Audience Dismember (sometimes called Audience Dismemberment) is a Sawing in Half illusion that can be performed using an untrained audience member picked at random from the audience. It is an especially effective sawing illusion due to the fact that it can use any person from the audience with no prior preparation, and also because both their head and lower legs remain in full view of the audience at all times during the performance.
The illusion was designed by famed illusion designer Jim Steinmeyer, and is built exclusively by Bill Smith.
Since its introduction, it has become a very popular illusion, especially for those magicians who like to use audience volunteers in their illusions in place of professional assistants. For many magicians, it has now taken over from the Bow Saw and Jig Saw illusions for performing the sawing in half of an audience member. This is because while the Bow Saw and Jig Saw are penetration illusions, where the saw simply passes through the audience member, Audience Dismember is a true division, with the audience member actually being divided in two and their halves clearly moved apart.
The illusion apparatus consists of a low table supporting a box, slightly shorter than the table. Behind the box is a shaped board carrying a painted sign saying "Sawing A Woman In Half", "Sawing A Lady In Half", or a local translation of one of those two wordings. Around the edge of the shaped board is a row of lightbulbs, and the board is arranged to be able to slide backwards and forwards to a small extent. The box has a hinged lid, is divided into two halves, and the lower half is hinged at its base so that it can be tilted upwards to separate the box halves. The lower end of the box consists of a hinged "gate", while the upper end is grooved to accept a neck stock similar to that used in other sawing illusions such as the Thin Model sawing. Clips hold a removable board on the leg end of the table to support the lower part of the volunteer's legs and prevent them dropping downwards, helping to keep the volunteer comfortable. As the lower half of the box is hinged upwards, this board moves with it, keeping the volunteer's legs in line with the rest of their body within the box.
The performance usually begins with the magician presenting the box to be used in the illusion. Sometimes, the board behind the box is covered by a sheet to hide the painted sign, which is then revealed at the appropriate time during the performance. The magician then selects a female volunteer from the audience and invites her up on stage. He then invites her to sit down in the lower half of the box and recline within it. With the volunteer reclining within the box, the lids are closed over her and the lower "gate" closed to restrain her legs. The magician then inserts the board below their legs to support them, before moving around to the head end to insert the neck stock.
With the volunteer locked inside the illusion, the magician takes a large metal blade, which he places into the slot between the box halves. Driving the blade downwards, he cuts the volunteer in half through their waist. He then removes the blade, and lifts the lower half of the box to hinge it upwards away from the upper half, separating the now-divided volunteer's halves. With the lower half of the box hinged upwards, the audience can see the lower part of the board behind the box through the triangular gap between the box halves and the table. The magician is then able to slide the board back and forth, showing the audience that it is indeed the board that they are seeing through the gap. With the volunteer's head projecting from the upper end of the box and their legs, which have been in full view throughout the illusion, projecting from the lower half of the box, which is now at an impossible angle to the upper half, the audience is left in no doubt at all that the volunteer has indeed been cut completely in half.
Having shown the volunteer in half, the magician then hinges the lower half of the box back into line with the upper half, removes the neck stock and leg support board, opens the lower "gate" and box lids, and helps the volunteer out of the box to take their bow alongside the magician.
VariationsWhile the original version of the illusion used a large blade to cut through the volunteer in the box, many later versions use an electric jigsaw, which runs through a removable guide frame placed over the box.
In some newer versions of the illusion, the box has doors in the side that can be opened to show the volunteer within the box. Some versions just have a door in the upper half of the box, while others have them in both halves.
As this illusion can be performed on a completely untrained audience volunteer, it has become a popular choice for use with celebrity assistants, especially as a "surprise" illusion performed on an unsuspecting celebrity.
- On the Halloween 2006 episode of Good Morning America, presenter Diane Sawyer was sawed in half in this illusion.
- Nathan Burton performed the illusion on actress and talk show host Megan Mullally on an episode of her talk show.
- Nathan Burton also performed the illusion on socialite and reality TV star Paris Hilton.
- In 2008, Lance Burton performed the illusion on Barbara Walters on an episode of The View.
- Lance Burton also performs this illusion regularly in his Las Vegas stage show. On August 6th, 2009, the audience volunteer he picked to be sawed in half was British TV presenter Suzi Perry. Suzi had married her Dutch boyfriend Bastien Boosten earlier in the day, and had gone to see his show with her wedding guests in place of having a conventional wedding reception.
- In early 2012, while making a guest appearance on the ITV1 show Keith Lemon's Lemonaid, former Spice Girl Emma Bunton was sawed in half in this illusion by a teenage boy who wanted to be a magician and saw a lady in half.
- Assisted by Jedward, magician David Penn performed the illusion on X Factor judge and pop star Tulisa Contostavlos on the Halloween 2012 episode of The Xtra Factor.
- During an appearance on the BBC children's show Blue Peter, David Penn performed the illusion on presenter Helen Skelton.
- In June 2015, model and America's Got Talent judge Heidi Klum was sawed in half by magician and show contestant Xakary in this illusion.