Pre-Show, Dual Reality, and Careful Scripting
Recently, J.R. and I had the opportunity to see a small theater show by a magician we both respect, and who has created material we both enjoy watching and performing. In the show he had a very strong book test, with a pre showed, dual reality closer. Unfortunately, due to an inattentive spectator, the effect didn’t quite come off, but it, and the memory of the Derren Brown show we mentioned last week, got me think about the importance of really strong scripting, especially in effects like that one.
Any dual reality effects require you to be very careful in keeping two views or perceptions of an event separate, and pre-show work directly challenges this by forcing you to remind the spectator of the other reality in that very moment without reminding the audience at large. While the specific techniques used will vary effect to effect and performer to performer, one mainstay will be careful scripting, such that the words can (and hopefully must) be interpreted correctly but differently by the two groups. Creating this dual language can be difficult, but definitely pays off in the impact effects that properly employ it can have. (For some excellent examples of this and more ideas in this area, check out almost anything by Luke Jermay.)
For example, here is a simple script designed to elicit a pre-showed word from a spectator at the end of a book test like the one seen in the show. This script assumes this spectator was handed the book and asked to confirm that the page numbers where on the bottoms of the pages (for another phase of the effect), to make sure the book wasn’t just the same few pages repeating over and over again, and then to immediately pass it off to another spectator. After reading the mind of the spectator they handed the book to you turn to them and say:
“A moment ago I asked you to confirm the page numbers are on the bottom of the pages, and that the book is normal, correct?” “Yes.” “But I think, even before that, you had seen a word, one that really rooted itself into your head. Is that right? Are you thinking of a word?” “Yes, I am.” “Focus on that word now, the one rooted there, not one that maybe just floated through, or that you skimmed over...”
Since verifying the page numbers was the first thing the spectator did with the book, being told to think back to before that must mean before they had the book, and thus to the pre-show when you forced or peeked a word they chose. Combine this with the repetition of a specific phrase in both the pre-show work and the moment of recall to jog their memory (“rooted itself,” or whatever fits your presentational style), and asking them not to think of a word that floated through or that they skimmed over (and since you hurry them through checking the book they really only have time to skim it), you ensure they arrive back at the intended word.
Additionally, none of these instructions to the spectator tip that they are actually thinking of a word not from that book to the rest of the audience. Since most of them wouldn’t be able to see the spectator directly they can certainly believe that they had more time looking through the book, or spent more time really scouring any given page, than you allowed. If additionally you have the book handed back to them just before you begin this phase (but don’t give them a chance to open) and ask them to stand and pass the book back to you after you reveal the word, then you will visually bookend the effect with the image and idea of them holding and looking at the book.
Seeing this show certainly prompted me to look back over a lot of my scripting choices, and hopefully it will help you as well.