About Modern Preshow Work

I have some subjects to discuss here that may make my point of view more understandable to magicians and mentalists. When the late Bascom Jones gave an exceedingly brief outline of what he dubbed my "powerful, audience-tested blindfold routine," inMagick #418, the complete explanation he gave for my climactic effect was this:

"The final test is the clincher, since it looks so impossible. Duplication of the design, word, or thought-of number is achieved by approaching the volunteer before the show, and using the center tear, billet switch, or impression device to secretly steal the person's thought."

Actually, those words in what Bascom chose to name The Sensitives present a gross misconception of what I do. Here's a flat statement: I do not use hidden pre-show work with clipboards or billets. There are compelling reasons why I make such a blunt statement.

Since the days of Anna Eva Fay and her "waxed pads," to well beyond Alexander "The Man Who Knows" and his Miracle in Modern Seership clipboard of the 1920s, the old books were filled with wonderful routines where people were "boarded" coming into a theater. During the show, the audience was stunned to have the mindreader just walk on stage and begin "reading their thoughts."

Today, there are several clever impression devices on the market: Clipboards, drawing boards, pads, and the like, using all manner of advanced technical methods to get information. So, you would think such an act would be more potent now.

The problem is this: Performing situations have changed over the years. In the heyday of vaudeville mentalism, the pre-show work was kept well hidden — relatively few knew what happened before the performance. When these methods were devised, there were no cinemas, rock concerts, and other diversions we have today. A magician or mindreader coming to town was a major event with posters everywhere advertising his appearance. People bought tickets with tremendous anticipation, filed into the theater to be entertained, then went their separate ways. The audience in those vast theaters was mostly strangers; very few had a chance to talk to one another afterward. There was no "checking up" among a group the next day.

Today, many entertainers like me do corporate work, with shows in country clubs, conference centers, and hotel banquet facilities. The audience members usually know one another, and are either friends, or work together. Frequently, when I am flown in to do a show, it is for a single night of a three-to-four-day seminar or conference.

Early in my career, I discovered the attendees would spend hours the following day discussing my show. If they discovered what appeared to be a "spontaneous miracle" during my performance was really set up beforehand, it would not only lessen the worth of my act, but even make them feel cheated. The impression this leaves is almost the same as if they've been lied to.

This happened at a conference show I couldn't work because of a booking conflict. My agent had a noted mentalist fill in for me, and he did pre-show work. Yes, he killed the audience that night, but during breakfast the next morning, the chatter was, "Oh, so that's how he did it!" Though they had no clue to the precise method he used, when they discovered everyone who'd had their mind read the previous night was secretly approached before the show, it ruined the image and reputation of that performer. And, word travels fast.

Since I don't use any sort of hidden pre-show work, I never worry about my spectators looking for explanations the next day. During my show, I don't waste time asking the participants if they were set up in any way. When they find they weren't, my prestige goes up!

I'm not writing this to brag, but to give you advice from experience: I perform mentalism for a living. I approach what I do with as much thought and care as any other professional should in his own business. I refuse to leave "loose ends hanging" which could affect my income for the next year.

You'll note to this point I've been discussing hidden pre-show work. I do not think all pre-show work is unacceptable. Take, for instance, a newspaper headline prediction. You must set that up beforehand, sending out the sealed envelope, contacting the person with instructions about what to do with the prediction, and whatever else is involved. There's no need to hide the advance details from the audience — they have to know about them for it to be effective.

Spiritualists at the turn-of-the-century invited patrons to bring elaborately sealed packages into their offices, so they could prove the existence of the "other world" by having the "spirits" tell them what was inside. Much the same today, Uri Geller has sketches sealed in envelopes, then divines the contents.

Dunninger in his radio and television shows did his famous "brain-busters." For example, he might have had a guest author seal a line from a new book he was writing inside an envelope. Then, Dunninger would divulge that information on-air. The audience not only knew the test was set up beforehand, but that fact was used to impress the listeners about how impossible the proceedings were.

With these last examples in mind, I'll disclose how I handle pre-show work to strengthen another routine I'm performing.

The Art Of Cold Reading

The Art Of Cold Reading

Today I'm going to teach you a fundamental Mentalism technique known as 'cold reading'. Cold reading is a technique employed by mentalists and charlatans and by charlatan I refer to psychics, mediums, fortune tellers or anyone that claims false abilities that is used to give the illusion that the person has some form of super natural power.

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