Let us think for a moment of the standard mentalism presentation, and ascertain what it communicates. The performer has directed a spectator to think of a piece of information - something that the performer could not possibly know. We, the audience, realise that it is the performer's task to extract that information from the spectator's mind. How will this happen? What does mindreading look like? What is the process that the performer needs to go through to get hold of those words or images or ideas that exist only as mental representations? Is mind reading possible? Are we about to see the real thing?
Well, this is what you will see. The performer will pick up a pad and a pen and start writing, let us imagine, some letters. He will hesitate a little, and then show the word. The spectator will agree that it is correct. Perhaps for added drama the spectator will be asked to say the word before the writing is shown.
Now, to me, this is mind reading with all the mind reading taken out of it. Re-examine the spectators' questions. They relate to the idea of anticipation. They are waiting to see the process of mind reading happen, to see whether or not it works and what it looks like. In the presentation that I have just described, which is fairly generic, the anticipated process of mind reading does not occur. What happens is that the performer ends up with the information, and we don't know how. Therefore the answer must be that he read the spectator's mind. In other words, the very thing that we want to see is only implied. We don't actually see the process we want to.
I feel that most menta lists don't perform mind reading. They perform instead the act of writing information down on paper that they apparently couldn't know. The difference is subtle in description, but enormous in performance. Let us imagine the same effect as described above, but presented differently:
"Stand in front of me. Right there. Now put your feet together and keep your head up like that. Make your back straight too, so that if there was a tube or channel running from the ground up into your head, it would run straight up. Now, just slow your breathing so that it becomes comfortable and regular. No, keep your eyes open! I didn't tell you to close them." The performer brings his face closer to the spectator's, and places both hands on his shoulders.
"Now, I will ask you to tell me the word that you have in mind, but you must say NOTHING. Keep silent from now on. Absolutely silent. Do you understand?"
"No, you spoke. Keep silent. Do you understand? ... Good. Now, say the word to me in your mind. " The performer raises his voice and as he talks, delivers a series of short, sudden jerks to the spectator using his hands on the shoulders. "What is it? Tell me the word. What is if? What's the first letter? Ken, what's the first letter? The first letter, Ken - say it to me, tell me..."
It is clear that the spectator is struggling not to answer. "Yes, don't say anything. Tell me what it is. The second letter. SAY IT!!" The performer places his left palm on the subject's head. "THIRD FOURTH. FIFTH. Okay..." Now the performer keeps quiet and stares through the subject opposite him. He slowly removes his hand from the head, and then replaces it. Again, more gingerly, he removes it.
"Condense, condense," the performer says to himself, his gaze now having shifted to the floor in front of him. "Consider. Consider? Considerate. Okay, was the word 'Considerate'?"
The subject answers, "Considerable." The adrenaline of all concerned dissipates, and much applause ensues.
This version of the effect actually allows the audience to see the strange process of mindreading. They now know what it looks like. Many will begin to form ideas in their own minds of how it was working. Mention of the 'channel' coming up from the ground through the spine will suggest ideas to many to do with energy lines and so on. Others will think that the subject is being forced to give off subtle cues by having the word dragged to the tip of his tongue. In this example, presuming it is performed convincingly, and although there is no reason why it should suit everybody's style, there is drama and tension. Therefore the revelation of the word is a hundred times more effective, as the tension suddenly collapses. The forceful nature of the mind reading makes it clear that more is just happening here than bland entertainment. Something real must be occurring, otherwise the performer would not invest so much energy into the process. His bizarre actions must be necessary.
I would shake hands with the subject afterwards and give him a consoling touch on the shoulder to make clear to the audience that he is not left feeling uncomfortable. My tone, when I perform like this is very forceful, but plausible. I will sustain long silences.
Most importantly of all, I will believe in what I am doing. This is the vital point. When the generic mentalist stands before an audience and writes things on a board or pad, he is probably not acting in congruence with himself. By this I mean that he will be asking you, through his patter, to accept that he can read minds. This conscious level of communication is giving one message. Yet his body language and the visible manifestations of his internal states do not suggest that anything of the sort is happening. Indeed, at this level, he is acting like a magician. Therefore we are not convinced. Again, we are not watching mind reading: we are watching a man write down information on a pad.
This business of acting is vital to good mentalism, though hardly ever really involved seriously into presentation. Aside from Uri Geller. You feel that he believes in his own processes. Regardless of whether you wish for your audience to believe in psychic powers (I don't), there is no reason not to make your performance a hundred times more convincing. Later you can then decide what interpretation of the phenomena to encourage. So stop and think. If you were really reading a mind, how would you do it? There are many possible answers, each depending on the style of the performer yet defining it, and each suggesting its own silent script for him to use.
Perhaps the act of mind reading would be like a seduction. You would make someone feel very comfortable, achieve real rapport with her, asking her about her interests or a recent holiday... and then suddenly you would sit up straight and name that word. This is how I perform with a female spectator, or with someone where a more forceful approach would be inappropriate. The audience watching interprets the strange chatty conversation as, 'This is inappropriate, he must be doing something„. ah, he must be gently increasing her feeling of comfort and familiarity so that she opens up at some level.' The logic is exactly that: and then it just pops into your head. Rather than insulting your audience's intelligence, you are playing to it.
Perhaps it would be done through tiny movements of the subject's hands or face. Perhaps through encouraging him to talk about random events and looking for clues in the words that he uses. Perhaps it would be through any means of a thousand. But there should be something. Looking at a pad and just slowly writing letters shows nothing.
However you decide that mind reading is achieved, and therefore what it will look like, you should then do this zvithout explaining this supposed 'method' to the audience. You should just believe, wholeheartedly and unquestioningly, that that is what you are doing. It should be the most serious point in the routine. Every part of you is delivering the same, congruent message.
Another result of this is that the audience will have a sense of how you 'do it.' They will have a process to latch on to, and it will be something more plausible than a stage performer saying that he can read minds. In magic, you state the process like this: "The card goes in the centre of the deck like this, and if I click my fingers - that was the move - it leaps back up to the top. See?" In mentalism, we traditionally do not provide a clear process for the audience to follow. We just say, "Ermm..." and then write things down, leaving the audience none the wiser as to how we were able to extract a private thought. The equivalent of a silent Ambitious Card routine. And then we blame mentalism itself for having little entertainment value.
Finally, the more forceful demonstrations will shake the audience slightly, as there is an element of dangerous theatre to them: something vaguely threatening. This will give the audience something powerful to remember. If you are pushing a bottle through a table or a cigarette through a coin, there is a striking visual quality to the effect that will remain in their minds regardless of whether you present it dramatically or in an off-hand manner. But mind reading rarely has such powerful 'snapshots' to remember. You need to provide them in other, subtler ways. One way is through a very stylish performance, and ensuring that the audience can see the very skill at work that you profess to own. Whether this is the ability to read minds, or merely 'psychologically direct' a volunteer, there should be points when you can be seen to be doing exactly that, unless it is important to the routine that such a thing should pass invisibly.
I once owned a die that contained transmitter equipment, which would be used to inform me, via a vibrating pad strapped to my leg, of the number currently shown. I was demonstrating my mind reading skills to a friend, asking him to set the die and then to visualise the face, thinking of each of the dots in turn. The logic that I was using here was that I would be able to see from tiny movements on his face, the pattern of dots in his mind. I also asked him to count through the numbers from one to six, and was able to tell him the correct number. Clearly this would be due to my ability to sense a hesitation or change in emphasis on his part. I performed a series of such tests, each one more impressive than the last. On the fourth occasion, the die fell apart in his hands, revealing a quite impressive labyrinth of microelectronics. He looked at the insides of the cube, and sat for a moment. Outside a dog barked. Then he frowned, and put the lid back on, and we continued the experiment. After a few more correct guesses on my part, he said that he could tell that I was picking up on tiny body-language signals but he couldn't understand what he was doing to give them off. He congratulated me on my hypersensitivity in that area. I asked him later about what he had seen in the die. He shrugged, and said that he guessed it was some sort of ploy on my part - a red herring tossed in his direction. It was clearer to him that I was relying on his tiny signals to receive the information. It made more sense, and was far more appealing, than the embarrassing truth across which he had stumbled.
This was a very intelligent chap. As are all my friends. Those who obey me.
Smoking seems to be treated today with the same ruthless fervour which was reserved for masturbation in the nineteenth century. I personalty quite like the smell of fresh cigarette smoke, and often find it cool and pleasant to watch, though 1 do not myself indulge in this popular herb. I do, however, smoke a little during my performances, but do not, as the saying goes, inhale. I believe that a glass of whisky (of which I am very fond) and a cigarette can add a certain old-world panache to the aesthetics of one's performance. Such details are often forgotten. More often than not I will approach a lounge table with a glass of some splendid single malt and sip from it at appropriate dramatic moments during the routines. Certainly when 1 am 'at the card table' and inviting spectators to sit with me, I have a glass of the nut-brown nectar by my side. During my stage show I have a decanter and offer a glass to my participant.
Reviewing those words it may appear that I am something of a reveiSer: a dipsomaniacal carouser, a souse, sot or soak who embarrasses the ladies in his audiences with lewd songs and humiliates the men with over-affection ate embraces. Nothing, my charming but hasty friends, could be further from Christ's honest Truth. Though I am no stranger to the shrine of Bacchus during occasional evenings of quaffings and loud 'Huzzahl's, I remain quite the figure of sobriety during my performances, spuming any more than the gentlest influence of that florid grape or grandiloquent grain. Whilst on the subject, perhaps some performers will be aware of the frustrating tendency of some grateful audience members to purchase one drinks rather than tip in solid cash. At the restaurant where I currently enjoy residency, a double shot of Dalwhinnie will cost the unsuspecting punter a staggering ten pounds. Once the grateful spectator asked the barman to supply me with a double of whatever I would regularly have. The barman, and may God always smile on him and his loved ones, poured me a quadruple. This act of generosity cost the chap twenty of your earth pounds. And in 2000, the year of print, such a sum was worth about twenty pounds. I moan inside as I accept such tokens of appreciation, for I see a ten or twenty pound gratuity simply vanishing, with a grace that even Mr. Hollingworth would find it difficult to capture. At least I remain with something in which to drown my sorrows.
Apropos tipping, may I suggest a subtlety that has worked for me in the past. When, in your final routine, you come to borrow a note and, heaven forbid, float the bugger, perform the following ruse. Wave it before you and say, 'Just one tip...' pause, .'..give me your attention completely and be generous with your concentration. So you don't miss this.' And then proceed.
After a delightful afternoon's constitutional down that winding side-path, let us return to our theme. The reader, if he was so eccentric as to have read the introduction, will be aware that this effect is perhaps my very favourite. It has an element of drama that I enjoy, and it is technically easy to perform, allowing one to concentrate on the more important matter of communicating it effectively. Let us review the effect. A deck of cards, familiar to the cognoscenti but to the majority of the laity a shocking and perhaps ominous novelty, is spread across the table, with the request that the chosen spectator burn the image of one of them into his or her mind or minds. She obliges, and thusly a card is committed to her memory.
As if this were not in itself enough, the performer then makes it clear that he will divine the name of that card, if the spectator would be enough of a blesspoppet to clear her mind and concentrate on the card of her choice. The deck is reassembled and left on the table, with a promise from the magician that he will not touch them again. The magus lights a cigarette and relaxes in his seat with an air of authority and Grand Guignol that sends a shiver of tension throughout the room, or 'space.' Slowly he does indeed name that card. (Let us imagine that this card is the Three of Clubs). The audience reacts with extreme delight. "But let me tell you, my friends," he continues, "that there is more to this than meets the eye. For I can tell you now that in fact there never was a Three of Clubs in that deck. None of this really happened. I need not remind you that I have not touched those cards."
The spectator who chose the card defiantly insists that the card was indeed there. No, you assure her, blowing a smoke ring, it was not there at all, and this is a good moment to correct any grammatical errors on her part. There will be a tremendous anticipation to now see the deck, so you spread it once again to show that the card has indeed vanished. Immediately you begin coughing and hawking most unpleasantly, and all eyes return to you. The cigarette that you were smoking can be seen to have changed. You remove it and to enormous applause unroll a smoking, charred Three of Clubs. Your reputation as a magician and as a lover is cemented, and many splendid things come your way.
'SMOKE' has its roots in Tom Mullica's Card is Cigarette routine. It struck me as potentially a very surprising and elegant change. I thought it would make life more interesting to have the card mentally selected rather than physically taken, and a word on this may be appropriate. When the cigarette is seen to have changed, there is a gentleness and ethereal quality to the transformation that I feel should be mirrored by a non-physical selection. I should also add that the effect of a card becoming a cigarette belongs to Karl Fulves. His effect 'Card is Cigarette' was published in Secret Sessions in 1990.
There are a number of ways of achieving this, but I will be working on the presumption that the deck that the spectator sees contains a cycle of eight cards. Thus her choice is limited. When the cards are spread out again toward the end of the effect, she will be seeing a different set of indices that contain all cards other than the eight. This, I feel, is a very convincing means of having the card selected and then vanish, without needing to know which or where it is.
The method that I regularly employ uses a gimmicked deck. I printed onto blank stock, cards with indices that do not match at the corners. This means that when I spread the cards one way, they will show the rotating cycle of eight force cards. When they are gathered, turned end-for-end and spread again, they will show forty-four cards that do not include the eight. A gimmicked deck is now available that will do this job very well with a little alteration: namely the Mind-Power Deck by John Kennedy. I would recommend this item unreservedly for anyone looking to perform my effect.
Another method that I tried for a while consisted of exchanging decks. This allows for the spectator to hold on to the deck after the card is selected, and to spread them out herself any way she wishes in search of what she has been told has vanished. Here, I spread out the cyclical deck and had the selection chosen as normal, while the second rested on my lap. I obtained this deck in my left hand and held it copped at the edge of the table as my right collected the spread deck, and in the action of squaring that deck, brought the hands together to the table's edge, lapping the deck in the right, and bringing the new deck forward. This is a common and practical switch. This was done as I asked the spectator if she could visualise the card for me. I then gave her the new deck, 'as I don't want to touch these at all.' All that was left was to make sure that she didn't spread them in defiance of my assurance that the card had vanished, until I felt it dramaturgically appropriate to do so. This I would simply do with a warning gesture of my hand every time she'd make to look. In fact this stalling became a point of comedy in the performance, and heightened the tension.
One should not worry about the spectator seeing her card repeated in the spread. You must, however, instruct her to choose the card quickly whilst you face away. By snapping your fingers as you teli her that she is to 'burn the image of one card into her mind,' you will communicate the fact that she is to do so quickly. The instruction to 'burn the image of one card' will ensure that she chooses a card that she sees, as opposed to thinking of one, but allows you to be confident of this without reinforcing the fact too early that she has to actually see the card and not merely thinking of one. Of course the discrepancy does not work to your disadvantage, for it is important later that she insists that she saw the card.
The naming of the card
Let us presume that the cycle consists of four reds and four blacks, two of each suit:
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