Setting the Stage - Eric Samuels
This is a massive tome. As such, it’s going to be quite a lengthy review. I am going to try to be as brief as possible to allow to for some extrapolation on the pieces that stand out to me more than the others. To help with this pursuit, I am going to be ignoring the essays. This is not to say the essays aren’t important—on the contrary, they often contain nuggets of gold that can radically shift your thinking. Rather, I am leaving them out to not divulge their contents so that when you read the book, you’ll find those nuggets of gold yourself.
Also, there will be many routines in the book where I don’t describe the full effect—this is because often times in this book, the presentation is where the value lies.
The Influential Opener-
Version One: The performer correctly predicts a series of choices made by all of the audience members. This is a wonderful opening. One of the best openings I’ve ever come across, in fact. It involves everyone and has an ending which no one will see coming.
Version Two: Again, the performer correctly predicts a series of choices made by all of the audience members, but this time there’s more of a psychological approach. I believe this is the version Eric currently uses, and I can see why. It packs a punch, and it also gets away from something which is perhaps overused nowadays.
The Personal Opener - Another wonderful opener here. Without giving too much away, everyone thinks of a card, a person is randomly selected, and the card they chose is clearly meant for them and them alone. It will play for a medium sized audience, but I don’t think it would play for a huge house of 500 people.
The Very Personal Opener - This is generally the same effect as above, but involves less preparation ahead of time and cuts your cost by 90%. It’s a little less impressive than the previous version, but it provides more opportunity for you personality to shine.
The Heckler Deck - This is something you can make up and will hopefully never have to use, but it is a perfect heckler stopper.
Which-Hand Weatherman - A which hand routine with a shocking prediction of all their choices. The prediction occurs naturally and it gives a nice change of pace from pulling something out of an envelope. This can also set you up beautifully for a kicker ending to your show to bring it full circle.
Heads I Win, Tails You Lose - This is a wonderful set up for a running gag throughout your show. Its entertainment value is through the roof. I’ll be using this one.
A Lot at Stake - A two-bag Russian roulette routine with additional kickers built in. This takes a simple 50/50 trick and turns it into a full routine with multiple moments of revelation.
Red, White, Blue, and Popcorn - This is another Russian roulette routine with more bags and a way to give those bags more meaning than merely numbering them 1-4.
Lie Detector - This is a lie detector routine that looks like a genuine demonstration of skill rather than a psychic gift. There is nothing too exciting here, but it is a workable routine which is charming.
El Fontero - This is Eric’s take on a classic opener. He has imbued it with entertainment and added an additional kicker which involves more of the audience. The combination of principles here do a great job of canceling each other out. If I had seen this performed, I would have thought I knew what was happening, but the kicker would have thrown me for a big loop.
The Story of Your Life - Entertainment at its finest. Eric has taken another classic and made it memorable. Great audience participation where the spectator’s become the ones in the spotlight. I think this piece is great, and the marking system is especially original, but it’s not something I would perform simply because of my lack of movie knowledge—it wouldn’t play naturally for me.
Just Like Animals - This is the same method as the previous routine, but with a totally different presentation. I love this version; I think it eliminates the problems I had with the previous version. It is once again pure entertainment value. I will use this. What I love about both of these routines is it is a routine we’ve all seen and many of us have performed, but Eric didn’t stop there. He kept thinking and kept building until he had something ten times more entertaining. You’ll see a lot of this in Eric’s work. This wins the first WTP Award.*
Solemate - A match maker routine with a simple method leaving you plenty of space to focus on entertaining. The method here is one Eric has perfected. The tips in this section will change how I use this prop.
A House is More Than a Home - You perfectly duplicate a spectator’s drawing of a house based on the answers they give you about themself. This comes across almost as a reading based on their drawing of a house, but without you first seeing how they drew it. It’s not a show stopper, but it is a nice routine for the middle of your show, but it doesn’t really fit my style.
Butterflies - This routine shows you how to get the most out of revealing a first crush. It begins with a personal story to set the mood; once again this turns a simple reveal into a full performance piece.
The Touch Game: The Long Walk Home - This is a Seven Keys to Baldpate routine with an intriguing amount of byplay produced by the fact that a spectator’s car keys are locked in a box and the eliminated keys are dropped into the box meaning that if the “correct key” gets dropped into the box, there is absolutely no way to open it to remove the contents. Great comedy value here.
The Touch Game: Touched by an Angle - No that’s not a typo, that’s the title. This is the same general routine as above with the addition of more spectators and a kicker ending describing the person who correctly intuits which is the correct key. I prefer this version of the previous—it provides a unique moment on the stage which will feel different from everything else in your show.
The No-Newspaper Prediction - I absolutely love this. This is a newspaper test that uses something other than a newspaper. The item this uses provides some natural comedic potential. The method is simple making it very effective, and there’s some nice subtleties to make it impossible to backtrack. I will be using this one for sure. It is so very good—don’t let the simplicity fool you. This wins the second WTP Award.*
The First Mentalist - This is a Christmas themed routine. You deduce what people wanted for Christmas as a child, and you get a kicker of having predicted one of their most wanted gifts. I like the routine, but I don’t see myself using it unless it’s at a holiday gig. Although I should specify, you don’t HAVE to do it during Christmas; the prologue established the premise very well.
With Thanks to Ed Sheehan - You build a structure that a spectator is just thinking of. This is such a visually interesting routine that will add variety into your set.
Foundational Memories - This is a mental epic routine with a kicker revelation of a predicted first crush. This final kicker comes at the very end of your show and ties back to this routine. It does require two marketed items to do it exactly as described, but you could really use whatever method you currently have.
Identity Theft: Cease and Desist - This is a routine which gives an Add-A-Number effect some meaning.
Identity Theft: Pastwords - Again, not a typo. This combines the previous effect with an additional prediction of a pet’s name; the two are put together to form a strong password. Unfortunately, it’s not strong enough because the performer successfully predicts it. This routine plays very largely and gives some much needed context to an often dull prediction.
Thought-Slicing - From the slightest bits of information, a spectator is able to intuit what picture a puzzle makes; then they are able to intuit the missing piece. This is Eric’s wonderful take on a classic routine. The touches Eric has added make for a genuinely intriguing premise, provide a great beginning effect, and the method he uses is cleaner than any other version I’ve seen—no force bags here.
Fork in the Set - This is a very clean ESP demonstration. It is very clean because Eric is using a marketed item (and not a cheap one) to know which symbol has been chosen. If you already have this piece of technology, Eric gives you some cold reading advice to make the routine play big.
At the Movies - This is visual revelation which will surprise the audience. It isn’t a serious and dramatic piece of mind reading, rather, it’s over very quickly and will feel a bit more like a gag than an amazing piece of mind reading. Then again, it is an interesting visual, so perhaps that is enough of a reason to add this into your set. Just don’t count on this being your opener or closer.
Ogres and Onions Have Layers - This is a routine specifically designed for radio. It has some great dual reality going on to make the effect for the listener even stronger than the effect is for those watching in the studio.
#1 With a Bullet - The spectator sings a chosen song in their head, and the performer is able to sing along. The method used here is a combination of several and gives you a cleanliness you couldn’t get using other methods. They are given a list to choose from, and there freely chose a song they know. You will always know the song.
Add-A-Combo - This is an add-a-number routine where the audience’s chosen numbers add up to a combination for a locked box. Not only that, the box contains a paper with the number written to prove it’s not a trick lock. It’s a simple routine to make up and perform.
Inflated Words - A gag prediction turns into a real prediction which is impossible to fake because it’s inside of a ballon. The combination of principles here will keep the audience on their toes. It provides great misdirections and in fact, the effect may even be misremembered as being more impossible than it truly is.
Free Falling - This is the first closing effect described. It is a large scale version of Deddy Corbuzier’s Free Will effect with a kicker ending revelation of very specific information about three borrowed items. If you want to perform this, it will take some work to make up, but the effect is very strong and seems truly impossible thanks to the mixing of methods.
Eric’s Phone Book Closer - This is a powerful closing effect. The essay before this details how this routine came to be and I’ll just say—it wasn’t easy. In the US, we may be a bit more fortunate than our Canadian counterpart here. We could probably make this up rather quickly by doing “the work” to a dollar bill instead of having to go through the challenging task that Eric went through. Clearly a lot of thought has gone into this routine. It is set up at the very beginning of the show, and it leaves the audience with a moment that the entire audience experiences individually.
That covers it for the routines in Setting the Stage! What I can’t stress enough is that the routines only account for half of the book. Between virtually every routine, the reader is treated to an essay; each one covering a different topic. The essays often provide even more value than the routines, and they cannot be skipped.
Ultimately, I can’t recommend this enough. It’s a massive book with 400 pages, and the pages are filled to the brim with text. This isn’t one of those books with a lot of blank pages or big font to “fluff” it out. Every word on every page is meaningful and valuable. When you’re reading, don’t skip a single word.
*The Worth The Price Award, or WTP Award for short, is a new system I will have in place when reviewing products. Look out for the WTP Award(s) to know which routine(s) or principle(s) is my favorite.