c Be/ore Qurtain ibises
- a treatise on preshow work -
because, given the speed with which technology and information is changing today, a week from now any specific information I give you would be out of date! Suffice to say, do your homework and you'll find a ton of great information out there that is ripe for use as preshow background material.
I recall a few years making a phone call to a friend of mine at the other end of the country. He was (and still is) very up to date with information technology and has several computers at his command. ! called him from the home of the lady 1 was dating at the time. He asked me what the phone number was where I was calling from. Shortly after that, while he was talking to my lady friend, he proceeded to describe her neighborhood, name her neighbors, describe what a couple of them do for a living, and apologize for the scar on her right knee! Needless to say, she was completely blown away!
While 1 don't know for certain what he was using to gain all this information, 1 do know that he was using technology that anyone can get. I'm quite certain he works miracles with this powerful technology all the time. But let's say you don't have that at your command just prior to a show. What can you do?
Well let's suppose that you can get the name and address of a few of the people attending that_big company function you're working next week. More often than not, company secretaries are happy to supply little tid bits of information if you make it clear that you just want to memorize a few names before the show and maybe have some fun with it. Once armed with the information you have several avenues that you can follow. Having your own computer and appropriate software makes things easy. But there are other options.
Of course, there is a ton of public information available on just about anyone for free at the library and your local County Courthouse. A great many useful facts can be obtained with no problem due to the Freedom Of Information Act. Of course this means genuine research of the 'old school', getting down and dirty, digging through old files and actually looking things up! But if you've got a list of some of the attendees of your next program and have the time to do this, it can be a powerful technique. Just be aware, it does take a fair amount of time and leg work. But the results can be well worth it. Plus, the more you do it, the better you will get at it. You'll become ever more familiar with the in's and out's of the system and maybe even make a friend or two on the staff who can be a tremendous help. Just be sure you don't 'tip' them as to your reasons for all the research!
Do you have a friend who can get online for you? Think of who you know who can help you with this. But here's an even better idea. Assuming you're being paid the type of fee you deserve for the caliber of show you should be performing, consider hiring a private investigator. Believe me, if anyone can find out the dirt on just about anybody, this is the person who can! It's actually best if you can cultivate a relationship with a PI if you are going to do this with any regularity at all. I have a couple of different friends that I can call upon if i need the dirt on a specific person for an upcoming gig. It's a powerful technique and is certainly worth looking in to. You never know what they will come up with, but even one impossible to know fact can create a sensation with the right crowd. Think about it!
Of course, as I have already mentioned, there's a ton of info available on the internet. Learn your way around it and you can turn up some mighty interesting things. Just be sure to use any information you get wisely and sparingly. In this technological age, it's easy to blame the internet for just about anything. Make certain that you can cover your tracks. Get your initial information (names, addresses, phone numbers, etc.} as discreetly as possible with little or no room for back tracking by someone else. Perhaps you can get hold of a corporate directory or even a list of office numbers for specific individuals. Use your head and, again, stay alert to any possibility.
I might as well mention here a time-honored technique that is both low-tech and very useful. If you have advance information on people attending your performance, it would be worth your while to drive by their homes and take a look at their property and neighborhoodrBe careful doing this as you don't want to arouse any suspicion ("Hey, there's that stalker again!"), just do a slow drive-by during low traffic hours. Get a look at the house and visible property. You could even conceivably snoop further, but remember, you didn't hear that from me! Seriously, though, it's really not necessary. Just a simple drive-by can reveal a bunch of very useful information about the lifestyle and home life of your potential spectator. Again, be careful, and above all else be discreet! It wouldn't look good for you to be arrested casing someone's home before a big show This technique takes some time but can pay off big!
Here's another possibility for the solo performer. Make sure you have a friend who is a major computer whiz and has access to all kinds of information. Offer to pay him a fee every time you can use his service (and he delivers!). Whenever you get a potentially good lead at the performing venue, call your buddy on your cell phone and tell him what information you have and let him go to work. Let him know your cut off time (show time!!), and to call back to your cell phone at least ten minutes before your show up time if he finds out anything that sounds promising. Having a fee attached to producing real results will be a good incentive program for him and frees you up to pursue other matters before show time. If he turns up nothing at all, you're out nothing (including your time), but you never know what might turn up.
Cgejore o)hc Qurtain (I^ises
- a treatise on prcsftow work -
One small word of warning here. Should you decide to pursue the above scenario, make sure you are completely comfortable with this individual you're working with. He must be completely trustworthy and will feed you only accurate information. There's nothing worse than getting on stage and revealing inaccurate information. In short, you must have a good relationship with this person or they can make you look very bad on stage. Again, it's probably a good idea to tie the fee in with accurate results. If they feed you solid information, you could easily make a world class reputation. That's worth paying good money for, so make it worth his while! It will be good for both of you!
The internet is a wonderful thing. With the advent of wireless internet becoming a very real occurrence, I'm sure enterprising mentalists will take full advantage of the speed and easy access this provides to turn up some real miracles. But 1 also suspect that as the speed and easy access improves, the face of what the public is aware of will also change. Everyone will know that certain things are possible and it will be up to you to make sure that you do everything you can to eliminate even the slightest possibility of technology from their minds. Keep this in mind if you decide to pursue these avenues of covert preshow work.
Remember Dr. Jaks hiding.in the men's restroom? Don't want to hide in there yourself? Allow me to present an alternative. What you'll need is a micro-cassette recorder to hide in there. It needs two very specific functions in order for this to work. First it needs to be what is known as 'voice activated', meaning it does not record at all until it 'hears' sound. Once it detects sound, it instantly begins recording. It also shuts off automatically when the sound stops.
It will also need to have 'double speed playback'. All this means is that you can have it playback at twice the regular speed of the tape. It will sound like chipmunks talking when this happens, but it's still perfectly legible. This is the way Alvin and the Chipmunks were recorded (I'm starting to give away my age here...). You can listen to all the talk from the ladies room in half the time it would normally take, plus it's all talk with no dead space. As a result you get all the good stuff you would have gotten if you were hiding in there yourself in a fraction of the time, plus you can be doing other things while the tape is recording. Get two tape recorders and you can cover both restrooms at once. This can be a powerful weapon.
Of course you will need to work out the logistics of where to hide the recorder, how to retrieve it, and allowing enough time to review it and decide how to use the info. Having an offstage assistant can be a godsend in this situation. She can be reviewing the tape and qyforc Q^fie Curtain (l^ises
- a treatise on preshow worft -
can get the info out to you on-stage later in the show. That's a great situation, but for most of us 'guerrilla' performers, we'll just have to do it ourselves. This is a great technique. Think about it.
c5~ime (or the lack thereof) -
When doing preshow, you simply MUST allow plenty of time to cover all the territory you need to cover. Many times, the physical situation of a program simply won't allow for preshow. For instance, let's say you're working a company banquet and are on right after dinner and the awards ceremony. The problem here is that, unless you plan on getting to the venue and doing your preshow at least 2 hours prior to your show (which isn't a bad idea...), there's simply no time window where you'll have access to the audience without interrupting the ongoing program.
The moral of the story here is to ALWAYS have extra material with you that you can do with no preshow work at all. Trust me, Murphy's Law will definitely rear its ugly head at the worst possible time if you don't plan ahead. Having extra material that can easily fill the slot that your preshow material would have covered, will give you tremendous peace of mind and make your job much easier.
gpectators oJaikin^ -
Without a doubt, this is one of the biggest potential problems for the preshow worker. It is not really an issue if you are playing in comedy clubs or general public shows. However it's a huge issue when working for corporations and private clubs. In these organizations, most everyone knows everyone else and is much more inclined, not to mention in a position, to discuss the show they have witnessed. If they witness a performance where
cpotentiol cpitfaifs Qf preshow -
only those who were talked to before the performance were called upon, this could be reconstructed the next day, and the basic method worked out. Not good.
Richard Osterlind, in his excellent book, "Dynamic Mysteries" (Busby, 1999}, mentions an incident exactly like this happening to someone he knows. It's not pretty. These people are in a position to talk for days and longer about the show. If you are working for these types of groups, take heed and plan appropriately.
With general public shows, this is not much of an issue. After the show, they all go their separate ways and won't be in a position to gather data on who talked to who. As we will discuss shortly, without a doubt the best way to handle a potential problem situation like this is to either a) not use preshow and rely on other methods for your effects, or b) mix methods for your preshow. More on this highly effective technique to follow.
cpresfiow (()ofuntccrs Reaving -
How many times have you heard the story, "I had this guy alt set up to do this killer bit with me, and when the time comes, he's left the building!"? If this ever happens to you, I hope you look good with egg on your face! Either that, or you are prepared for the worst (which can be the above scenario), which it will eventually. No matter how close you watch that critical person you worked with before the show, they will get up and leave. No matter how much you emphasize that their participation is necessary, no matter how much they assure you that they are there for the entire evening, no matter how careful you are and how many safeguards you take . . . eventually someone that you have done preshow work with that you are planning on using in the show will disappear on you. Murphy strikes again!
Who knows where they go or why? Maybe they just got an important message on their pager. Maybe they are tired of your show (heaven forbid). Maybe they are in the restroom at the critical moment when you need them. The bottom line here is that they're gone and you're stuck.
Given that the above scenario will happen to you eventually if you do preshow work, what are you going to do about it? You can't avoid it, so what will you do?
I'm assuming a worst-case scenario here. By that I mean that the piece you are planning on doing absolutely has to be done with that one person and no one else. More often than not Q&A won't suffer from this unless you only clipboard two people! You
(BcJorc Curtain cf^iscs
- a treatise on preshow1 work -
normally should have plenty of spectators to draw from. The person that leaves may have been your best selection. Oh well. You move on. But what if that person who leaves is the only person, the exact person you need to perform your miracle?
My best suggestion is one that I live by. Always have extra material on stage with you at all times that you can simply pick up and do without skipping a beat. Ideally this alternate material should be just as strong as the piece you are replacing. It's a tall order but believe me, the above situation only has to happen to you one time, and you will see the wisdom of this suggestion.
You must prepare for this. The very best thing you can do is to vividly imagine this awful situation happening. Then try to imagine houj you're going to get out of that bad situation and into your replacement effect. Be sure to think this through thoroughly. In a perfect world, the audience shouldn't even be aware that there was ever a problem. Your segue from your 'missing person' situation to your replacement effect should be as seamless as possible and, indeed, appear to be a regular and planned part of the show in some way. Just so long as it doesn't raise any red flags for the audience. Even if your preshow piece doesn't happen due to someone skipping out on you, the mere thought of something having been arranged ahead of time (and failing somehow) should never have the opportunity to enter the minds of the rest of the audience. This is critical, if for no other reason than your own credibility.
Probably the easiest thing to do is to have a similar effect to the one you were going to do using the preshow, but using a different method which can be done right on stage. With a little thought this can be done with virtually any effect. You may have to bend your conditions a bit, but keep in mind that this is a back up situation, not your first choice. You will probably have to make some concessions in the method. That's ok.
This has two advantages for you as a performer. First of all, it keeps the basic flow and programming of your show intact That can be very good for your timing and general mind set. Another huge advantage can be if your spectator (who skipped out on you) hears later about that spot in the show. He or she will be doubly fooled because you wound up doing the stunt with someone pulled from the audience at random. Even if they were to spout off about you working with them prior to the program, this completely nullifies their point. This would only increase your credibility.
Mejore oT(te Qavtain (Ibises
- a treatise on preshow work -
factors in making prcsfiow more effective -
Of all the factors in making preshow effective, this is without a doubt the most important, It's quite possible to completely destroy good preshow work with just a simple phrase. By that same token, it's quite possible to turn good preshow work into a mind-numbing miracle with a simple phrase. As such, let me state here the one thing that is by far the most important about this aspect of preshow: you simply musí practice and rehearse exactly what you're going to say on-stage. One wrong word can completely blow it for you. Make absolutely certain that you know exactly what happens once you're on stage. This is critical. I've seen too many guys try to 'wing it', and end up with a small disaster on their hands. Don't say 1 didn't warn you.
I'll state right up front in this section that by far the best thing you can do to really make your verbal misdirection effective is to obtain alt three volumes of Kenton Knepper's marvelous Wonder Words series of audiotapes. Kenton has a worid of experience and knowledge on the subject and the tapes are worth their weight in gold to any performer, regardless what type of performing you may do. Do yourself a favor, get Wonder Words and devour every minute of them. It will help you more than anything I can say here.
That being said, I'll hit a couple of highlights here for you. What you say when the performance starts can make or break good preshow work. Of course, if your preshow work has been of the indirect type, there will have been no contact with anyone in the audience. This situation is by far the easiest to deal with.
Let's say you have singled out an individual from the audience (whom you have some good dirt on). Basically all you need to do is to establish that they have never met you before, and vice versa. No one talked to them before the show or at any other time
Cgejorc Q^fve Curtain cI^ises
- a treatise on presftow work -
and that there is no way you could possibly know anything about them. The main thing is not to protest too much', meaning don't over do it. State your case and get on with the presentation of the effect. If you go too far, some will start to think maybe you know a lot more than you're saying. So be sparing about it.
That one is easy. However when there has been direct contact with the spectator's before the program, you must be very careful how you word things so that no red flags go up for anyone. Basically you must be aware of two different realities, one for the preshow volunteers and another for the rest of the audience. Both of these realities must make sense to the individuals involved. As long as these separate realities make sense, no one will question anything.
For example, let's say you have clipboarded several members of the audience before the show and you are about to do Q&A. They have all kept their slips and have them in their possession. In the introduction to the routine you can say something along the lines of, "We're going to try a demonstration in mind to mind communication. I can, on occasion, read thoughts of a very specific nature and that's what we're about to try. If you would, please remove a slip of paper from your purse or wallet and simply write a comment or question and perhaps a bit of personal information. Anything at all will do. Keep that slip in your possession. I understand that some of you may have already done - this, if so, please take out your slip and review what-youhave written. This is the information we will try to communicateand you proceed with the Q&A.
In this case the two realities are very close to each other, in fact virtually identical, but the timing is different. Those who were clipboarded will remember that they have already written something down, and those who haven't will be busy doing just that. Notice the positioning of the two parts of the equation. First we get those who were not clipboarded working on their slips and then bring in those who were clipboarded. Since everyone will have their slip on them from beginning to end, there should be no question as to the legitimacy of the situation.
One small word here. Although it's somewhat beyond the scope of this particular monograph, an excellent technique to add to the mix of the above scenario is to throw in some dummy questions. These are dealt with in some of the better Q&A manuscripts and they can be very effective.
Here's another scenario. Let's suppose you've worked with one individual before the show, and they are thinking of a single word. This word was gotten from a dictionary. It will be much more effective if you can give the impression that they could have chosen any
(fte/ore of he Qurtaxn cI^iscs
- a treatise on presitovv work -
word in the English language, any word at all. The volunteer knows that they took a word from a dictionary. The audience does not know how the word was chosen. That's the situation going in to the presentation. Here's one possible way to word this on stage. Let's say you've already gotten your volunteer on stage.
"Thank you so much for helping. Would you please confirm a thing or two for our audience. I spoke with you briefly before the show tonight, is that correct? We chatted a bit and I asked you if you would be willing to assist me in a simple demonstration during the program, is that correct? You see, I do this because some people have stage fright or some other condition that may cause them undue anxiety by being on stage. I simply wanted to determine that you were indeed willing to help.
I told you that you needed to think of a word in the English language. You had a choice of literally ten's of thousands of u>ords, is that correct? You were given a chance to change your mind and you finally latched on to one word, correct? You have been concentrating on that word ever since, am I right? Now let's be clear, you did not tell me the word did you? You didn't write anything down or mention this word to anyone else did you? So you and you alone know which word is locked in your mind right noiu, correct? Fine. Thank you."
You then proceed to divine the word. Notice the two realities present here. Go back and re-read the above passage and try to put yourself in the mind set of the volunteer. Everything will sound correct. They did have a choice of thousands of words, they did not tell anyone nor write anything down, etc. It all sounds quite correct. It simply appears that you neglected to mention the dictionary, (if that indeed is noticed at all by your volunteer).
Now re-read the passage again from the stand point of an audience member. Again everything sounds correct, only in this case, they will assume that your volunteer simply chose a word at random out of the clear blue sky. Everything fits from both perspectives. That is verbal misdirection.
The easiest way to do this process is to write everything out clearly beforehand. Do just as we did above and re-read your lines from the perspective of both your volunteer(s) as well as your audience. If something doesn't 'fit' from either perspective, dump it and start again. One thing I have found to be very helpful in this process is to read the lines aloud and try to put myself into the performing situation. You may also want to tape record yourself. Go back and listen, making sure everything lines up correctly and no red flags are raised. This is not a difficult process to do, but it has to be done ahead of time. Don't try to make this up on stage. You're asking for trouble.
Cßc/orc oJTte Certain Q^ises
- a treatise on preshow work -
I've only given a couple of examples here, but I'm sure you get the idea. This is not difficult, but it is vitally important. Give it the attention it deserves.
By distance I mean both physica/ distance and time distance. If you can do your preshow work three hours prior to the performance, while literally no one else is in the theater except you and your volunteer, then no one can possibly know anything ever happened at all (assuming you handle everything else correctly). That is the advantage of time distance. The more time you can allow to elapse between the execution of preshow, and the program itself, the better off you will be. This is why you'll see Q&A workers clipboarding the house a full 45 minutes to an hour before showtime.
The next step is to disappear. Do this as early in the preshow sequence as possible. By that I mean get out of sight, and therefore, out of mind. If the vast majority of your audience sees you for the very first time the moment you walk out on stage, then you're preshow work becomes even more invisible. Remember Michael Close's work on Assumption? This is one place where it weighs the most heavily! This is a valuable point. Put as much time between your preshow work and your program as possib/e/ You'll be glad you did. Do your preshow work and get out of there!
What can be even better is if you can get witnesses to swear that you were actually next door at the pub before the program (or anywhere else, for that matter!). Just something to think about!
(]\umbet's oj spectators approached -
This is a major factor when doing Q&A. Let's suppose that the performer is clipboarding the house. An excellent strategy is to have both 'hot' boards as well as 'dummy' boards working the house. All that this means is that you will have slips being written where you will get no information whatsoever. That is where the dummy boards come in. Later on, when the Q&A segment of the program happens, you can have everyone else in the room get out a slip of paper and write their questions. You'll have people who will have done this before the show as well as lot's of people who did their slip during the show who do not get picked. It will seem much more fair.
(gejore ^Tfie (jivtarn (l^ises
Obviously, it's the sheer number of people involved that helps to hide the fact that any work was done before the show. If you only clipboard three people and they all get called upon, the method will become transparent.
I won't labor this point because it has been dealt with very well in other publications (see bibliography). Suffice to say, read those other texts and you'll see examples of this technique in action.
One of the most devastating ways to use preshow is in conjunction with other methods. When the only actual method for an effect is the use of preshow, it's a very straight line to the explanation. On the other hand, if there are a combination of methods for the effects utilizing preshow, there's no straight line. In fact, all explanation pretty much goes right out the window.
One of the best examples of this in the literature is Bob Cassidy's Q&A routine from 'The Art Of Mentalism". The mixture of methods to achieve the overall effect is marvelous and virtually impossible for anyone to reconstruct. Of course it is fairly easy to mix methods for Q&A, Q&A is what Cassidy calls a 'major effect', meaning that literally everyone in the room is involved (or at least thinks they are). Since so many people and, therefore, potential effects are involved, it's actually very easy to mix methods.
Just using the devices that are mentioned later in this book that are good for preshow use, you can achieve a wide variety of effects. Obviously you can clipboard for just about anything. You can also use another method for a design duplication. Have a word or two selected either via Flashback or the Working Mentalists Dictionary. Force another word from a book and force a card as well. Have another card mentally selected and written down (using Annemann Outdone).
All of these bits of information can then be revealed later on. And each was utilized in a different fashion. Of course you can also use center tears, peek wallets, switches, steals and any number of other techniques and devices. When it's all put together, it is not only devastating, but literally impossible to reconstruct since so many methods were used together.
Of course that's Q&A, a major effect. What if you are doing a minor effect? Cassidy defines this as any effect where just one or a few spectators are directly involved. Minor
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