by Michelle Rainer
"HI, pleased to meet you," says the man in the black suit as he strides confidently into a conference suite at the Four Seasons Hotel. Trim and bespectacled, he is below average height and of indeterminate age. His hair has that "Just For Men" sheen. He looks a bit like Bruno Gerussi, but he could be anyone-your friend's dad, a car salesman, the energetic senior citizen who works at McDonald's to ease the boredom of retirement.
But he's not anyone. He's The Impossiblist. He's the man they call Reveen.
As a child, there are certain siren songs that drift out of the television set that cannot be ignored. Lego, a pummeling of bratty baby brother, the most concentrated tasks of childhood must be dropped immediately upon their intrusion, and one must turn, youthful eyes glazed with mute obedience, toward the TV screen.
But of all the jingles, catch-phrases, and snappy tunes indoctrinated into my pre-adolescent brain, none was so powerful or long-lasting as the magical strains of Raveen's promotional ad. Every year or two, my TV would sing to me, teasingly, "You'll never forget Raveen."
There's something about Reveen that fascinates. Like a TV commercial that runs for 15 years and still reels in the crowds, he's a winning mix of schmaltz and savvy, showy glitz and keen understanding of the human mind.
At his show the night before, his entrance is a caricature of a Vegas showman or a 19th century carnival barker. The house lights dim, strobe lights bounce and reflect off a giant disco ball in time to the pulsing of suitably high energy music, and the crowd's anticipation grows until you can actually feel it.
But it goes on just a little too long. The music keeps pulsing, the strobes keep flashing, the disco ball keeps spinning, and still there's no sign of the man. Then, after we start to feel a little restless, the curtain goes up and Reveen takes the stage.
Even as a little boy in Australia, Reveen was always interested in theatrics. "At age six-which is a very common age for people to get interested in conjuring or being a magician-I saw a lady magician performing. She produced a beautiful big rabbit out of this flaming dish and I thought that was great," he tells me. "Then she gave us all a little drink out of a bottle and said it was raspberry cordial. Then she broke the bottle and pulled a guinea pig out of it and said it was guinea pig wine."
Reveen was hooked. He began to learn everything he could about magic, haunting the little magic shops, picking up tricks, performing them for whoever he could convince to watch him. By the time he was 12, he was a "semiprofessional magician" who made a tidy little profit playing parties and socials in his neighbourhood.
Then one day, he read an article in a magazine about hypnotism. It described an American padre (preacher) who hypnotized some soldiers during World War II to entertain the troops. "It described the whole thing," says Reveen "and I was fascinated."
Like any 12 year-old who stumbles upon such a piece of information, Reveen tried it on a friend. To his surprise, it worked. But the young Reveen wasn't satisfied just knowing hypnosis was possible. He wanted to know why.
Using the money he made with his magic show, he started to haunt secondhand bookstores to find out more about hypnotism. He read medical books about the pioneers in the field who had tried to move hypnotism beyond the quackery of mesmerism, and history books about James Braid, who coined the term based on the Greek word "hypnos", the goddess of sleep (a name he later regretted as too sensational, as hypnosis has nothing to do with sleep).
Still, Reveen never planned to become a hypnotist. Although his true love was theatre, his parents wanted him to be a doctor. After high school he was stalling, trying to think of a way to go to the Royal Academy of the Arts in England instead of going medical school. As fate would have it, his old preoccupation with hypnotism came in handy when the subject came up at a party. "I jumped right in and said, 'Yes, this is a very interesting science,' and they turned on me. They said 'This is dangerous,' and 'You don't know what you're talking about.' And I said 'It is not dangerous, it is purely suggestion. It is not some mystical force.' "I tried to explain it and they argued back and I stormed out of the party."
Piqued, Raveen decided to tune up his hypnosis skills to prove them wrong. He was still doing his magic show, now with a volunteer group that did shows for charity. Reveen went to the producer and asked if he could do a hypnosis demonstration instead, and invited everyone from the party to come and watch.
"To make a long story short," says Raveen, "I walked off the stage at the end of 83 minutes to a standing ovation. The people from the party all came up to me and said, 'Peter, you've got something here. You were telling us the truth. You should make this into a career.' "And I did. That was goodbye, Royal Academy of the Arts and goodbye any other ambitions."
After a couple of tawdry magic and memorization tricks (one of which doesn't work), and a few corny jokes ("How many of you folks believe in reincarnation?-It's nice to have you back"), Reveen finally gets down to business.
"Hypnosis," he tells us, "is the science of superconscious psychology." It involves nothing more than "applying the power of suggestion to the creative capability of the human mind." He then invites those members of the audience who want to be hypnotized to come up to the stage.
For a moment, my friend Michelle and I look at each other. "Should we go get hypnotized?" I ask. "Let's go," she says, and the next thing we know, we're joining the 150 or so other hopefuls on stage with Reveen.
In order to weed out those not entirely susceptible to the power of suggestion, Reveen goes through a process of elimination. The first round involves about half the men on stage. They are to close their eyes and clasp their hands together over their foreheads. They are to listen only to the sound of Reveen's voice as he tells them to hold their hands tighter and tighter together.
They are unable to unclasp them, he tells them, until the touch of his hand sets them free.
To the rest of us in the theatre, these men look ridiculous. They stand trembling with the exertion of their effort, until, one by one, Reveen comes around and grabs their fists, Earnest Angley style, and they are released from their trance. It looks as though they are all faking.
After the test, only about 25 percent of them remain. Next, it's our turn. Reveen tells us to stand up, tilt our heads back, and focus on a point in the distance. "You are feeling comfortable and relaxed," he says, "Your eyes feel moist and heavy."
Suddenly, the blue light I have been focusing on turns misty and dim. My eyelids droop, and I sway gently, forwards and back, still balanced on my feet. Reveen's voice (which sounded like it came from the bottom of a tin can-if one could get a slap echo in a tin can) is all I notice or care about. It is all around me and in my brain, it tells me to close my eyes and I close my eyes. It tells me to close them tighter and I close them tighter and tighter, as tight as I can.
I won't be able to open them until the touch of Reveen's fingers lets me. I can hear the odd peal of laughter from the audience. I can feel Michelle's arm reassuringly close to mine, I can see the purple light against the black and red of my lids. But I cannot open my eyes, even as a part of me wonders how hard I'm really trying.
Finally, Reveen taps my forehead. At first, I don't respond. After all, I'm only supposed to open my eyes for Reveen, and what if that's not him? Then, he taps again, more insistently, and my eyes fly open. A bit bewildered, I'm told to sit back down. Michelle and I have both passed the first test.
When Reveen started out on his career as a hypnotist, the profession was not exactly venerated. He and his wife toured the small cities and towns surrounding Melbourne, crammed into a tiny Peugeot and barely making enough money to survive.
"What I didn't realize was that really, I was on a missionary programme, selling this. Because the conception at that time was that hypnotism was totally fake-and it was, as a stage entertainment.
"A guy would roll into town who may have had a dog act the year before. He would have some posters printed up, saying 'The Great Hypnotist' and then he'd walk into a bar and get three or four people and say, 'jump up and down as if you're hot every time I stare at you,' and then everybody in that small town would know [it was staged] after the guy had gone. "We didn't really realize the impact our show was having, because every [audience member] on our stage was known to everyone in the town. So, suddenly, when people went up to question them after the show, they'd say, 'Well, what was it like?' and they'd answer, 'Well, it felt marvelous, but I'm not sure what I'd did," and their friends would have to explain it to them."
When an American promoter convinced him to go to Honolulu, Reveen took his show on the road. The promoter stole all his money, but Reveen's been touring the world ever since. The 75 or so of us who have proven ourselves hypnotically susceptible sit on stage behind Reveen. The Impossiblist has his back to us as he addresses the full house at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. The backlighting makes a halo of his gun-metal grey hair, which is feathered out around his head, Bee Gees style. He turns around to face us, and the spotlights catch at the sequins on his vest. I notice he is wearing lifts.
Then, once again, his voice washes over us. We close our eyes, as he pulls us deeper and deeper down into a state of supreme relaxation. He tells us our right arm is growing lighter and lighter, and it floats up of its own accord. He tells us to let it fall, and it drops back into my lap with a thud.
"You are a great musician," says Reveen. "You can play any instrument in the world." I picture myself with two turntables and a mixer with a pulsing crowd going off in front of me. Yeah. "You are in the world's greatest marching band," he continues. Marching band? The needle hits a scratch, then screeches across the record as the crowd stops dancing and looks up in bewilderment. I try desperately to replace my instrument with the jazz trumpet, but it's too late. I've been de-hypnotized.
The word 'hypnotism' is a misnomer," explains Reveen. "It isn't really a sleep state and it isn't really a trance state. If you had someone in a trance that person would be totally under your control. However, if I were to give a suggestion that went against a moral or a religious belief-which I'm very careful never to do-that person would just instantly disobey it."
In all the years he's been performing, Reveen says no one has ever gotten angry with him for the things they did while under hypnosis, mostly because he never crosses the line between harmless fun and potential cult leader. "It's a theatrical experience," he insists, "it's not a degrading experience...! never got into the gutter with the show."
After I snap out of it, I look around the stage to see what every one else is doing. Most people are bemused, blinking, disoriented. But some of them actually seem to be hypnotized. A girl in her early twenties is playing the drums enthusiastically, keeping time to the cheesy marching band music blaring out over the speakers. An old man in a turtleneck is playing the piano, standing up out of his chair to reach the farthest keys. There are flutists, violinists, and trombone players. One woman is playing the spoons.
I look over at Michelle for a "can you believe this?" giggle, only to find that Michelle has been magically spirited away, only to be replaced by a mindless clone who sits, eyes closed, mutely smashing two cymbals together. I want to laugh. I want to poke her. I want her to keep going. I want to see what she'll do.
To be hypnotized, you've got to be willing, says Reveen. "I can't hypnotize anybody who doesn't want to be hypnotized." You've got to be relaxed and comfortable, and you've got to be sane. Got visions of extra-crazy acid trips? Forget it. You can't be under the influence of psychedelic drugs.
"I was able to prove something to my kids which kept them off the drugs pretty well," says Reveen. "When they used to work with me on the stage, I'd say, 'Now, see this person? This person's on drugs, you can see it in their eyes. They think they're super, but you watch-their mind will not be worth a damn when they have to concentrate.' And sure enough, they'll fail it every time. 'Because one's an artificial, chemically-induced state, the other one requires a mental conditioning and a discipline."
Reveen and his assistants (who are actually his sons) clear those of us who haven't been hypnotized off the stage. We go back to our seats and watch the 20 or so people left up there, still playing away in their imaginary band. They seem to get more and more involved. A woman in a long khaki dress is playing the violin like a virtuoso. Suddenly, she leaps from her seat and begins to conduct the band, invisible baton waving, arms flapping, body gyrating, blonde hair flying madly around her, until one of the stage hands guides her back to her chair.
Finally, Reveen tells them to stop playing and get up and take a bow. He tells them the crowd loved them. We clap along with the pretense, and they get up. Some of them are beaming with pride, bowing over and over again.
Reveen tells them we're going to take a break. He says they will walk off the stage and then dance a merry Irish jig down the aisles. After ten minutes, they'll return to their seats. But when the signature Reveen music strikes up again, they'll feel an uncontrollable urge to return to the stage.
Then, with 20 people hypnotized and immobile behind him, he takes the opportunity to make a plug for his three self-help CDs, designed to help you relax, gain confidence, or quit smoking. Dressed in a matching tuxedo and sequined vest, his wife stands beside him, holding up the aforementioned items like a Price is Right hostess.
Finally, Reveen instructs his captives to walk off the stage. Sure enough, as soon as they've gone down the stairs, they break into dance. Suddenly, a dozen Michael Flatleys and as many of his corkscrewed partners are prancing down the aisles and out into the lobby. I get up and try to find Michelle, but she's danced off somewhere. After ten minutes, I see her back in her seat.
She looks dull and dazed, and says she feels weird-like she's on drugs. She doesn't remember anything. The house lights go down again and Reveen tells his subjects, now all back in the audience, that when his signature music starts up again, they will return to the stage. However, they won't want him to notice, so they'll have to sneak up.
The music starts, and instantly Michelle gets up quietly and steps past me. She runs, crouched over, along the bottom of the stage and creeps up to her old chair. Most of the others return too, as well as one man who managed to get hypnotized from his seat at the back of the theatre. The old guy who was playing the piano is the best-he bypasses the stairs, pulling himself up on the ledge of the stage instead, then dropping into a Viet Nam vet roll until he lands crouched below his chair, then springs up to take his seat.
For the next hour, the scene on stage resembles a drama class in which every student is a master of comedic improvisation, and no one suffers from the slightest degree of stage fright or self-doubt. Suddenly, these ordinary people are survivors of the Titanic, tap dancers, mafioso crime bosses, and ballerinas.
Reveen tells a clean-cut blonde guy dressed all in black that he's the world's greatest French lover, and he's going to make love to the microphone. Right on cue, the guy sidles up to the mike, hips thrust forward, eyes intent on the object of his desire. He grabs it, and with a masterful "J'aime. Je ne sais, baby," breathes heavy into its amplifying head. When he starts to run his tongue up and down the shaft, Reveen quickly rushes up and snaps him out of it.
This is what makes it all worthwhile for Reveen: This transformation of the ordinary person into someone who has an entire theatre full of people captivated.
"Very seldom do you really get instant gratification. But in the theatre, we do have instant gratification. We stand on the stage, the audience gives us their emotions, for giving a good show. [The volunteers] are enjoying that..."How many people do you know that go to a party and sat in the corner watching everybody else tell the jokes, and in a way envy it, and think 'I wish I could get up and get this crowd responding to me like this. Well, they do. I turn them into stars for that time that they're on stage... A lot of people come back to have the experience again. It's good for them. They feel great. They're really amazed to find that they could be that creative."
Reveen also uses his talent to spread a little love around. Before he brings people out of hypnosis, he gives them a kind of superconscious, inspirational pep talk.
"The final part of the show is very important to me," he says. "That little five minutes where you really get the chance to give the people some benefits from it. It's just quiet, it's not preachy, but it's there you will have a great self-confidence.'hate' is a word that you'll lose from your vocabulary as though it's a process that's beneath the dignity of your intellect.their powers of concentration are going to be better, they'll be able to relax and sleep better."
Curious, I call Michelle the next day to see if she feels more confident and less hateful. While she hasn't noticed a change in this department yet, she says she had a great day at work. "I was completely destressed. I felt really good, really relaxed...I was on a high."
Positive benefits aside, that's still a lot of power to have over people. Hasn't he ever been tempted, just a little, to see how far he could take it? To see just what he could get people to do?
"No, no," says The Impossiblist, shaking his head with a chuckle. "My wife wouldn't allow me to get any pompous ideas like that. She'd say, "Who do you think you are? Reveen?"
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Hypnosis is a capital instrument for relaxation and alleviating stress. It helps calm down both the brain and body, giving a useful rest. All the same it can be rather costly to hire a clinical hypnotherapist, and we might not always want one around when we would like to destress.