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  1. #1
    Raymond Singson's Avatar :: Lead Forum Manager
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    On Billets

    A couple performers in the Philadelphia area link up once a month and session at a local bar/restaurant in the suburbs. The sessions rarely have any primary focus; the performers simply come together and discuss and share whatever they like. Last night was particularly interesting as there was a strong focus on mentalism. I started talking about the use of billets and wanted to elaborate on some thoughts here. Hoping more experienced guys like Craig can contribute to the discussion as well.

    In my opinion, the use of billets are often overlooked in contemporary performance. Over the past decade, the industry released several clever peek wallets, impression devices, and even electronic apps to help a performer secretly acquire information for use in mentalism. The low-tech, rudimentary presence and use of such billets--in my opinion-- outweigh a lot of the benefits that such 'advances' offer in terms of real-world practicality, pocket space, and versatility. I carry billets everywhere I go and often rely on them to perform for formal and causal audiences, alike.

    Last night, I was asked how I justify the use of a billet-- or how I justify someone writing a thought down on paper. I did some reflection on the spot, and noticed... the way I personally present billet work doesn't require justification at all. I simply tell a person to write down the name of a close relative that I obviously would never know; the more unique a name, the better, to disqualify any chances of mere guesswork. Here's the thing... a participant shouldn't exactly know what to expect when they first write a name down on the paper. At that point, it's simply a request for them to do a task. Too often, I observe other performers have the spectator think of the name/information FIRST... commit that name/information to memory... and THEN have the individual write the name down. In my opinion, if the participant knows you're a supposed thought-reader, the last thing you want them focus on a thought before they write it down. It's subtle, but I think it's very important. It makes no sense for them to think of something first, expect you to read their minds, only to have them write the information down. That's where you'll see the majority of spectators grow skeptical and resistant to your performance. On the other hand-- if you just hand them the paper and tell them to write down a name... they're completing a task rather than making a thought. They have no context to make any assumptions. They can't tell what you're about to do because you haven't given any inclination. Even if they know you're a thought-reader... at this point, the name isn't a thought to be revealed yet; it's simply a name written on paper. Hoping that makes sense.

    I also found that effective billet work is nearly completely reliant on attitude. After the participant writes down the information and folds the billet in preparation for a peek or tear, it should appear to be the last thing on the performer's mind. I tell the participant to "just toss the paper aside" and solely focus on the information. I interact with the participant a lot here and try to (a) develop some time misdirection between the reveal and the spectator writing the information down and (b) legitimately attempt to read the participant. This is a great time to practice and grow proficient a cold reading. At the end, you're going to have a surefire personal revelation, so you can take your time here to branch off and attempt to explore the relationship between the participant and the information they wrote down. Try to turn misses into hits. Make it a two-way conversation and get the participant emotionally invested in what you're attempting to do. I find that some of the most memorable moments occur in this dialogue of the performance. For instance, at a recent Sweet 16 gig, I had a girl write down the name of her childhood best friend. After tossing the paper to the side the following exchange happened:

    *****

    "Just toss the paper aside. We'll try this instead. Hold my hands; take a deep breath and relax. No one else is here but you and me. Drown out the party; drown out everyone watching... if we can both focus on one another, something amazing will happen that you'll remember for the rest of your life. I promise."

    "Okay..."

    "Imagine this person standing before you right now. Take in what they looked like when you last spoke to them. Focus on their features and posture and mannerisms. ...Good. You're looking up. Noticing hair right now; I'm assuming this is a female figure, yes? A brunette girl..."

    "YES! It's a girl, but she's not brunette..."

    "But she does have her hair back in your imagination-- The important thing here is to focus more on your relationship with this person. You're close; almost like sisters-- but you're not related, that's right? And for some reason, it's been a while since you reached out to one another..."

    "...Yeah." (I personally noticed she hesitated as if she was almost uncertain of something. I felt the need to explore it.)

    "Wait... you did. Not too long ago; about a week... maybe two. Did she text you or did you text her?"

    "No." (I noticed she smiled as if there was something I was 'on' about but not enough to be accurate)

    "There's something here though. Don't give anything away. You did text someone... someone close to her. Was it her sister?"

    "OH MY GOD, YES! Her sister texted me about a picture she found from a birthday they had!" (This was like a Godsend for me. They. Twins?

    "Awesome! Now wait... there's something interesting about your friend and her sister. I might be totally offbase, but they're really close in age, right?"

    "They're TWINS!"

    "Wait, wait, wait... they're twins. But there's a difference between the two... Don't give me any names, but did one of them dye their hair?"

    "OH MY GOD! YES! They didn't dye their hair, but they were identical twins except one was blonde and the other was brunette! That's just like what you said! How are you doing this?!"

    *****

    That is a genuinely true story. Most people will say I just came out stupid lucky... I'd agree with that, but I wouldn't have gotten lucky if I didn't attempt to do a genuine read in the first place. It might sound static and too good to be true on paper, but in practice, as a performer, you get so much comprehensible input to work with. Hints in body language, facial expressions, verbal responses, all assist you in making choices in dialogue. And I did all that without touching the billet at all. In fact, that interaction played so well, I contemplated leaving it there and not even referring to the name again. I ultimately decided to execute a tear and leave the pieces with the participant as if I was finished. She ultimately asked me if I knew the name she was thinking about. When I answered, I whispered in her ear, and she freaked out. It was one of the major highlights of the entire evening. Played even stronger, because she specifically asked me to reveal the information.

    I suppose I'll end this post here. I could literally talk about little pieces of paper for hours, but I hope there's enough food for thought here. To recap, in my opinion-- I believe effective billet work follows this structure:

    1. The information isn't initially treated like a thought.
    2. After the information is written, the paper is completely disregarded.
    3. Billet work/revelations make for perfect opportunities to make strong cold readings.
    4. The written information isn't considered a thought until well after the paper is disregarded/discarded.

    So long as the performance follows the guidelines above, I believe the billets are essentially rendered invisible among the spectators.

    Thoughts?

    RS.

  2. #2
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    I love using billets, and I would say it is a good 60-75 percent of what I do in mentalism. Center tear is an incredibly strong routine when presented correctly. Additionally, you can go your route and disregard the importance of writing it down, not giving any justification for the action, or you can do what other people do and make a good reason for writing it down. Both work well, and I use both. "To commit to the thought in writing" is always a good phrase for the latter.

    One of the reasons I use billets a lot because I do a lot of close up mentalism, and billets in this field are indispensable, as well as being suitable for stage work. I just did an improvised routine this weekend that started as Corinda's opener effect with the swami. However when I asked "Why was that the three digit number?" as I nail-wrote it down, he responded that it was the first three of his social sec #. Without hesitation I pretended to look for something, pulled out a wallet and set it down on the table. After this I poket-wrote "Social sec #" and produced it from the wallet. This is combining the swami gimmick with billets in a prediction format. The point here is that billets are super utilitarian and will help you not only accomplish a variety of effects, but also improvise.

    Another reason to use billets is that you can use this to practice the difficult art of pencil reading. If you pencil read successfully, you really can disregard the billet as if it were not important for real! If not, then peek the word, and you still got to practice a different skill anyway.
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  3. #3
    Craig Browning's Avatar :: Elite Member
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    In my opinion, if you don't do billet work in some form you are NOT a "Mentalist" in that this is one of the most convenient and powerful techniques used in this craft when coupled with Reading skills. Put another way, name me any other technique in the whole of magic that's started religions. . .

    To this day Billets are still used in certain religious settings both, Pentecostal and Spiritualist alike and yes, they are referred to as Billets in many cases, contrary to what certain contemporary "experts" like to claim.

    THE PROBLEM comes in a couple of forms; magician's guilt being the first major hurdle with a strange psychological sense of "illogic" being the second. As so many contend; it doesn't make sense for a person to write something down and then you reveal it.

    As Bob Cassidy points out, you have them do this under the auspices of keeping them honest so "You don't change your mind and make me look like a fool". . . which happens.

    Magician's Guilt is a huge problem in all of Mentalism due to a handful of reasons the foremost being the B.S. put out by the non-believers and cynics that one is to not present "tricks" in a manner that invokes belief or in a way that suggests that we really can discern thoughts, etc. Well here's a News Flash -- Mentalism and your success with it is based on your ability to invoke belief and get the audience (and especially participants) to invest themselves into what you are doing. . . and understand, the array of effects you do are but tools that aid you in creating the biggest and most important illusion -- your claim of ability. If you are presenting things as NLP then the effects you do are (should be) laid out in such a manner as to make NLP viable in that this is your claim. Same goes with Hypnosis/Suggestion or any number of other concepts including the Psychic idea, which many do embrace and promote.

    Raymond's OP is filled with the attitude and subtlety of a skilled billet worker, I'd suggest you re-read it a few times but more so, I'd suggest you read through Bob Cassidy's short dissertation on doing a Billet Reading in his book Theories & Methods for the Practical Psychics, which preludes his work on the Baker Billet Switch. This short example did more to help me "advance" my work with billets than anything I've ever read.

    As Raymond has explained, once the writing is done you "ignore" the slip, it is no longer a thing of import but used more as a focusing tool for the sitter and in some cases, for the mind reader so that he/she can have a kind of psychometric connection with the questioner. When you work with billets it is your Reading and feedback that create the "misdirection" and which make things more "impossible", detouring the sitter's desire, let alone their ability, to backtrack and discover what you've actually done.

    For years I loathed the Center Tear because it was the least logical "peek" out there but I've found ways, after years of experimenting, to get around that issue and how to apply that principle to a handful of routines. Ironically, one of those routines is a re-enactment of the original Mitt Joint Reading done over a century ago. In reconstructing that handling I can see why it was so powerful and well guarded; it's a shame so many magicians have *******ized the technique and turned it into a trick rather than seeing it as a tool. Nonetheless, this has become a method in my arsenal because I elected to learn how to work with it, which is the point. Something Rick Maue got me to see; to challenge yourself to use methods and even effects that you loathe so that you can transform them and turn them into something that excites both, you and your patrons.

    PEEK WALLETS is where I have a major issue in that you will NEVER find any self-respecting Psychic as a person to write something down and and then put it into their own (the psychic's) wallet or business card case for safe keeping. The instant you do this you're creating a "trick" in the mind of the observer and setting yourself up for what we call "a grabber" in the business -- someone that will at minimum, suspect the wallet and in many instances, demand to see the device. The only time I've not seen this kind of reaction is when the public knows they are dealing with a magician. . . and just like doing card tricks and claiming Psychic Ability, this is one of the quickest ways to be proven a fraud. BUT, that does not mean you can't use such devices. . . should you have a partner or shill at the table you could borrow their wallet. . . this distances things and creates a disconnect. Similarly, you can use tools like Hilford's Serpent Wallet for making billet switches (I happen to love this particular device). The other gaffed wallet I've used is the Versadex by Larry Becker -- a billet index system that allows you to deliver a wide variety of effects with little effort. I likewise use the SUC styled wallet but more for pocket writing type work than peeking. . . again, it doesn't make sense to me to put their card into my wallet.

    GETTING ONE AHEAD can be accomplished numerous ways but you will find that the various imp pad systems and electronic gadgets FAIL! If the wax on your Butterfly Pad is too cold you won't get a good impression though it is one of the better systems available to us. If you don't have that special pen you can't use your Parapad, etc. Where I love and actually prefer to rely on Imp systems, I've learned the hard way that they can lead to failure and so, you must think on your feet. Nine times out of ten that means you will resort to traditional billet techniques in order to recover.

    Elliot Bresler's SWITCHCRAFT and the Alan Zingg MASTER BILLET COURSE are the best investments any serious student of Mentalism can make early in their studies. Couple this with a long list of Bob Cassidy manuscripts as well as those by Docc Hilford and you'll be well on your way.
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    @Craig:
    It seems that i only can get Vol. 3 and 4 from Allen Zinggs Master Course, at least from my usual shop. Would you recommend to search for the first two volumes, for a complete beginner (save some experiments with the accidus novus)?
    vincit, qui se vincit

  5. #5
    Craig Browning's Avatar :: Elite Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by T-Beta View Post
    @Craig:
    It seems that i only can get Vol. 3 and 4 from Allen Zinggs Master Course, at least from my usual shop. Would you recommend to search for the first two volumes, for a complete beginner (save some experiments with the accidus novus)?
    I got mine direct from Alan, you may try tracking him down on Facebook
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    Quote Originally Posted by Craig Browning View Post
    I got mine direct from Alan, you may try tracking him down on Facebook
    Thank you very much. Will try it and see if i am able to find him.
    vincit, qui se vincit

  7. #7
    Shawn Mullins's Avatar :: Team Ellusionist
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    I've learned a few different methods over the years including Acidus Novus/ Globus, multiple instant access tears, delayed read tears and switches.

    After a longer time of playing with them, I prefer the delayed read center tear. I think it has all the right things going for it over all. The method I use was found in a smaller sold booklet by Bill Abbott called "Pack Smart Play Anywhere." It was basically a full show sold in an Ipad case at his lecture. It's basically a standard tear and steal with a REALLY nice way to conceal the center as well as read it.

    Another person who has INCREDIBLE work on billets is Bob Cassidy. He has a TON of work on them out there.
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    I like to justify having information written down as me wanting them to share the information with the rest of the audience, but not by saying it out loud or whispering it in case I overhear. Here, they're writing it down so they can secretly show it to others, and I play around with group consciousness or what have you.

    Alternatively: "If you can't hide it, paint it red." Ask them to write it down in huge, clear letters because after I say what it is, we'll turn it around to show everyone to see if I'm right.

  9. #9
    Craig Browning's Avatar :: Elite Member
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    ". . . I have you write it down for two reasons; first, it keeps you from changing your mind and making me look like an ***, later on; and secondly, it helps you focus on the item in question" -- Bob Cassidy

    I use this line in the opening sequence of my show or demonstrations and it never is questioned again.

    Tears & Peeks have their place but to my mind, these can be very limiting as well as awkward. You really need to think through your approach and explain why the slip is going to be destroyed up-front; this is a subtlety that you will not find in print but it is the tactic used by the yesteryear spiritualists, the excuse was that the slip would be burnt so the essence of the prayer/concern could be raised into the cosmos, allowing the medium to work with their guides and find a solution of some kind. The only other routine I know of that gives you this advantage is Cassidy's NAME & PLACE (Where & When).

    When it comes to Peek Wallets and such -- DON'T USE THEM! It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever and I can assure you that there isn't a single psychic operator out there that you'll find asking a client to jot something down and then place it into the psychic's own wallet or card case. . . the instant you do this it becomes suspect because it's not "natural".

    Imp Systems. . . yes, I use them frequently and yet, sparingly. I tend to use the Jon Rigg's devices more than not and I almost always have my Butterfly handy for improvisational situations. It is very rare that I use an Imp device when doing pre-show or working a room in that they are not always reliable whereas billets are.

    Get SWITCHCRAFT by Elliot Bresler and challenge yourself to go as far as you can with those little slips of paper. . .
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  10. #10
    Raymond Singson's Avatar :: Lead Forum Manager
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    Quote Originally Posted by Craig Browning View Post
    ". . . I have you write it down for two reasons; first, it keeps you from changing your mind and making me look like an ***, later on; and secondly, it helps you focus on the item in question" -- Bob Cassidy

    I use this line in the opening sequence of my show or demonstrations and it never is questioned again.

    Tears & Peeks have their place but to my mind, these can be very limiting as well as awkward. You really need to think through your approach and explain why the slip is going to be destroyed up-front; this is a subtlety that you will not find in print but it is the tactic used by the yesteryear spiritualists, the excuse was that the slip would be burnt so the essence of the prayer/concern could be raised into the cosmos, allowing the medium to work with their guides and find a solution of some kind. The only other routine I know of that gives you this advantage is Cassidy's NAME & PLACE (Where & When).

    When it comes to Peek Wallets and such -- DON'T USE THEM! It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever and I can assure you that there isn't a single psychic operator out there that you'll find asking a client to jot something down and then place it into the psychic's own wallet or card case. . . the instant you do this it becomes suspect because it's not "natural".

    Imp Systems. . . yes, I use them frequently and yet, sparingly. I tend to use the Jon Rigg's devices more than not and I almost always have my Butterfly handy for improvisational situations. It is very rare that I use an Imp device when doing pre-show or working a room in that they are not always reliable whereas billets are.

    Get SWITCHCRAFT by Elliot Bresler and challenge yourself to go as far as you can with those little slips of paper. . .
    Hi Craig,

    Would you suggest that one cannot be a mentalist if they don't intend on considering themselves psychic operators? Are entertainers not considered mentalists? I ask in reference to your particular disdain for peek wallets. While I wholly sympathize with your opinion, I believe I'm personally more forgiving of them as I don't consider my particular model a "highlight" of my personal repertoire at all. I feel as though much of what I do in terms of mentalism/mental-magic garners the credibility that many traditional mentalists pursue. By the time I use my wallet (if I use it at all), I've already demonstrated my supposed abilities to read emotions, attitudes, and thoughts cold. And personally-- I actually take those slips of paper from my wallet, so the thing is incidentally "in play" whether it's actually being used to gain information or not.

    *****

    Regarding billets, I've also started playing with the idea of making billets more organic in nature. I've used old receipts, train tickets, and subway passes to have people write information down at a spur of the moment. This minute change gives the entire performance a real impromptu feel about it, as if I really am just making the experience up as I go along. I haven't done this enough to make a solid opinion about it, but so far-- I think audiences are really intrigued by the spontaneous rhythm of just using paper items that fit the scenarios I naturally find myself in. At some level, I hope doing so actually renders the billet work more invisible.

    RS.

  11. #11
    Craig Browning's Avatar :: Elite Member
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    No, I'm not saying that you must take the psychic angle of presentation but rather, whatever claim you go with you must make believable -- viable -- to the audience so they will invest belief (suspending disbelief) into whatever your claim & demonstration envelop. When it comes to using devices like Peek Wallets, etc. I have to question their application because the instant you introduce such a tool, you create reason for suspicion -- an "out" for the layman via which they can suspect some mode of duplicity on your part.

    Using the common items you mention, Raymond is an excellent move! This is exactly what helped build and sustain the Bert Reese reputation in that he'd tear off a piece of newspaper or a blank page from a nearby book so as to create a billet. I've used matchbook covers and constantly use borrowed Business Cards. Another habit of mine is to have pockets filled with such materials as well as handwritten notes in that this allows me to get away with PW techniques as well as a kind of indexing system that I've "developed" via which I can wring in "predictions" under seemingly impossible conditions.
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