Pre-show Pizzaz

June 18, 2019

By Trudy Horsting

What is a pre-show? A pre-show is any performance an ensemble puts on before the music of their show begins. While not scored, a pre-show is often used to set the mood for the show. Arguably, one of the most captivating pre-shows in recent years was performed by CGT Dallas in their 2018 program, “Dust and Ashes.”

Many would be shocked to learn it was the first time they had ever put on such a production. 

The Emergence of an Idea

CGT Dallas (2018)

To say that the pre-show performance given by CGT Dallas in 2018 was memorable would be an understatement. The performers lit up the arena as soon as they stepped out of the tunnel, immediately drawing the audience in and quite literally, setting the stage for what was to come.

The vision came from Michael Shapiro, who began talking to CGT Dallas Director Mathew Rummel at the 2017 World Championships about his idea. The 2018 production was based on both the Leo Tolstoy novel, War and Peace and the Broadway show, Natasha and Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812. Shapiro wanted to begin the show by introducing the characters in a way that would be both fun and engaging for the audience. The purpose of this program was to entertain, and Shapiro wanted to make that clear from the very beginning.

The idea came together smoothly despite the fact that Rummel and Shapiro weren’t even in the same room as it was translated on to the floor for the first time. The soundtrack, created by Shapiro, flowed seamlessly from the pre-show to the actual performance. Rummel says, “Shapiro was across the country the weekend we were working on it. I sent him 30 second clips at a time and we made adjustments—but for the most part, he had communicated the vision enough that we got it right almost the first time through.”

Typical of all program directors, Rummel says they could have continued to enhance the pre-show for another 10 weeks, but overall, the production came together just as Shapiro had envisioned.

The Pros and Cons

Their 2018 program clearly had outstanding entertainment value, but Rummel also articulates some of the less obvious advantages of using a pre-show. He explains that not only is it a way to aesthetically set up props and equipment, it can change the tone of the entire arena from the moment the first performer steps out on the floor.

CGT Dallas (2018)

Rummel says it turns the full interval time into a true theatrical experience for everyone in attendance. The performers are able to warm up to the audience and the space, and likewise the audience is able to warm up to the performers and the show they’re about to witness. While it did increase the physical exertion his performers had to put out, he explains that it calmed them more than anything else. “It allowed them a time outside of the ‘judged’ portion of our performance to connect with the audience and get out their jitters.”

Rummel cautions those considering using a pre-show in their production to be sure to closely read the WGI handbook and ask questions if need be to ensure all of the rules are followed. “The last thing you would want is for your performers, or the audience, to be adversely affected due to a lack of understanding of the rules.” But he speaks highly of every interaction he had with WGI throughout the process. Ultimately, he articulates, that WGI and the contest directors want to do everything in their power to help programs put on the best production possible.

Configuring the timing of the show was one of the biggest challenges. Rummel says, “10 minutes seems like a long time, but when you are running things down to the second, everything you do matters.” He kept track of the time on both his phone and his watch to ensure everything went according to schedule each show. Thanks to precise planning, hours of rehearsal, and a clearly articulated vision, CGT Dallas pulled off their 2018 production with the appearance of grace and ease.

A Warm Reception

The success of this program’s first ever pre-show is a clear testament to the value pre-shows can have as an entity. Additionally, it has served as an inspiration for other programs.

“I am thankful for Michael Shapiro’s vision for our 2018 production—not simply for the vehicle it provided for our performers to stand out, but also for the doors it opens for the activity as a whole to realize new levels of creativity,” says Rummel.

The proud director makes it clear that this show was not only meant to be enjoyed by the members performing it, but by everyone who ever saw it come to life. With style and precision, CGT Dallas certainly exceeded even their own expectations.

“I would like everyone to know how very thankful I am for the warm-reception this provided for our performers, from WGI administrators, contest coordinators, and judges, to audience members. It was magical listening to the audience go wild for them the second the first person stepped out from that curtain. I still get butterflies thinking about how exciting that is for the members. That will be a memory they carry with them for life.”

A New Opportunity

CGT Dallas (2019)

As the 2018 pre-show was inarguably successful, it was almost a no-brainer that CGT Dallas would utilize a pre-show in 2019. He says, “Our show this season was a look into the ‘cat and mouse’ game you would see between a criminal on the run, and the law enforcement in pursuit. The pre-show music referenced “criminal” music from other areas of pop culture (“Criminal” by Fiona Apple, and “Bad Boys” the theme from Cops) which help set that mood while we saw two criminals work their way around the floor, engage the audience, and set the narrative of the criminal on the run.” Contrarily to the 2018 production, they did not use a pre-recorded announcement this year and Rummel says he was pleased how well both approaches worked.

2019 was also CGT Denton’s first year in World Class, and therefore the first year they were able to utilize a pre-show according to past WGI guidelines. Of course, Rummel took the opportunity.

CGT Denton (2019)

He says, “CGT Denton’s program, “Wanted” was based on the age old drama of a woman torn between the love of a safe and honorable cowboy and the thrilling danger of being wanted by a notorious outlaw; we used the preshow to set up that narrative. We began with the sweet song, “Cowboy Take Me Away” by the Dixie Chicks, where you saw the tender interaction, right into “Wanted, Dead or Alive” by Bon Jovi, which set up the contrasting character of the outlaw.”

All of the benefits of a pre-show showcased by CGT Dallas in 2018 shined through again this year for CGT Dallas and CGT Denton. Seeing just how beneficial they were for calming the nerves of his performers, in addition to creating a seamless viewing experience for the audience, Rummel was moved to submit a proposal to the WGI Color Guard Advisory Board, which would allow all classes the opportunity to utilize a pre-show. Just this May, the proposal was passed.

Not only did this organization’s 2018 program provide an experience for everyone present in every arena it entered, it raised the bar for pre-shows as a whole, truly setting a new precedent for pre-shows in the activity. Additionally, it led the way for this opportunity to be granted for all performance classes and we can’t wait to see what pre-shows are to come in future A, Open, and World Class productions.

About the Author



Trudy Horsting is a graduate student at Arizona State University pursuing her PhD in Political Science. She holds a BA in Political Science and a BA in Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication from James Madison University. While at JMU she was a member, and for two years a captain, of the Marching Royal Dukes Colorguard and JMU Nuance Winterguard. This past season, she spun with First Flight World.