How to Create an Effective and Entertaining Mentalism Act
Creating an effective and entertaining act in mentalism is not an easy task, but it is not rocket science either. You first must possess some important skills. These definitely are not in order of importance, but never the less be a building block for your act or sort of a foundation to build on. Without a doubt, some knowledge of sleights (all kinds, coins balls and etc.) is a good beginning.
You must know how to misguide and conceal your moves. Being able to persuade by asking pertinent questions, probing and speaking in tones that can control your audience. A good successful mentalist knows not only the basic principals, but also the power of suggestion, and cold reading.
A good mentalist knows that creating a setting and predetermined questions or steps is the key to controlling the audience. The last item I am mentioning has been an ongoing disagreement among the mentalists today. That is, the basic knowledge of card magic. Card tricks or magic is a basic and a pacesetter in mentalism. Card effects can actually prepare your audience; it humors them and even builds up the atmosphere towards you act. They are a very simple medium but in the hands of an expert they are very deadly and truly amazing. I wish I had taken the time to learn even the basic card sleights in my early years.
In my humble opinion, these are some of the important skills one must have in order to create an effective mentalism act. There are a lot of others that you might want to add, but I think these are the ones that can get you started in the right direction.
First thing in creating an effective act is friends, neighbors and relatives; they can tell you when you are on the right track, give you the much needed encouragement, and criticize where necessary. As I look back, I think of the butt kicking I got and all the praise that lifted me to do better and eventually lift me higher. Your peers are important also because they can see mistakes that lay people are not able to see. They can also provide tips and advice on presentation and help tailor your act to you.
We will imagine that you have more than the basic skills, your stage presence is good and your confidence is high (but not cocky). In order to build your act you must know there are four parts to an act; it has an Opener, Middle, an ending and the filler in between the other three. Your first task is to choose a very strong, short and audience catching opener. It must be brilliant. Just as strong as your opener is, your ending must be twice as powerful and tremendous. That leaves the middle and filler; the middle needs to be brilliant but not as powerful as your opener.
The filler can be effects that are humorous or sucker type, but can also be talking and communicating with the audience. It does exactly as it sounds- it fills space and time in your act. Just think back to all the shows you have seen; what do you remember? I always remember the acts opening and the finale; I have a very hard time remembering the in between. I know a very wise man once told me that you open with a quick eye-popping effect and make it short, but long enough the audience can get into it. The rest is filler or time and space building to the finale’. The finale must be your strongest effect and most memorable. Oh, that very wise person was none other than Max Maven, sometime around 1984. I remember trying about 25 openers and at least that many finale’s. I changed my act so many times it was pathetic. However, today I feel like it was well worth it.
I think it is a big mistake if a mentalist does not come out and for the first 1-2 minutes connect with the audience (pre-opener). He can even do a quick total audience participation effect and than cruise right into his brilliant opener.
A few years ago I had the privilege to be part of a magic shop that had an indoor stage and could seat about 50-60 people. I helped guys and girls perfect their craft, but what I remember most was the performers who came to be critiqued. There was one mentalist that his opener was 22 minutes long and the reveal was not until 21 and a half minutes into the effect. It was a good effect, but definitely not an opener. A good 1/3 of the audience left; it was just too drawn out and no attention getting material. He then went into a really good drawing duplicate and killed the remaining crowd. He did a shortened version of a living/dead routine and next was his finale’. His finale’ was the blood curdling spike under the cup routine. He built the effect up, teased the audience, made them laugh and flinch. But he really brought the house down when he found the spike and did not hurt himself. There were several magicians and mentalists watching and taking notes. After the show, we all got together and gave him our opinions and advice. He actually listened and changed a few around, deleted several from his act and added a couple of new effects. Today, he is a very successful mentalist in Europe.
So what is a good, sound, memorable opener? Well, it is flashy, it is quick and to the point, it is very entertaining and audience grabbing. It could be a death defying effect (spike, smash & stab or the fruit salad comic version), or a good add-a-number routine. Maybe you are a bit of a comic, then cereal killer is a great opening effect. I still like the tossed out deck as a quick, effective and memorable opener.
So, we now come to the middle of your act (yes, I know I forgot the bridge between the opener and middle, it will come later). The middle has been the part where I like to do a “number” type effects; i.e. magic square, a plausible prediction with numbers. The filler is important in that it keeps the audience interested in you and they do not lose their attention. The filler bridges the gaps between the opener and middle and the middle to the ending. It is best filled with simple, short effects that peek the interests of the audience.
It can be partially explanations of your act (explanations of ESP, Thought Channeling, Tele-Kinesis, and etc.) If you do some explanations, you should do an effect demonstrating it. The filler can also be some comical routines. I like the sucker type effects to fill the space and time with. Some demonstrations of mind reading using cold reading are good also.
The ending is where you really need to focus and keep in mind>>>>> this is your last chance to leave the audience with a remembrance of you and your talent. You really want them to keep in mind, something (an effect) to remember you by, who you are and what an incredible act you put on. The whole idea behind the ending is that 98.3 percent of the audience who just saw you will remember only the last effect you did. Everything else is what they are told later or imagined they saw (the Oxford Memory Project). Have you ever done a show and some time later you hear people discussing what they saw and you do not even do that kind of an effect. I remember when I was a magician and doing shows every weekend. I did a repeat show at a corporate event and the people were talking about me floating a lady all over the stage then making her disappear. In all the years I performed magic I never floated anything nor did I make anyone disappear.
I think as flashy your opener is, your ending must be twice as flashy or good. I think looking back the “Spike” or “Smash and Stab” are excellent examples of a great ending. Going back to my friend the mentalist in Europe, the “Spike” is how he ends every show. He once told me that he gets repeat shows because people asks for that effect to be in his act; he is definitely remembered.
We have beat around the bush to get you to what you need to know and what the audience expects. Now comes the “what you need to create that effective act”. We will tackle this in steps:
- Step 1. Please your audience, not you, when performing. You may love an effect, your audience does not or they do not “get” it. Your effects must be audience tested, not what you like. Everything you do must entertain and pleases the audience. In order to be successful, you MUST focus on what the audience likes and give it to them.
- Step 2. You must interact with your audience. That is, you have to connect with them. You need to make them like you and want to watch. This is where your personality comes in. SMILE, SMILE, and SMILE.
- Step 3. Remember the classics of mentalism. They don’t call them classics for nothing. We have all heard the old saying “ if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it”; well if it works don’t change it. The classics have been entertaining audiences for years and years, they will keep entertaining for years to come. Audiences love the classics, so give them what they want.
- Step 4. Simple is better. Always remember that an effect does not need to be complicated to be good. It does not need to have many parts to it and it does not need to shine like chrome. You should strive to use simple but pleasing material for your effects. You do not need much in the way of props to entertain.
- Step 5. Don’t be afraid to be different. You need to be different and you need to stand out amongst your peers. Just because one mentalist can bend metal doesn’t mean you need to. Try adding comedy and lighten the show. Too many mentalists try to be serious and not add any humor to their act. You need to have a good mix of serious and humor.
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The very last piece of good old fashion advice I can give is; I know we all have heard it a million times: Grab the audience’s attention, hold on to it and for goodness sake ENTERTAIN.
The Mental Institution™
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Monday, 12 October 2009
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Last Updated (Monday, 12 October 2009 17:22)