Part Three




Since making the decision in my early twenties not to pursue a career as a lawyer, I began to earn my living performing close-up magic. I occasionally would perform a stage hypnotic show, but as I had no desire to perform the standard humiliating stunts, I saw the advantage of concentrating on the magic, which was far more commercial. There is little room, I feel, for 'mentalism' as a table-hopping performer. Even as I found myself able to create my own close-up environment more and more, avoiding when possible the inelegance of the banquet hall, the performance of run-of-the-mill mentalism would still have been inappropriate. One must, after all, entertain.

On the other hand, I developed an interest in the use of suggestion and liked the response I received to effects that at least appeared to work through psychological rather than thaumaturgical principles. Soon I had developed a close-up set of 'mental' effects, which would be recognised by us as the more visual area of mentalism: metal bending and PK effects featured heavily. But the idea of centre-tears, billet switches, book tests and the standard fare seemed very out of place. Thus as my interest in the performance of strong, direct and off-beat mental effects developed, it did so without giving any thought to the usual gaffs.

As I have said before, the importance of beginning with nothing but the effect in mind is paramount. When presenting a mental routine, the effect will be in essence very simple. A thought is to move from one place to another. The effects of this ethereal passage may be varied: an object may move or behave unusually, a person might find herself performing involuntary acts, one person may reveal the thoughts of another or demonstrate some esoteric knowledge. These are simple notions, and they demand very simple performance. They only have value when any physical channels of communication are clearly absent. There may be ways of making small pieces of folded paper psychologically invisible, but I felt that to begin with that familiar currency was compromising too early. I decided to start with the highest ideals and see how far I could move towards them without compromising on those aspects of the performance tangible or visible to the audience. If a spectator is to concentrate upon a word and I am to reveal it, then there is no reason to involve books, however appealing the gaffed volumes or brilliant the handling may be. There is no reason why the subject should not just think of something - anything at all. Compromise can come later, but not where it will be visible to the audience. Similarly, if I am able to read all the cards in a deck, then I would wish to do so with a deck, preferably borrowed, shuffled by the audience and untouched by me as I face the other way. At a gathering of magicians, I would rather someone in the audience simply remove their own deck from their pocket and deal them off as I name them.

Examples of 'visible compromise' are books, bits of paper and the likes of alphabet cards. 'Invisible compromises' would be pre-show work, transmitter equipment, and the advantages offered by the positioning of spectators on stage. The drawing made by a spectator for later duplication is an entirely justified visible compromise, for the only way that the effect can be demonstrated is by having the pictures compared. However, readers that have seen me perform will realise that it is possible to draw a picture that exists only in the imagination of the spectator, with no visible compromise whatsoever. The logic that justifies the compromise of having the picture actually drawn by the spectator can be applied to other areas, in order to make other compromises a little more acceptable - for example, I sometimes do perform a book-test, but I use a copy of the

Yellow Pages, and describe any advertisement they happen to look at. There is more justification here than in the more common book-test, for here I am dealing with primarily visual information, as well as information such as telephone numbers and company slogans. It is the first effect that I remove when I pare down the act for a shorter performance, but I feel that there is enough justification for the use of a book. It does not compromise the effect - it is the effect, rather like a drawing duplication but unlike the use of a book as a means to select a random word.

It is also the case that mental effects do not immediately suggest variety and up-beat presentation. As far as up-beat presentation is concerned, one need look no further than Andy Nyman to see that such things can be done congruently and brilliantly. To achieve variety without making the routine seem like a magic act, however, is a more problematic area. For if we equate variety with visual interest and different themes, then it is difficult to avoid the visible compromises that I have mentioned. To achieve variety and sustain interest and visual stimulation without visible compromise, one must go back to the very start of the design process and re-examine one's presumptions. At the start of my current set, a female volunteer sits down, drops immediately into a trance and has her hand stick solidly to the table. It will only move when a second volunteer from the audience wills it to do so. As he secretly raises his arm behind the first subject, her arm eerily rises in silent sympathy. This rather beautiful routine was borne out of this examination process, and is, I feel, a very interesting and entirely visual mental effect with no props and no visible compromise. I hope to create further effects through this imaginative process. It is the only way 1 have found for myself so far to avoid the predictable and trite fare of standard mentalism.

It became clear as I thought along these lines that the methods that I would be using to create the effects would be in the most part very bold and outlandish. Also, they started to become rather organic in nature: working in tandem with the effect rather than secretly running along beneath it. By 'organic' I mean that I am using psychological principles that are as ethereal as the mind reading I claim to demonstrate, or am perhaps merely stacking the odds secretly in my favour, and improvising from then on. By favouring these techniques (while punctuating them with solid, reliable conjuring principles), the presentation becomes plausible and convincing. I found that I came to enjoy exploring the use of suggestion and such subtleties, and by working from a new starting-point I began to see some excellent new opportunities for extremely convincing deception. The mixture of sure-fire mechanics and sheer showmanship to create the effects is immensely enjoyable to perform. I try and achieve very direct, hands-free methods so that I can concentrate upon presentation and engage myself in the effect.

In performance, I believe that the greatest asset to a mind reader is to be interesting and compelling. Risible pretension (at one end of the extreme) or a stream of comic quips (at the other) can only work against most mentalists, aside from the occasional genius who can carry such things well. It is also important that the mindreader comes across as being more than the sum of his performance, which is why his engaging personality is so important. Everything that I have said about magic performance applies here, and more. The endless discussion and wearisome debate between mentalists concerning the ethics of convincing the audience of psychic phenomena are, I believe, a terrible waste of time. It is not that the issue is worthless, only that the discussion clearly goes nowhere. While most performers worry about the ethics of their performance, they are forgetting about their real task, which is to create elegant and convincing illusions. This should be their primary area of concern. As the performance becomes more poetic, so the character of the performer becomes more defined, and from this will stem his solution to the ethical consideration of performance style.

For my own part, I feel that the audience's belief in my mind reading skills must be engaged at some level in order for the effects to take hold and induce a certain responsive attitude. However, what I say that the mind reading skills actually consist of is another matter. I prefer for my audience to come away with a little more fascination for what may be possible than just wondering whether I was fake or not. Therefore my personal choice (and the most sensible and congruent option given my performance character) is to suggest that I will be utilising subliminal and hypnotic principles to create the effect of telepathy. Because I am often performing my mind reading alongside hypnotic stunts, this presentation works well for me. But equally, [ love watching Geller perform, in the same way that 1 enjoy reading about the tumbling tambourines of the old Victorian seances. I enjoy well-constructed and exquisitely performed theatre, and would far rather watch a convincing and brilliantly manipulative stage psychic than listen to a generic mentalist perform dull, witless routines in the 'You decide!' manner.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of invisible compromise, let us continue.

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