premièred a new version of the Standing Sawing illusion when he performed a number of illusions on the Iron Maiden concert video Raising Hell. This version is, in many ways, a standing version of the Impossible Sawing, and was possibly the first Standing Sawing to feature an actual separation of the assistant's halves. In this version of the illusion, the assistant is placed against a vertical board, usually in a position so that they are facing the board. Their wrists and ankles are then locked to the board using metal cuffs, and an arched metal band is locked over their waist. With the assistant restrained on the board, the magician then takes a power saw of some description (Drake's original version used a large hand-held circular saw, although others use chainsaws or other power tools) and cuts through the middle of the arched metal band, sawing the assistant in half. Divider blades are then inserted, and the upper section of the board is lifted upwards by a hoist, separating the assistant's halves. As this illusion is usually performed by magicians who favour a horror theme for their shows, the assistant is not usually reassembled, and is instead left divided.
Adam Steinfeld's "X-Sword" illusion
In the early 1990s, American magician Adam Steinfeld devised a new and highly portable Standing Sawing illusion that used no stocks, and no other equipment apart from a large scimitar-style sword. Like the Blades of Opah, this is a penetration illusion, rather than a division, but the visual quality of it makes it highly effective. This illusion can also be performed on either an audience volunteer or assistant in front of a close-up audience stood all around the performer, and the only pre-requisite is that the volunteer or assistant has to be wearing a two-piece outfit that allows her bare midsection to be seen. When performing the illusion, Steinfeld begins by showing that the sword is very real and more than capable of cutting through things. He then places the sharpened edge of the sword blade against the bared waist of the audience volunteer or assistant and begins to cut. As he does so, both the audience and volunteer can see the blade begin to cut through their skin and sink into their body. As Steinfeld continues to cut, the sword sinks deeper into the body of the volunteer until almost the entire depth of the blade is inside them. As there is no cover at all, both the audience and volunteer have no problem seeing that the sword blade really is penetrating the body of the volunteer and cutting them partially in half. Steinfeld then withdraws the blade and shows that the volunteer's midsection is completely healed and unmarked, and that the sword blade is still solid and very real.
In 1997, wheelchair-bound magician Jim Passe began performing a new sawing called the Paradox Sphere, which has also been adopted by some other magicians. This is a seated sawing using many of the techniques used in the standing sawings. The illusion uses a large open metal framework in the shape of a sphere. One of Passe's assistants climbs into the sphere and sits down in a cross-legged position. A large metal pole is then thrust through the band around the centre of the sphere, apparently impaling the assistant through her stomach. The upper portion of the sphere then begins to rise upwards, taking the assistant's upper half with it, while their lower half remains in the lower portion of the sphere. At this point, some of the magicians who perform the illusion use it as a production effect, with a second assistant climbing out of the gap between the two sphere halves. The sphere halves then move back together, and the assistant is released from the illusion unharmed.
A variation of this illusion dispenses with the sphere frame, and instead of rising into the air, the assistant's upper half slides sideways along a large tabletop.
Franz Harary's "Slice-Her"
In early 2012, magician and illusion designer Franz Harary presented the début of a new version of the Standing Sawing, which he christened "Slice-Her", in a special performance in Los Angeles, attended by both magicians and the media. The illusion uses a framework very similar in appearance to that used for the Assistant's Revenge illusion, except that the upper and lower stocks used to restrain the assistant's neck, wrists and ankles are open-fronted, and the waist stock is wider and designed to accept a pair of divider blades.
At the première performance, Harary began by introducing the apparatus, pointing out the restraints designed to hold the assistant's wrists and ankles, and how it was designed to separate into two halves at the waist stock. He also pointed out that the hole in the waist stock is much smaller than usual at just over six inches across, meaning that any assistant who went into the apparatus would have to have a waist of no more than eighteen inches. Harary then explained that, in addition to the illusion, he had also designed a special outfit for the assistant to wear, which ensured that she would fit into the apparatus, and that he'd found a special guest prepared to squeeze herself into it. At this point, he introduced his special guest assistant at the première, country singer Taylor Swift, who walked out onto the stage wearing Harary's special outfit, a tight-fitting blue latex catsuit incorporating a black corset section that cinched her already slim waist down to the required eighteen inches. Harary then helped her into the apparatus, closing the stock around her waist, securing her wrists and ankles with the metal cuffs attached to the upper and lower stocks, and finally using the chain attached to the collar of the outfit to secure her neck in place.
With Swift secured in the illusion, Harary began the performance by turning a wheel attached to the side of the apparatus. As he did this, the upper section of the apparatus began to rise upwards and a gap began to form between the upper and lower parts of the waist stock. Harary continued to turn the wheel, and the upper section continued to rise upwards, taking Swift's upper half with it. As it rose, the watching audience could see between the stocks, where they could see the corset section of Swift's costume now forming an elongated cylinder. When Harary finished turning the wheel, the gap between the two stock halves was two Feet (60 cms), and the audience could see the now almost eight-feet-tall Swift with her upper and lower halves ending at the halves of the waist stock, which were now joined by a two Feet long and six Inch diameter black cylinder. Despite now being two whole feet taller than usual, Swift seemed perfectly happy with the situation, and continued smiling. Harary then began turning the wheel in the opposite direction, lowering Swift's upper half back down into its original position.
With the apparatus halves now back in their original position, Harary took two blades from one of his assistants and, inserting them into the slots in the stock, drove them through Swift's corseted waist, cutting her in half. A chain from a hoist was then attached to the top of the apparatus. Pulling on the hoist chain, Harary began to raise the upper section of the apparatus into the air, separating the now-divided Swift's halves. Swift's top half was raised several Feet into the air, and then swung sideways and lowered onto a supporting frame that had been placed at the side of the lower part of the apparatus. With Swift's division completed, Harary then invited the audience to go onto the stage to take a close look at the apparatus and Swift. The audience spent several minutes examining the apparatus and its divided occupant, talking to Swift and seeing close-up how her upper body ended where her corseted waist entered the tiny hole in the upper part of the stock, now stood on the supporting frame with nothing below it, while her still-moving lower half began at the similar point in the lower half of the stock. Swift chatted happily with the audience about the illusion and what it felt like to be in it, telling them that being squeezed into the corset was far more painful than being stretched or divided, and that she actually enjoyed being in the illusion.
After the audience had examined the apparatus, Harary then used the chain hoist to lift Swift's top half back onto the lower section of the illusion. With it back in position, he removed the blades from the waist stock and released Swift's wrists, ankles and neck from their restraints. Opening the waist stock, he helped Swift out of the apparatus and, to the enthusiastic applause of the audience, they both took their bow.
Although Harary has developed and premièred the illusion to invited audiences, it has so far (September 2012) not been performed publicly.
The Jonathan Creek Standing Chainsawing
The 2013 episode of the BBC TV drama series Jonathan Creek titled The Clue of the Savant's Thumb featured a new version of the standing sawing. In this version, a magician ties a female assistant to a tree or vertical wooden post, and then locks a tight-fitting metal cylinder around her waist. With the assistant secured in the illusion, the magician then uses a chainsaw to cut through a slot in the middle of the cylinder, eventually cutting completely through the assistant and also the post or tree behind them. The tip of the chainsaw blade can be seen at all times projecting out of the opposite side of the cylinder all the way through the performance, and the tree or post can be seen to fall in half as the saw cuts through it after passing through the assistant. This makes it clear to the watching audience that the saw has indeed passed completely through the assistant's waist.
The illusion appears twice during the episode. The first time, it is being rehearsed by its inventor, Franklin Tartikoff (played by Nigel Planer), on a straw dummy when a fault with the saw results in his death. It then makes a second appearance right at the end of the episode when the show's central character, played by Alan Davis, performs it on paranormal investigator Joey Ross (played by actress Sheridan Smith). Smith later commented in media interviews that she thought the illusion would be achieved using camera tricks, and couldn't believe her eyes at the first rehearsal when the saw actually did pass straight through her without a pause.
The inventor of this version of the illusion is currently unknown, and it has not been performed elsewhere.