Before We Begin - Asi Wind
This new book by Asi Wind is all about the elusive beast called pre-show. There's no doubt about it, Vanishing Inc makes the finest books in all of magic. They always look and feel stunning inside and out, and this one is no different. I love the foiled cover and the minimalist approach to design; it is clean. Enough about the quality of the book itself, let's get into the contents.
The book begins with a prologue that tells the (true) story of a mentalist having an awful pre-show moment on stage. This leads right into the first impressions.
First Impressions - This chapter details why so many mentalists are afraid of pre-show: because they think it is morally wrong, many consider it stooging, many don’t want to show up to the venue early, many don’t want to be seen before the show starts, and so on. Asi argues that while sometimes these could be artistic choices, often it just equates to laziness. He believes using pre-show can change the audience’s perspective from, “How did the mentalist find out what she wrote?” to “How did the mentalist know what she is thinking?”
Selecting Targets - This chapter details how to pick a good target for pre-show. It’s quite vague, but it gets the main idea across.
Approaching Targets - As the title suggests, this chapter explains the best way to approach your pre-show targets without making them feel like you are “using” them. It discusses justification and how to use walk around to your advantage.
Tools - This chapter points out some of the tools a mentalist can use during pre-show in very simple terms. It breaks it down into obtaining information and forcing information and provides examples of each.
Scripting - This is perhaps the most important chapter of the book. It details how important both a pre-show and an on-stage script are for successful pre-show. Asi provides a pre-show and show script for a drawing duplication to demonstrate the key points.
Camouflage - This goes along with the scripting chapter. Essentially, this discusses the importance of making the thought seem natural in the moment. Asi provides an excerpt of a pre-show and show script as way of example. This section also details how to make the participant seem like a random choice, and how to make the pre-show more effective by delaying the use of the pre-show. It also teaches how to turn your pre-show into a mid-show challenge, how to let the spectator change their mind during the show, and how to get them to agree you’ve never met before. This chapter is where the reader can really begin to imagine how effective pre-show can be.
Assisted Pre-Show - This touches on how to let your assistant do the dirty work. It includes an example script to get the gears turning.
Unusual Pre-Show - This chapter lists several interesting approaches to pre-show such as: incomplete pre-show, open pre-show, half-open pre-show, candid pre-show, expandable pre-show, eavesdropping, across time and space, and pre-order. All of these approaches have their own advantages and disadvantages, but this is a great list and jumping off point for you to come up with strong uses of pre-show strategies for your own show. In my opinion based on my personal experience, these more interesting pre-show options can often be more bulletproof than the more traditional method.
An Ounce of Prevention - This chapter lists several things that could go wrong with pre-show and gives preventative measures to try to ensure success. It discusses cue sheets, preventing exposure, overuse, missing targets, and unchangeables. Most of these points have already been touched on throughout the book, but this puts them all in one place.
Video & TV - As you’d expect, this chapter briefly deals with pre-show on television. It breaks it down into content you can control and content that will be produced by someone else (such as a live news interview.)
Virtual Pre-Show - It may already be a little bit dated, but this chapter deals with some strategies for using pre-show for virtual shows.
Scripts - Asi provides two scripts as guidelines to synthesize all of the thoughts he has written about thus far. He provides a full pre-show and show script for a book test and a full pre-show and show script for a “think of a name” routine. These scripts do a great job of illustrating Asi’s points, and they make a great starting point for easy reference when creating your own script.
A Brief History - The first section of the book ends with some history on the origins of pre-show and some of the big name players who brought about its success throughout the ages.
Max Maven - The interview portion of the book begins with Max Maven. Maven gives his thoughts on pre-show including why he never used pre-show thanks to the environments he worked in, and how he had one routine (The Four Sided Triangle) which addresses a lot of the big problems he has with pre-show in general. It goes on to discuss the only way to not be afraid which is to fail repeatedly. With each failure, you tweak the script, fix the issue that caused the failure, and try again.
Penn Jillette - This is my favorite interview in the book. It is fun to read, and it provided some real insight into how Penn thinks about performing a live show. Penn and Teller use a different type of pre-show (pre-show music and getting the audience on stage pre-show) to set the tone for the entire experience. There is also some discussion on having pre-show videos or an announcer singing your praises and why Penn is very much against it (except at corporate gigs.) There is even talk about what type of information is appropriate to reveal, and what isn’t. I found this highly entertaining and informative.
Luke Jermay - For me, this interview is the most valuable in the book in terms of a full system for using pre-show. Jermay lays out precisely how he uses pre-show in his theatre shows, and why he feels it is so effective. Of all the pre-show knowledge in the book, I found this to be the most practical and applicable advice, but it’s really only good advice for those who perform theatre shows. Perhaps there is a way you could incorporate the idea into other environments, but as is, it’s really best suited for that particular venue. There are some really clever ruses explained here which add to the deception of the pre-show; including a way to make the selection of the participant appear to be totally at random. How Asi was able to convince Jermay to explain all of these subtleties is beyond me, but I’m very thankful for it.
Final Words - Asi uses this opportunity to wrap up everything he has discussed thus far and recap everything the reader has learned.
Epilogue - The book concludes with a real-life story of a pre-show drawing duplication that went horribly wrong, but Asi was able to save the day; in fact, the horrible mistake ended up making the routine more incredible than he intended with an extra kicker that even he didn’t see coming.
There is a lot of valuable information being shared here--especially for the beginner who has never used pre-show. The main problem I have with the book is that oddly enough, the way it is written makes pre-show feel more intimidating instead of less intimidating. I think it all comes down to the prologue. The book doesn’t kick off with a story of a successful pre-show or the best reaction ever received from pre-show; instead, the book starts off with a horror story, and this sets the tone for the whole book. The rest of the book is written with this style which explains all the ways pre-show sucks, and then provides some solutions which can help it suck less. Even the epilogue tells a story of a pre-show failure. By pure chance, Asi was able to salvage it, but at the end of the book, the reader's final encounter with pre-show is another disaster. Sure, it ended in success, but the success was not because of the tools implemented throughout the book. I can easily see how a reader who is afraid of pre-show could read this book and only focus on all of the negative aspects brought up. Instead of being excited about the miracles pre-show can create, the reader now has a check list of all the things they are expecting to go wrong with the routine during the show. The interviews add to this feeling as well considering Max Maven and Penn Jillette have mostly negative things to say about pre-show in the traditional sense. They spend the majority of the interview explaining why they dislike the technique or why they don't use the technique. You really have to dig through the negativity to find the positive thoughts.
What this book certainly gets across is that pre-show isn’t for the faint of heart. This isn’t a technique just anyone can add into their show. It takes guts, it takes bravery, it takes scripting, and ultimately, it takes being unafraid of possible failure. This book prepares you for all of this, and it gives you all of the tools you can use to help your odds at succeeding, but the very nature of pre-show prevents anyone from ever being able to give you the tools to ensure you will NEVER fail. And this is why pre-show isn’t for everyone, and you know what, that’s okay! It’s probably better that not everyone is using pre-show.
If you think you could never do pre-show, I doubt this book is going to change your mind. However, if you’ve always wanted to do pre-show, but you don’t know where to start, and you don’t know what precautions to take, then this book may be just what you need to give you the courage to try it.