Mentalism - It’s Back
So what is mentalism? The most general definition is “Magic of the Mind”. However, that definition still has the word “magic” in it and all the connotations that go with it. I prefer “using the mind to defy the laws of physics by simply using one’s power of the mind”.
Mentalism can be categorized into three basic effects. First would be ESP (Telepathy) or the reading of another’s mind. It has been said that Telepathy is a direct transference of thought from one person to another without using the usual sensory channels of communication. Second is Precognition. Precognition has been said to be the direct knowledge or perception of the future, obtained through extraordinary means. The last is Psycho kinesis. Psycho kinesis is the production of motion in physical objects by asserting psychic or mental powers. In his new book “Prism” Max Maven says there are four. He separates Precognition and Clairvoyance.
Now that we have a definition for mentalism, let’s see how this all began as an entertainment art. Please don’t forget that when mentalism made it big was in the late 1800s and the early 1900s there are accounts of it in the 1700s, but it was not until the 1850s that it started to interest audiences. However, mentalism was considered to be spiritualism or theosophy (the other side) and the people doing it were thought to be supernatural. The first mentalist claimed directly or indirectly to process authentic paranormal abilities. Some of the first were Anna Eva Fey, John Randall Brown Washington Irving Bishop, Samri Baldwin and John Maskelyne They all claimed to have real paranormal abilities and then on the other hand they exposed their competition and stole each other’s billings.
The start of the 1900s the mentalists became mediums, fortunetellers and psychics. All of these “performers started out in private sanctuaries trying to cash in on peoples’ delicate emotions.
Mentalism was very big in the 1970s and into the early 1980s. There were big name mentalists like Max Maven, Falkenstein & Willard, Kreskin, and a few others. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not saying these performers died out, no, to the contrary, they kept going, only the interest from magicians diminished, thus causing a drop in audiences’ preferences. The magic community wanted to separate “magic” from “Mentalism”. The interest in mentalism then started to take a second seat to the magic. Some of the bigger named Magicians still continued to do mentalism by throwing in a few “mental magic effects” but they never eluted to being a mentalist.
Mentalism like Magic, seems to be in cycles, that is, certain fads in magic are in one year then out the next. Mentalism is the same, but it seems to be making a come back at this time.
Now, here it is in the 21st century and Mentalism is very popular again. Today we have the likes of Banachek, Osterlind, Becker, Earle, Maven, Dr. Zodiac and others. There are still many timeless writings out there on mentalism, starting with Tarbell, Corinda, Annemann, Burlingame and many new ones also, Osterman, Maven, Cassidy, Banachek, Becker, Earle, and others. All the magic magazines of the last couple of years carry lots of ads for mentalism. There are also a lot of new books and DVDs out on mentalism.
If you have decided to be a mentalist, you need to ask yourself, am I going to do nothing but mentalism or will I do magic and throw in some mental magic effects. Once you have decided on which you will be then you need to build your performance around your choice.
Let’s assume you chose to be a mentalist, then you must yourself a second question; should I perform mentalism as real and let the audience perceive me as psychic and supernatural, or do I tell them I am a fake and this is just entertainment. Prior to knowing whether mentalism should be played as real or fake, one should know what is meant by mentalism. The purists prefer to be mentalist, while the magician performs what is called mental magic. The purists do not like the association of mentalism with magic.
There are pros and cons for both scenarios. We will tackle the aspect of being real first. First, if you do both magic and mentalism you should have different personas for each one. By telling (or just not saying anything) the audience perceives that you are psychic, telepathic and/or able to divine things. By doing this you will be setting the stage for a very solemn show and run the risk of shocking people and will be setting yourself above them; you must always bring your a+ show and there will be no room for mistakes. I have seen people leave during the show because they are scared of the performer or what they imagined he was. On the other hand, it can be very mystifying and at the same time be entertaining. When you portray yourself to be real, you leave no room for doubt or humor. If you attempt humor, they will perceive you to be false and just acting. If you are too serious, you might be perceived as something other than you want (in league with satanic forces).
If you chose to tell your audience up front that this is not real, but is only being done for entertainment purposes, it will set the mood for a more relaxed audience. You can do serious and humorous effects for your audience and be entertaining as well. When you tell them this is chicanery it can work in your favor. If you are very convincing in your mentalism, you plant doubt in what the audience heard you say in the beginning. They could believe you were trying to throw that off guard.
Mentalism is a very demanding art. You must portray a person with psychic abilities but never let them think you are a “Psychic”. Today a “Psychic” is thought to be a person who reads palms, tea leaves, and/or reads tarot cards.
There are very special people who can pull off being both kinds of psychics, but it is not for everyone.
How do you become or look into being a mentalist? The first place to look is in books or DVDs. There are numerous “mentalism effects” you can buy at your local magic shop. Well that is a good start at looking into mentalism.
Good luck and hope to see you make a pen rotate on a glass!
Bono Fortuna amichis
The Mental Institution™
Last Updated (Monday, 14 September 2009 23:38)