Chicago pre-show work

Instead of mentally projecting your mentalism thoughts, type them here.

Postby Guest » 12/13/04 12:24 PM

For New Year's Eve, I'm doing a mentalism show at a private home in Los Angeles, where I live. I obtained a partial guest list, and want to get some information on a guest who lives right in Chicago.

I'd like to get information on, for example, what the front of their home looks like, and anything else that might be helpful in blowing them away in the course of mindreading/mentalism.

If anybody lives in Chicago and wants to collude on this deceit, let me know.

Also, has anyone done this kind of thing before? I'm sure it'll blow them away. But this is my first stab at this kind of ploy.

Postby David Alexander » 12/13/04 05:01 PM

Less is more. Don't give too many details or else it will be painfully obvious. Be accurately vague on everything and it will be more impressive.
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Postby Guest » 12/14/04 10:42 AM

Originally posted by David Alexander:
Less is more. Don't give too many details or else it will be painfully obvious. Be accurately vague on everything and it will be more impressive.
Good point. Thanks for the advice, David.

BTW, I found the guy's name in the Chicago phone book (at my local library), but there were 10 of them. So I called seven of them (no phone machines, some of them disconnected) until I reached a line that had a recording: Phone number has been changed to.... Called that number and got a guy. Asked for his wife, who had the distinctive name (he had the common name).

"She's not here, but this is Michael, could I help?"

"Well, I'm looking for a [her name] who attended Lowell High School in Boston in the '70s," I said.

"No, she went to high school in Los Angeles," Michael said.

Got him! Confirmed by the distinctive wife's name, plus the confirmation that she went to school in Los Angeles, which I knew, as well.

I'm thinking right now about starting off with a billet-switch routine, having her think about a room in her house, then after I get it right, saying that I sense she's moved recently, and have her think (without billet) about the outside of her house, and I'm going to try to pick up images and impressions. Then I'll describe the front of her house, with distiguishing details.

Postby Guest » 12/14/04 11:36 AM

Why not mail a card to them a couple days before the even and force the same card on 'em and vanish it. They'll find it in the mail when they get home post marked before the event. Better yet would be to find out if there is a caretaker and have a card put into their house and you completely ignore knowing they are from Chicago. That way they get home and find their card.
Steve V

Postby Richard Hatch » 12/14/04 11:58 AM

Originally posted by Steve V':
Why not mail a card to them a couple days before the even and force the same card on 'em and vanish it. They'll find it in the mail when they get home post marked before the event. Better yet would be to find out if there is a caretaker and have a card put into their house and you completely ignore knowing they are from Chicago. That way they get home and find their card.
I don't recommend doing either of these, for a couple of reasons. First, how do you present it at the New Year's Eve event? The vanish of the forced card, without it's reproduction that evening is something of a non-event. Telling them to look for it when they get home will not produce an ovation at the paying gig, though it may build a reputation after the fact (then again, it may not, depending on how the people from Chicago react and whom they share that reaction with). Second, if you mail the card, you've tipped to them that you knew their address in advance. If you involve a caretaker, how do you keep him/her quiet? Plus, having the forced card mysteriously show up is still a card trick, even if billed as something else (teleportation?). On the other hand, telling them things about themselves that you could not possibly know is very heavy woo-woo. Much much stronger and it will get an immediate response.
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Postby Pete Biro » 12/14/04 12:09 PM

Check if they have a police record? :D

Fedex them an envelope that says DO NOT OPEN UNTIL NEW YEARS EVE.

Then do a prediction reveal with that envelope. I have done that with the Koran pen that loads the envelope when you open it.
Stay tooned.
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Postby David Alexander » 12/14/04 12:39 PM

Some years ago I was approached by a national leader of one of the big magic societies who knew my research skills. He was going to be on a national TV newsmagazine and wanted to demonstrate that magicians could do what "psychics" did.

I told him it wouldn't work, but he was determined. The only info he had was that he was going to be interviewed by "Erin."

It took me about 2 minutes to determine that that was Erin Morriarity. Another few minutes got me where she'd worked before CBS, a few short stories about her....her law degree, education, etc.

This I gave to this guy, again telling him he was missing the vital ingredient - the sitter's belief in the "psychic" - but he wasn't interested. Like so many amateurs, he was certain he was right and disdained the opinion of a pro.

He learned the folly of his ways.

Erin wanted the same sort of experience her twin sister had when she visited psychics for "advice." This guy wasn't a psychic, he was an amateur magician and was anxious to impress whereas the psychics the sister visited were far more subtle. They gave out vague specifics which made the spectator into a participant as they had to validate the info by giving it meaning...all fueled by the spectator's belief in the reality of the "psychic."

The interview was taped and it was a disaster. It was edited out of the final show, a massive waste of time for all concerned.

Less is don't need indepth research, all you need are skills at cold reading and character analysis. Don't indulge in over kill or it will fall flat.
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Postby Robert Allen » 12/14/04 12:53 PM

Geeze, isn't sort of like saying "Yeah I can reproduce how Blackston Jr. makes the bird cage vanish", then trying to learn how to do the trick a few days before the show?
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Postby Guest » 12/14/04 02:31 PM

We discussed similar topics in the past, and yes, less is more. Having cards appear in someone's home, will only drive them to conclusions, if not feel it was too invasive, and yes,"caretakers" and others do talk...some don't, but many will.
With the right knowledge, online you can gather a good deal about these people their home, their neighborhood, that there is a _____across the street from them...but again, you want, "how did he pick up on that", instead of, "who told you?".

Yes, you can find out stuff about people online, but that cuts both ways. Do you think only magicians read this website?
Imagine after your performance, someone says, "That David Groves is amazing, I'll do a Goggle search to learn more about him."....and among the the items that come up, are your posts in the GENII FORUM?! ("Never mind that man talking, (with his computer) behind that curtain!")

Postby Guest » 12/14/04 03:03 PM

Say, it would be better if the Chicago people put a card in Davids casa then they select that card during his performance....
Steve V

Postby Fred Zimmerman » 12/14/04 03:36 PM

This entire request is a slippery slope that can only lead to disappointment for both the performer and the audience. It's a great quick fix, but is not sustainable. I suggest using more immediate resources at the event, coupled with the modicum of information you have right now. After all, in this wired world, knowing someone's particulars is not exactly earth-shattering, and after the show, the instant explanation will be .... "Oh, It must have been the Internet!" They might be wrong, but opening the door for this explanation will marginalize everything you just did.

Now, a psychic sensing an abstract thought somone is having in the here and know, now how do you explain THAT? The Internet be damned!

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Postby Guest » 12/15/04 12:19 AM

Thanks for the debate, guys. It will help immensely.

I've come to the conclusion that, as David Alexander suggested, I have to use the information wisely, and within the context of other strong mentalism, to extend and enhance those effects, not to replace them and not to stand alone.

In addition, the issue of the Internet is important. When doing such an impossible trick, I believe that the immediate assumption to which they might jump is that I used the Internet. So, how to dispel that assumption?

The answer: I have used the Internet to procure his address and phone number, but will take it one step further to obtain information I could not possibly have obtained from the Internet. A volunteer from the Genii forum has volunteered to drive by his house and surreptitiously snap a few digital photos and email them to me.

During a billet-switching routine, I will ask the Chicagoan to imagine she is standing in front of her house and looking up at it, and then think of (read as: write down) what she's thinking of. Two other people will be asked to do the same thing. But hers will be the grand finale, and once I get the item she's thinking of (which is amazing enough, since I've done it many, many times before), I will ask her to imagine she's standing in front of her house still, and then I will proceed to describe several correct details--the mailbox with the wooden cow on it, the X on the garage door, the beige car in the driveway.

That way, it will be information I could never have acquired from the Internet, and it will arise organically from a magic effect. In addition, it will cancel out any theories they might have about the billet switching--that is, if they suspect that writing the first information on a billet is suspicious, the rest of the front-yard information will cancel out that theory.

I believe it would be a mistake to reveal the couple's street and address, because that would imply two things: 1) that I might have used the Internet, and 2) by getting them to think in that way, they might conceivably come to the conclusion that I sent a Chicago friend to case out their house. But if I omit that information, it erases that link and keeps me safe.

It seems very strange to discuss this kind of method in a public forum. It seems very high level, and is only worthwhile because I'm getting paid a heckuva lot of money for the show. However, the idea that the client will google me and find this thread seems way remote. They'll get a long line of hits on my name at google or yahoo, and even if they do find the Genii forum, I've made over 500 posts!

I can't tell you, though, how excited this process has made me over the last couple days. I'll report on my progress, and then on the results, come January 1.

Postby David Alexander » 12/15/04 11:37 AM

Well, presumably the address you find on the Internet is their current address....maybe, and that it will be the address she is thinking of, hopefully (not their summer home in Palm Springs)....and that your volunteer in Chicago isn't arrested as a burglar for casing the joint.

Properly done, spectators do not suspect billet switches, so no need to over-compensate for that.

Years ago, well before the Internet, I did a full mentalist turn on a long USO tour. I sent my singers out with a couple of Nelson UP clipboards and collected more than enough info to blow the audience away. The final bit was taking a soldier home to his house....describing how he would see it through his eyes....I always included a portion of the address, saying it wasn't clear (less is more) ending by telling him that the house looked like it needed painting. That was the clincher because as the soldier was overseas, it was unlikely that he could afford to hire a painting contractor and few women, in those days, were willing to do a big job like painting a house without their husband around.

At one PEA convention in the early 1990s, a former cop turned mentalist thought he would impress those assembled by reeling off reems of info about those in attendance. It was boring and not convincing at all because with the abundance of accurate detail. It was clear he'd just done a backgrounder on us.

If your friend in Chicago has the nerve, he ought to knock on the door and ask for some other family, and get a gander in the front...or have him look take strong binoculars and look through a window or two and describe what he sees . Vaguely describing that would be far more impressive....however, if you're hired to do another gig and they want that level of competence, you're in for a problem as you'll have to go to a lot of trouble to get that level of info again.
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Postby Guest » 12/15/04 12:11 PM

I'm sure that it's their regular home. I called it and talked with the guy on Monday evening, saying I was looking for a woman with his wife's name who attended Lowell High School in Boston in the '70s. He replied that his wife attended high school in Los Angeles, which jived with my info.

Then I took a reverse phone directory to the phone number I had reached him at. Pretty solid.

And as for setting expectations too high for another show: If they're willing to book me for this price again, I'll do the same level of research. That's what's great about quoting high.

Actually, I have to stop myself from pursuing this thing to death. Just use it to enhance the billet routine....down, boy, down, boy....

Postby Guest » 12/15/04 03:22 PM

Originally posted by David Alexander:

Less is don't need indepth research, all you need are skills at cold reading and character analysis. Don't indulge in over kill or it will fall flat.
These words, (esp. the first three) should be ingrained in the mind of every mentalist. Sure woulda saved me some time. :whack:

Thanks Mr. A.


Postby Guest » 12/15/04 09:35 PM

Before the internet, a generation ago, a common resource was the City Directory...not just a phone book, but before privacy became more jealously guarded, they contained very useful information: Occupation, who/where you worked for, spouse's name, children's names and others in household, affilations, even if widowed, who your late spouse was.
As mindreaders would process their pre-show data backstage, a quick check in the local directory of that nature, could wow an audience.

But David is right, less is more...Some won't like this, but if you want to learn/understand mindreading and not mental magic tricks, watching John Edward is an education. I can remember a few audience members voicing their skepticism, because their reading was too accurate.(!)

"The more subtle phenomena is often more convincing." (Dr. Anton LaVey,1969)

Postby David Alexander » 12/16/04 12:39 AM

At the risk of beating a dead horse, I'll toss in one additional principle: the spectator as participant in mentalism/cold reading. Reading off a series of facts, no matter how accurate, is not nearly as powerful and impressive as setting the scene where the spectator has a flash of insight into what you're alluding/implying/suggesting.

Without the participation of the speckie, it's just a clever puzzle and they'll wonder how you got the info. If you present the information in tiny little bites, forcing them to participate, recognize, validate what you're saying, you'll have a far superior presentation. Again, the spectator MUST participate in the process or else you'll just have a clever puzzle of how you got the info.
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Postby Fred Zimmerman » 12/16/04 02:30 PM

OK, let's move away from the machinations of this effect and see how it can be made stronger within the context of something larger.

Let's say you have three different people onstage and you're attempting to divine information within a different effect. Then, in the middle of those revalations, you get some random vibes, and throw out a few smaller peices of of detailed information, and then ask if that means anything to one of the three people. Of course, you can get one to say that it's about them. Try to get more, and then fail.

Move on with the standard effect, then, as the routine progresses, you stop and get another inspiration. Say to the target that they have some especially strong feelings on their mind--concerning their feelings from the previous holiday. Then start talking about their feelings of home, the love they have for family, perhaps some concerns they're having--health, money, etc.

Woven into these cold reading observations is the detailed information. You can tell them that they are house-proud, have an attitude about the neighbors (don't forget to explore that wonderful trove of information) and casually mention details of the house, etc.

To conclude, while Less is certainly More, sometimes, oftentimes oblique is stronger than direct. You can make this information appear completely spontaneous and random, making the revelation much more of a "one-time event" in the audience's eyes. They'll talk about the night when you broke out of your regular show and had these psychic revelations.

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Postby Guest » 12/16/04 04:51 PM

Eager participation of the spectator. Now that's a riveting concept. How do you get the spectator to not just watch, but participate?

As David Alexander says: "... present the information in tiny little bites, forcing them to participate, recognize, validate what you're saying...."

In a way, you go only halfway towards them, luring them, and then encourage them to meet you halfway. Is that right? Giving all the information up front is like going the full way towards them, and they don't have to do anything, right?

As Fred Zimmerman wrote: "...Then, in the middle of those revalations, you get some random vibes, and throw out a few smaller peices of of detailed information, and then ask if that means anything to one of the three people. Of course, you can get one to say that it's about them. Try to get more, and then fail...." But in the course of this, you weave the details into the narrative.

It seems that any reading would be stronger by weaving emotions into a reading that is buttressed by impossible details. After all, that's the way that story works: A story (in a book, in a movie, even in an article) can be compelling, but if real emotion isn't woven into it, there's no strong moment that audiences walk away with.

This feels right.

Postby Guest » 12/16/04 06:01 PM

The old Nelson Question/Answering books, have some still relevant advice about milking an answer, so it appears that you are getting it piece by piece...a journey they share with you...remember they WANT you to succeed...and SHARE that moment with you.

Read the master, William Larsen, Sr.'s book and learn how the words/story/image are just/more impressive as the data revealed.
One or two perceived hits are all you need...for others to book you, to hopefully have that happen for them too.

Postby Guest » 12/19/04 10:18 AM

I received the photograph, and will commit it to memory.

I may do what Pete Biro suggested this week at Dean's Shoppe: Stand back to back with the woman and draw pictures of the front of their house. There's a distinctive tree, and a distinctive roofline.

There's an environmental sticker on the front of their house geared toward a specific cause, but I think that identifying that cause in any way would lead them to the idea that I saw the front of their house.

Postby Guest » 01/01/05 02:11 AM

Last Friday, I did the show. Here?s what happened:

The house was fabulous, with a winding path to the house and, inside, split levels and high, expensive windows. When I walked into the house, it turned out to be a party of highly accomplished professional African-Americans. The hostess works as a high official in the city attorney?s office and, it turned out, is on a first-name basis with the mayor.

I was immediately introduced to the targets, Michael and Gay. They were plump fiftysomethings with a warm manner, and I thought of them as venison, deer who didn?t yet know that they were destined for the dinnertable. Within the hour, the group of twenty--old friends who had known each other since high school and grammar school--had settled into chairs in the living room and were ready for a show.

I started off with a story to enhance my credibility: I had spent the past five years, I said, studying with shamans in indigenous cultures, trading my sleight of hand for the secrets to their real magic. I handed out the photographs of my recent visit to Vanuatu. I told spooky stories about native magic. It bestowed upon me instant credibility.

?I?m not asking you to believe,? I said. ?I?m not even asking you to have an open mind, although if you do, you?ll be a lot more entertained. And if you have a closed mind, this is really going to piss you off.?

And with that, I launched into my show. Michael, the husband, set himself up early as a skeptic, vocally coming up with some cockamamie theory about how I did my first trick. But that made me smile, because that would just sweeten the victory when I slayed him at the very end.

Early on, I set up my effect, The Wishing Bottle, which is an original effect (to be featured on my new DVD to be released in March). I brought out a narrow-necked bottle with some billets in it.

?This is a wishing bottle,? I said. ?You wish for things, and just like coins in a fountain, they might come true. Is there anybody here who would like to wish for something for someone else in the room??

Immediately, a man raised his hand and wrote something down on a piece of paper, which I warned him not to let anyone see. Then I stuffed the billet into the bottle, clearly without looking at it, and I went onto the next effect.

As I proceeded through the show, Michael the Skeptic was able to come up with no other theories as to method, because he was at a loss. I went through a couple watch tricks, and then, in the middle of the show, I asked someone to name a two-digit number?he named 22?and I handed over a sealed envelope that the spectator opened. The note inside correctly predicted 22, and Michael was slain.

Being educated blacks, this was a unique audience. They were thinkers, to be sure, but they also had that charming characteristic of black audiences that makes them more able than white audiences to express their amazement and enjoyment. They were having great fun, and they were letting their faces know it.

For the grand finale, I performed some direct mindreading. It?s my 3-billet routine (a commercial effect that is available from Denny & Lee), which is stunning and which upped the ante even more. Finally, it was time for my grand finale. I brought up Gay, whom I had used only once before during the show.

?The way that I accomplish all this is through visualization,? I confessed. ?I see through people's eyes. I see what they see. So I'd like you to visualize something yourself. I?d like you to visualize?well, how about a location. Can you visualize...well, let?s say the front of your house. Do you have a house? Good, visualize that, and we'll stand back to back and--there aren't any mirrors, are there? Good. You draw and I'll draw at the same time."

This back-to-back presentation was something that Pete Biro had suggested to me while chatting about it at Dean?s Shoppe. So we drew while the music played. When we were both done, I asked Gay to hold the picture against her chest and face the audience.

?Can I have a peek?? I asked.

She showed me her clipboard. I looked and, strangely, it was clearly a different house. I looked again. Different roof, different garage, different style. Oh my God, what had gone wrong? Had the reverse phone directory been wrong? Had my Chicago friend photographed the wrong house? What was going on?

And then the woman gasped.

"My God!? Gay exclaimed. ?That's my OTHER house!"

It turned out that they owned two houses, one in Chicago and one in Los Angeles. She had drawn her Los Angeles house, as it turned out, and I had drawn her Chicago house. And fortunately, it wasn't considered a mistake, but instead, the ultimate hit.

The audience was in an uproar, expostulating and exclaiming.

"How could he possibly know that?" Michael the Skeptic said. "The numbers trick was great, but this is the ultimate!"

I decided to wrap things up on a high note.

"Well, that's the best that I can do," I said. "I want to thank you for inviting me into your house," blah blah blah. They applauded, but strangely, they wouldn't stand up. They were stunned, thinking about what had just happened.

"How do you do that?"

"I can't figure it out myself," I said. "It's a mystery."

"That?s absolutely amazing."

"That's really good."

"Hey, what about the bottle?!" somebody finally called out.

"Oh yes!" I said. ?The wishing bottle? That?s just a wishing device, it wasn?t something that I could know. However?wait a minute?I do hope you get that convertible car."

There was a collective "Ohhhhhh!!!" A hit.

It was a delicious show, and I didn?t want it to end, so I accepted their invitation to hang around and have some food and drink. It was, after all, an invitation to do some marketing.

And so, while drinking some Champagne, I had a one-on-one conversation with Michael the Skeptic. He went step by step through the show, and couldn?t stop talking about how amazing it was. Eventually, he said something enlightening and helpful regarding his thought processes.

"I mean, how could you know that? I mean, even if [the hostess] had tipped you, how could you know what the front of our house looked like? Because [the hostess] hasn't even seen the front of our house!"

I?d like to thank all of you here on the forum who helped me enhance my client?s New Year?s Eve party. The advice that was offered was certainly quite valuable. It?s clear to me that pre-show work must be used only to enhance other effects, and that you have to keep a few key factors in mind.

You have to avoid an encyclopedic recitation of facts, as someone has mentioned. You have to take care not to leave bread crumbs that your audience can follow. You have to know that the audience?s minds will always go toward the Internet, if you don?t take care to throw them off that trail. Diego, I haven?t yet been able to use cold reading to my advantage, so perhaps that?s the next frontier for me.

Another thing also struck me. Certainly the pre-show effect was the best effect of the show, but only by an inch or two. The other effects?psychokinetic effects, direct mindreading, clever cold reading?are very nearly as strong. If you perform them right, they have no idea of the method. By using pre-show work, though, I was able to think outside the box and take everything one step further.

And economically, it?s practical to do pre-show work only when you?re getting a big fee. The research involved took me about six hours over a period of two weeks, and who can afford that on a regular basis if you?re doing a low-paying show?

Postby Guest » 01/04/05 08:55 PM

My friend W. maintains that this pre-show work that I did may have been fantastic in effect, but it made him feel creepy. What do you think?

W. says that in today's age of stalkers, identity theft, and other criminal acts, the idea of a close friend giving out your name to a complete stranger, and then that stranger putting in work to procure your address, drive by your house, and even take photographs of it, is creepy.

I countered that I had no evil intentions and carried out no criminal acts, but W. said that didn't matter. What matters, he says, is that someone was creeping around spying on them. That, he says, is the definition of creepy.

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