Screwing with their heads too much?

Instead of mentally projecting your mentalism thoughts, type them here.

Postby Guest » 03/10/03 02:38 AM

Saturday night, I saw a prominent European magician perform a trick at the Castle that was quite powerful emotionally, but I wonder whether it was appropriate.

It was a 3-billet routine, in which the magician asked three different people to write down items on billets.

For the last billet, interestingly, the magician asked the volunteer to write down the name of someone who has passed on.

"Make it someone whom you were emotionally close to," the magician added.

In time, the magician revealed the first two items. When it came to the dead person, he wrote something down on a post-it.

"My hands are moving," he said, "and I don't even know what they're writing.

Then the magician asked the third volunteer to take the stage and read aloud what was on the paper. The volunteer read it silently, tried to speak, but was immediately overcome with emotion. She tried again, but once again, could not and rushed to her seat in tears.

The magician then read the paper aloud: "Don't worry about me. I am in a better place. I will love you always, Auntie Mae."

I wonder three things:

1. Did the audience believe the message was from The Great Beyond?

I doubt that most people believe this. They may assume that the magician simply knew the name and then wrote down a generic bogus message. The cold reading was not sophisticated enough, it seems to me, to pass the skeptics.

For an audience to believe, I feel that the mentalist must provide information that they couldn't possibly have known about the person, not just the person's name. With billet routines such as this, one of which I have performed for several years, I have found that even though you get away with the sleights involved, a certain percentage of people always say:

"I didn't see him look at the piece of paper, but he must have looked at it at some point."

It's the only logical explanation.

2. Did the volunteer break down because she believed the message was from her Auntie Mae?

I think not. I feel that the suggestion of the message simply plucked an emotional chord within her, and even though she knew it was a fake, the tears came. When it was all over, she may have felt used.

3. Is this going too far?
Guest
 

Postby Ian Kendall » 03/10/03 04:00 AM

Hello,

Having spent the last couple of days reading through the various Edwards/Browning threads it seems this is one of the recurring topics of the forum :)

In my low credibility and oft derided opinion the performer went too far. To ask for the name of someone close who had died was bad enough, to say 'he did not know how he was writing' was dangerous and the final message was patronising and irresponsable.

Despite whether the audience as a whole was taken in, the lady was affected badly. There is a possibility that the suspension of disbelief upon which we all rely was extended enough for her to think Auntie Mae was channeled through the performer. Whatever the cause, she _was_ used in a very callous way. To add insult to emotional injury the performer read out the message anyway. From a dramatic standpoint it might have been better just to crumple the note after the lady was unable to read it and move on...

I'm trying to stay calm here...this kind of effect makes me a wee bit angry. I will not reiterate the contempt poured upon Edwards in the other threads, but I do strongly feel that people who claim to channel information from the dead should step outside for a moment and examine what they are doing. What if the target was not a Christian (which I believe is the only living relegion that has the concept of an afterlife?)? What if the target believes in reincarnation (Don't worry, I'm a better animal now?) or does not believe in any afterlife? How insulted would you feel if the memory of your loved one was manipulated thus? I know that if anyone gave me a message 'channeled' from my father things would get very ugly in a hurry.

In summary, I do not think there is _ever_ an excuse for this kind of presentation.

Take care, Ian

P.S. There was a piece on the radio news yesterday about the show 'Spirit of Diana' which was shown (they said) on US TV last night. In it two mediums (media?) claimed that they had been contacted by Diana, and that she was enjoying the afterlife and spending time with Mother Teresa.

Where's Reginald when you need him? We could do with a good witch hunt.
Ian Kendall
 
Posts: 2145
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Edinburgh

Postby Ian Kendall » 03/10/03 04:11 AM

Ian Kendall
 
Posts: 2145
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Edinburgh

Postby Jeff Eline » 03/10/03 06:56 AM

Another element of this story that bothers me is that this perfomer made the person come up on stage; an un-nerving experience for anyone as is. He put her on display for everyone while he read the 'message from beyond'. I find that cruel.
Jeff Eline
 
Posts: 647
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Baltimore, MD

Postby Philemon » 03/10/03 10:27 AM

Perhaps she was a stooge?
Philemon
 
Posts: 28
Joined: 01/22/08 01:00 PM
Location: Seattle, WA

Postby Pete McCabe » 03/10/03 10:47 AM

1. Did the audience believe the message was from The Great Beyond?

Well, it's the castle. The magicians in the audience didn't believe. Many of the rest did.

Sophistication is not one of the tools of cold readers. For an audience to believe, all the mentalist must provide is any excuse for people who desperately want to believe, to believe.

2. Did the volunteer break down because she believed the message was from her Auntie Mae?

She broke down because she had a very close relationship with her Auntie Mae. Whether she believed the message was from beyond the grave or not is irrelevant to the power of her relationship with her dear departed auntie.

3. Is this going too far?

It's certainly the cheapest way to inspire emotion I can imagine. Let's pick someone who has recently lost someone they loved, then get them up on stage so we can all watch them grieve.
Pete McCabe
 
Posts: 2083
Joined: 01/18/08 01:00 PM
Location: Simi Valley, CA

Postby Guest » 03/10/03 11:29 AM

I've heard a lot from the con position, to which I subscribe. But will anyone take the pro position?
Guest
 

Postby Guest » 03/10/03 01:59 PM

I'll take a bite at this one. It was THEATRE and in this context, at the Magic Castle. From what was said in the post, the performer did not claim to be talking to the dead, merely that they did not know what their hadn was writing. The effect in question did in fact elicite an emotional response, from the memory of that person NOT from anything else purported to have been done such as "talking to the dead" although perhaps it was implied BUT it was not said from what I see in the post. Even if the message had truly come from the deceased, it was a positive and simple message which would do no real harm BUT to evoke an emotional response from the audience, no different than watching a movie like "Terms of Endearment". It might make you cry, it might make you angry BUT it did elicite a response, the main goal of all performers!

PSIncerely Yours,
Paul Alberstat
http://www.stores.ebay.ca/ABstagecraft
Supllying Unique Mentalism World-wide
Guest
 

Postby Guest » 03/10/03 03:05 PM

I've heard often the call to bring more emotion, feeling, and drama to magical presentations, and it seems this performer brought some strong albeit cheaply earned reaction to his performance.

Perhaps it is a quality issue; phony, overblown, and poorly framed drama without context makes me either laugh or angry (which was my reaction to the latest Bruce Willis agitprop "Tears of the Sun" in which inhuman slaughter was graphically and interminably used as hammer and nail).

As the stakes are raised it's no surprise both wins and loses are bigger.

--Randy Campbell
Guest
 

Postby Jeff Eline » 03/10/03 07:37 PM

Originally posted by Paul Alberstat:
It might make you cry, it might make you angry BUT it did elicite a response, the main goal of all performers!
Is this the main goal of all performers, simply to elicite a response? Doesn't it matter how the response was gained? Or what the response was?
Jeff Eline
 
Posts: 647
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Baltimore, MD

Postby Max Maven » 03/10/03 09:49 PM

It's interesting to note that, apparently, the only person who has posted in this thread and also saw the show under discussion was the original poster.

The performer was identified only as "a prominent European magician." As the routine was done as part of a public performance, I don't see the point in hiding his name: It was Rafael Benatar.

I have seen him perform this piece twice, and have had some discussion with him about it. I can state without question that his goal is not to get what an earlier post refered to as "a cheaply earned reaction."

In fact, Rafael is attempting to hit a somewhat delicate emotional result. In the context of his act, it's clear that he neither expects or intends to sell this routine as "real." But he is trying to achieve a theatrical moment that, for that moment, feels real.

He is very aware that it's delicate; in fact, in his introductory script when he invites the audience member to participate he is careful to address that fact. The person does not always start crying, but sometimes they do, and he knows that may happen.

Now, you can decide that it's a bad idea; indeed, you can reject all related routines such as "Living & Dead" tests or the very similar billet routine with which Fogel closed his show for many years. But at the very least, give Rafael Benatar credit for approaching this knowingly.
Max Maven
 
Posts: 366
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Hollywood, CA

Postby Ian Kendall » 03/11/03 01:33 AM

Thank you, Max, for filling in some of the detail in the Chinese whispers. One statement that I seem to have edited from my original post was 'if the desription is accurate'.

However, I still have issue with the effect. To ask someone, albeit forewarned, to name a lost loved one and then hand them a note with such a message is reckless and to be aware that it might make them cry is callous. That Mr Benatar went into this 'knowingly', if anything, makes it worse.

I know almost nothing about Fogel but perhaps I should investigate since his routine seems to be being used to justify this effect.

Is David's description accurate? If the dialogue is as reported, how much of the clunky use of words could be due to Mr Benatar working in a foreign language?

Given the new information I stand by my low credibility opinion. Not that it matters.

Take care, Ian
Ian Kendall
 
Posts: 2145
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Edinburgh

Postby Richard Kaufman » 03/11/03 08:40 AM

Our little piece of the show-business world does not always involve card tricks and coin tricks. It is equally valid to do dramatic emotionally involving effects. Presenting magic that involves willing participants in a deeply emotional way leads to failure if you're a poor magician and, sometimes, success if you're a good magician. Rafael is a very good magician.
I don't think that the spectators believe they have been contacted by the dead. Rafael is not pretending to be John Edwards. You can watch a play or a film, or even listen to someone read a poem, and these things can conjure up memories of departed loved ones within you that lead to a deeper emotional involvement with the piece being performed. Even though Rafael is actually invoking the name of a deceased loved one (as many Living and Dead tests have done, as Max has pointed out), it doesn't change the scenario much expect that the response is going to be more acute.
The performance of close-up magic is the performance of a play in front of a small group of people.
Subscribe today to Genii Magazine
User avatar
Richard Kaufman
 
Posts: 20833
Joined: 07/18/01 12:00 PM
Location: Washington DC

Postby Guest » 03/11/03 08:44 AM

I too want to thank Max (he's so much better at saying what I feel than I am...)

The "Power" used by many in mentalism does involve emotion.. this is however the tool of any mode of genuine theater. Just look at how Spilberg grabs hold of the heart-strings through his movies.. it's the same thing!

A Living & Dead Test, which the act's description seems closest to, is a common "standard" in the Psychic Entertainment field. Originally (so it is claimed) the Spiritualists would use this kind of demonstration in the earlier part of the evening, as a group prepared for a Seance. That being the case, anyone that's sat in on a good (non-comical) Seance show is aware of how the cast plays with your emotions.

To say this is "wrong" is to limit yourself as well as your fellows when it comes to performance. It is also the first step to censoring other elements of magical performance. After all, there are those that believe Francis Willard really is being "haunted" by unseen forces when she's in that cabinet... then again, there were folks that believed Houdini had sold his soul to Satan in order to dematerialize and get out of those boxes and trunks...

Up till the advent of Tv and the commercialization of Kid Show Magic on the weekends, our craft encouraged and thrived off the public's "need to believe" in things miraculous and spiritual. The past half-century has nuttered us and our understanding of such intrigues. Fortunately social trends and consumer demands are bringing about a reprise of such things, simply because the public needs to believe from time to time... especially when the world seems to be heading rapidly to hell in a hand basket.
Guest
 

Postby Ian Kendall » 03/11/03 09:08 AM

RK - I understand your point of view, but there is a difference. If you go to see 'Terms of Endearment' might make you weepy, but the 'invokation' of the name of the deceased seems to be blatent. There is nothing personal to the audience at a film, the association is within their heads. I have found myself sobbing uncontrolably to Ally McBeal of all things, which was both strange and my own fault. But this was 'hey, I've got a message from _your_ Aunt Mae'. There is no ambiguity, there is no room for manoevour.

As pointed out we do not have the script of the routine but given the choice of 'would someone like to help me with the next effect' and 'would someone like to help me with the next effect where I will compel you to think of a dead loved one and quite possibly make you cry in front of everyone on your night out' I know which one would surprise me less...

I know I'm the bad guy again, but I really can't see a justification for this kind of effect. Whether we are actors playing the part in a mini play of magic or just Derek Generic hopping tables there are certain responibilities.

Also, the description seemed to suggest that this was a parlour or stage show?

Take care, Ian
Ian Kendall
 
Posts: 2145
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Edinburgh

Postby Steve Bryant » 03/11/03 10:03 AM

The difficulty to me in this effect would be the message itself. When I have to purchase a greeting card for a family member, it is exceedingly difficult to find one with a brief appropriate sentiment, one that sounds like me or is in the context of our relationship. Very hard to do, and I often wind up buying a blank card. (We aren't a very gushy crowd.) Hence, coming up with a general message from beyond, however brief, would be hard to do. In the Castle seance, Leo Kostka does a living and dead test (one that harkens back to the E. Raymond Carlyle days), but he merely identifies the name. "Does Maye mean something to you?" This sometimes results in tears, but does not cross the line to a message. As I recall, Leo asked the person to think of someone deceased but who would "not cause you pain to remember." The first choice of spectators declined. My date, tough as nails, agreed to and participated in the test. It was a nice moment in the seance, and nicely handled.
User avatar
Steve Bryant
 
Posts: 1676
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Bloomington IN

Postby Guest » 03/11/03 11:08 AM

The pro position doesn't seem lively in defending its point of view, so I'd like to step in.

The difference between the two camps, it seems to me, is that mentalists like Max and Rafael are saying that yes, they are evoking an emotional response, but that no harm is done. A positive message is given, the audience is stunned, not quite knowing what is going on, and everyone benefits. Encouraging a belief in the afterlife is not a bad thing, it seems they might maintain.

The magicians here have made the opposite point of view clear.

The reason I brought up the subject was because I was unclear how I felt about the effect. I wanted to hear both sides.

It's noteworthy that this bulletin board is heavily populated by magicians who frown on many mentalism methods, and that Richard himself is vociferous in his negative opinions of James Van Praagh and John Edward. Perhaps this is not the bulletin board to ask for the opposite point of view.

Mentalists always walk the edge, and that makes many people nervous. I have a mentalism show (it just kinda developed from my intense interest in mentalism after my magic show was firmly in place). It's kinda thrilling to me to walk that edge.

However, I never get the chance to perform that show at the Castle, since they do their best to discourage the performance of mentalism on their stages.
Guest
 

Postby Pete McCabe » 03/11/03 11:33 AM

As Max has pointed out, it is very difficult to make strong statements about an act if you haven't seen it. I didn't see Rafael Benatar's act in question, although I have seen him before and been fortunate enough to meet him, and I have found him to be a true gentlemen. So I can't comment on what Rafael specifically did.

But I can talk about the subject itself, I hope.

First off, I think it's great that performers try to add more emotional impact into their performances, and that they take more chances. I'm all in favor of this.

But I stand by my opinion that this is the easiest possible way to do it. When you do something like this, I think you have to hold yourself to a higher standard to avoid making some of your audience feel that you are exploiting your volunteer.

I would say the same thing of any attempts to tap strong emotions. The more powerful a tool you are using, the more carefully you have to wield it.

The real question to me is, did anything go before that made this moment integral to the presentation? Because from the description, the "message from beyond" was entirely generic. I would think that if the message made reference to some fact that was only known to the spectator, then there would be a magical point to the message. This would, I think, mitigate the chance that this would come across as exploitive. It might also make the magic stronger.

But you know what would make this moment work for me? If the magician got a message from someone they loved who had died, and if this message made the magician cry.
Pete McCabe
 
Posts: 2083
Joined: 01/18/08 01:00 PM
Location: Simi Valley, CA

Postby Steve Bryant » 03/11/03 11:55 AM

I'm not sure where to stick this, but last night I picked up a most interesting book that Barnes and Noble is pushing, LILY DALE/The True Story of the Town That Talks to the Dead, by Christine Wicker. Haven't finished it yet, but nice writing so far and great photos. A sample:

"The crowd loves mediums who are loud and funny and fast. If they aren't, the tourists yawn and blink and look up at the trees. The medium Patricia Price calls these performances 'doing standup' and says mediums have to be 'comediums' to win the crowd. It doesn't matter a bit that poor old dead Mom has dropped in with her first words in fifty years. If she doesn't have something snappy to say, she might as well float on off because nobody is interested in hearing her dither around."
User avatar
Steve Bryant
 
Posts: 1676
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Bloomington IN

Postby Max Maven » 03/11/03 03:16 PM

Originally posted by David Groves:
mentalists like Max and Rafael are saying that yes, they are evoking an emotional response, but that no harm is done. A positive message is given, the audience is stunned, not quite knowing what is going on, and everyone benefits. Encouraging a belief in the afterlife is not a bad thing, it seems they might maintain.
Please do not misrepresent what I wrote. At no point in my comments did I express an opinion about "encouraging a belief in the afterlife."

My own repertoire, in fact, does not include a single routine wherein a person thinks of a dead friend or relative. That fact represents a variety of choices that I have made. My point in posting about the routine that Rafael Benatar performed in the Parlour last week was to expand the discussion by providing information and, hopefully, quell inaccurate rumors. Therefore, it would be nice to avoid starting new ones...
Max Maven
 
Posts: 366
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Hollywood, CA

Postby Guest » 03/11/03 04:05 PM

Originally posted by Steve Bryant:
I'm not sure where to stick this, but last night I picked up a most interesting book that Barnes and Noble is pushing, LILY DALE/The True Story of the Town That Talks to the Dead, by Christine Wicker. Haven't finished it yet, but nice writing so far and great photos. A sample:

"The crowd loves mediums who are loud and funny and fast. If they aren't, the tourists yawn and blink and look up at the trees. The medium Patricia Price calls these performances 'doing standup' and says mediums have to be 'comediums' to win the crowd. It doesn't matter a bit that poor old dead Mom has dropped in with her first words in fifty years. If she doesn't have something snappy to say, she might as well float on off because nobody is interested in hearing her dither around."
Comedy is one of the greatest tools anyone can use but it is likewise difficult. For me, when I try to be funny, it fails. When I'm myself and allow the droll sense of humor to roll as it may, it works. This "discovery" was a matter of happenstance. Truth of the matter is, my act was never supposed to be funny, it was written as a serious peice of mentalism originally but I haven't a poker face (one of the reason I could never do well selling used cars or cemetary plots...)

Several years ago I was working the Nashville area Renaissance Fair where I came across one of the most amazing Readers I'd ever met. Her Readings stank! But her sense of humor was awesome and people loved her... they threw ten and twenty dollar bills at this lady like they were nothing, just to keep her going with the patter.

Her Sessions were more akin to a Q&A act than the kind of one-on-one Reading you'd expect a gypsy to do at a Ren Fair. This kept her tip up and the crowds gathering all day long. I'd have to say she was pulling in over a grand a day... most certainly one of the more successful Readers I've ever met in the Ren Fair circuits.

Now she was pure entertainment and yet she didn't do one "trick", she tossed the cards and applied them to those gathered... is that so wrong? So different from what we do?

Channeling Dead People? Well, most folks don't feel "taken" or "harmed" from the experience when a person of moral fiber is leading the group. I may not personally agree with such antics (and I don't, as a rule) but I believe members of the status quo are inserting the issue of harm at a much higher point than is actually applicable.

Sigh! Let's just keep it simple and do our shows our way and let others do theirs in a manner that's "right" to them and deal with the treachery only when and where it can be confirmed vs. all the "opinions" that keep getting in the way and causing so much resentment...

:(
Guest
 

Postby Guest » 03/11/03 05:48 PM

Originally posted by Pete McCabe:

But you know what would make this moment work for me? If the magician got a message from someone they loved who had died, and if this message made the magician cry.
Very, very, very beautiful idea!

As always is a matter of choice, if we want to call magic a performing art, they should not be thinks that you can or you cannot do.

It is only a matter of choice and very important in my opinion, is Max point about been inform and aware of what you are doing and what you want to achieve, the most danger think is the ignorance.

Lets all be free.

Alfonso Rios
Guest
 

Postby Bill Duncan » 03/11/03 08:20 PM

I keep thinking about the woman who had offered her help to the performer...

Either:
1. She believes in an afterlife.
2. She does not believe in an afterlife.
3. She has doubts about the existence of an afterlife.

In any of the three cases what he did after seeing her reaction was callous and exploitive. No matter what his intention or goals as a performer once the woman was moved to tears either becase she actually thought her dead aunt was communicating with her, or (more likely in my guess) she was so hurt by being exploited in such a way that it made her cry, his reading the message aloud shows he was more interested in getting to the pay off of his routine than in the feelings of the person who had offered to help him. I have to hope that in the heat of the moment he simply made a poor choice and now will consider that the "moment" he is striving to achieve comes at too high a cost.

Perhaps the credo of those performing mentalism should be:
First, do no harm.
Bill Duncan
 
Posts: 1360
Joined: 03/13/08 11:33 PM

Postby Guest » 03/12/03 12:43 AM

Originally posted by Craig Browning:...a gypsy ... at a Ren Fair....Now she was pure entertainment and yet she didn't do one "trick", she tossed the cards and applied them to those gathered... is that so wrong? So different from what we do? :( [/QB]
I'm playing both sides of the fence here.

Yes, throwing the tarot cards is different because those people sought her advice as a reader. The Magic Castle lady didn't come looking for advice; it was merely thrust upon her out of the clear blue.

On the other hand, I talked with another mentalist friend of mine, and he saw another of Rafael's shows last week. In that show, he knew the woman, and she wrote down the name of her dead husband.

The woman was visibly shaken by the message, and Bill was rather disgusted by it and was tempted to tell her that it was just a trick.

But then a half-hour later, the woman's boyfriend said confidentially that the message was just what the woman needed, that she really needed to hear that kind of loving message from her departed husband.

I'm sure that you can do some good, but it's also quite possible to unknowingly do some great harm. And you'll never know the harm that you do, because no one will tell you. It will surface after you're gone.
Guest
 

Postby Jeff Eline » 03/12/03 07:09 AM

Rafeal is certainly a world class performer and I really want to believe that he knows what he's doing and handles it properly.

However, from the description here (and that's all I have to go on), it certainly sounds exploitative. And if it's not, it's definitely risky, with the stakes being someone's emotional health. If it goes right (like David and Craig's anecdotes) then everyone's fine. But you have to recognize that it COULD go wrong. Then what?
Jeff Eline
 
Posts: 647
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Baltimore, MD

Postby Charles Spector » 03/13/03 09:06 AM

I am more amazed at the judgements of people that did not see the act than I am of the actual debate. In Rafael Benatar's words "I can hardly believe it myself."

Charles Spector
P.S. I saw his act on Friday. He missed the name but it was a very poignant moment. I too sit on the fence on this one.
Charles Spector
 
Posts: 112
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Huntington Beach, CA

Postby Richard Kaufman » 03/13/03 09:20 AM

This is actually an interesting and valuable discussion.
A very adept and sensative performer will know when and how to do effects that elicit this type of reaction and how to handle those reactions when they occur.
I would suggest that most performers simply lack the qualities necessary to handle these things properly.
So, for some performers it's a great way to do things, for others it can quickly become a very sticky wicket.
To sit in judgement as magicians on Rafael Benetar strikes me as extremely dubious. Frankly, the only opinion I'm interested in regarding this is that of the laymen involved and those in the audience.
And it is also wise to remember that we have not been presented with a videotape of his performance, simply David Groves' recollection of it. I would be interested to hear from others who have seen it and what they felt the reaction of the laymen in the audience was.
Subscribe today to Genii Magazine
User avatar
Richard Kaufman
 
Posts: 20833
Joined: 07/18/01 12:00 PM
Location: Washington DC

Postby Jeff Eline » 03/13/03 09:28 AM

Originally posted by Charles Spector:
[QB]I am more amazed at the judgements of people that did not see the act than I am of the actual debate. In Rafael Benatar's words "I can hardly believe it myself."[QB]
I don't know, do we all have to be first hand observers of an event to have a discussion? David gave a good explanation and Max certainly filled in a few important points.

I think most of us acknowledge that Rafeal is without a doubt, one of the best performers in the world, and in this instance you have to give him the benefit of the doubt that he handles things properly.

For me, this discussion has moved past who did what, and is focused more on the abstract "where is the line" and is it appropriate or even dangerous to cross it. I thought that is what this forum was for.

If I'm wrong, I apologize.
Jeff Eline
 
Posts: 647
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Baltimore, MD

Postby Dustin Stinett » 03/13/03 08:24 PM

I don't think that you are wrong Jeff. The discussion is less about Mr. Benatar than it is about a performance choice.

This is a fascinating thread. To me, ultimately, it's about a performer knowing quite well:

1. His/her personal strengths and weaknesses as a performer.

2. His/her Performance character.

3. That character's strengths and weaknesses (if you have a comedic character, a piece like this will probably not work no matter how "good" you are).

All too often magicians and mentalists select material without taking any of these into consideration (and it usually shows). When a conscientious performer considers these, the piece is usually carefully - and sensitively – scripted and performed.

Dustin
User avatar
Dustin Stinett
 
Posts: 5942
Joined: 07/22/01 12:00 PM
Location: Southern California

Postby sleightly » 03/13/03 10:35 PM

I might add to Dustin's list that the decision to perform material of this nature depends not only on character and a performer's abilities, but also relies a great deal on the context of the performance (location, single performer versus variety format, expected audience, etc.).

At the Castle, where most people are likely expecting straight visual magic, this type of performance could be considered, in its context, too heavy. Some have referred to this type of material as using "cheap" tricks to elicit an emotional response. I would find it difficult to believe that the performer in question is deliberately trying to cause pain in one person for the entertainment of all. Perhaps the stark contrast between the emotionless finger-flicking and the emotionally-charged L&D test causes the reaction to seem even more outrageous than it would under other circumstances.

Too much magic is performed strictly by the performer at the audience. Too many have either forgotten the power of "weaving a spell of enchantment" or fear getting too close to actually affecting their "guests" in any way other than generating "a sense of wonder." Judicious use and careful application of spectator emotions should be considered just one more tool in the arsenal.

Since 1997 I have been performing my theatrical seance, "An Evening with the Spirits." My goal is to reproduce a seance as it would have been perceived by sitters in the late 1800's. Some creative license has been taken, but for the most part all the bases are covered. The character I perform is one of a researcher/interested "sensitive" who has developed a relationship with the central character across the void of time, primarily through the research process.

Attendees are usually unaware that I perform as a sleight-of-hand performer, and I would believe that it would be to the detriment of the experience I strive to create to add some "proviso" to make myself feel better. I am there neither to confirm or deny their belief systems, but rather take them on a journey to another time and place. I use all the tools at my disposal to enhance the experience.

It can be difficult. People have strong emotions when considering loved ones (especially those who have "passed over") and you can easily overwhelm people, particularly if you have placed them into an emotionally-charged atmosphere such as a seance. You walk a very fine line every time you engage audiences in this way, but the rewards are worth it.

The other question underlying some of the discussion might be one of "disclosure."

Should we not try to convince audiences that what we do is real? People are certainly aware of gimmicks and sleight of hand. Things are perhaps a bit more problematic when mentalism is performed on its own, as it relies to some degree on audience uncertainty about methodology as well as conscious or unconscious desire to have the ability to read minds.

It is easier for audiences to make a leap from staunch disbelief (even excess skepticism) to bordering on belief when you are touching on an archetypal chord such as the ability to read minds or know the future. After all, would you rather have the ability to make a red scarf blue or foretell the future? One certainly sparks the imagination more than the other...

What is our responsibility to our audience? Should we have a code of ethics we adhere to? What would this consist of?

Should we not perform material because we are uncomfortable with the possible implications or do we charge forward and perform it precisely because the "danger" can create a stronger (if less predictable in nature) response?

It's up to the individual...

The result of such a performance relies primarily on the audience's interpretation, based on their particular views of the world. Those who believe, will continue to believe. Those who lie on the border can be induced. Others who don't believe may never.

ajp
sleightly
 
Posts: 217
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: New Hampshire

Postby Guest » 03/14/03 08:24 AM

Originally posted by Pete McCabe:

But you know what would make this moment work for me? If the magician got a message from someone they loved who had died, and if this message made the magician cry.

The irony is (as I hinted at above) a well known mentalist/medium had just such an encounter many years ago IN THE CASTLE. I know of others who (when they feel free to share openly about such things) admit to similar experiences but will not devulge such things around certain factions of the magic community due to the pronounced prejudice that seems to exist.

One of the Legends of magic from the 50s and 60s built a great part of his fortune as a dowser...

:rolleyes: I guess I'd better get back to putting that book together I started on long ago, about the stage magicians who believe and those that even participate/live along the more esoteric paths... it's time for all of them to come out of those broom-closets! ;)
Guest
 

Postby Guest » 03/14/03 09:23 AM

I viewed the parlour show on two separate occasions, with two different sets of companions. During one performance I was accompanied by non-magicians, during the other magicians. After the first performance, immediately after Mr. Benatar revealed the name of and message from the deceased, the selected woman began crying, looked around at the audience and became red with embarrassment. Her male companion comforted her and the show ended. During the second performance a similar scenerio took place.
Both sets of guests commented that they felt sorry for the woman. I asked them if they had a choice, after viewing the piece, if they would knowingly participate or want someone they knew to participate in the routine, and all replied no. The magicians proceeded to question, "Why would someone include this in an act, if they had a repertoire of strong effects to choose from, if they knew that there was even a chance that it might embarrass or hurt someone's feelings? Why not just choose something else to perform?"
Guest
 

Postby Guest » 03/14/03 09:36 AM

For the last billet, interestingly, the magician asked the volunteer to write down the name of someone who has passed on.

"Make it someone whom you were emotionally close to," the magician added.>>>>>

Aw, c'mon guys...the woman left the stage CRYING. Her memory of her evening at the Castle will be "He made me cry."

As described, I don't see that he told her a message could possibly come through from the Happy Summerland. That being the case, the woman offered her participation from a less-than-fully-informed standpoint. And that blows. It's the WORST kind of sucker gag.

That said, if he'd made here aware at the beginning that these kinds of things *might* happen, then fair enough.

And no,it's not like 'Terms of Endearment'...or any other movie...at ALL. Movies are analogous experiences. They aren't specific and personal...unless the movie is about YOU or something you directly experienced, (But you'd know THAT in advance, wouldn't you?)

If the woman had come to a seance...even an admittedly theatrical one...then yeah, Aunt Mae would have been fair game. After all, the program reads "SEANCE". But she came to a magic show.

Kevin Burke
Guest
 

Postby Guest » 03/14/03 10:15 AM

Watching a tear-jerking movie, in the darkened theater, as an anonymous audience member, reacting or non-reacting as one pleases, is different than being brought on stage and asking about YOUR losing a loved one. Glad someone finally asked what the (lay) audience felt. (I like to eavesdrop on audience comments while at the Castle, as THEIR reactions are often quite different than magicians would like to think.)
It sounds almost as this type of use of a audience volunteer is a form of mentalist "bra trick", where performer thinks, great reactions, she was a good sport, the audience responded,etc. when in fact, when the lady is ever asked, (privately) how SHE feels, it was often a pointless, embarrassing, experience, she could have done without. Similar to mentalists who during Q&A or psychometry, say outragous things during readings, to get audience laughs.("You like to deny you prefer leather underwear". "This is time of uncontroled lust for you, have fun!")
Guest
 

Postby Pete McCabe » 03/14/03 10:47 AM

Posted by Craig Browning :

The irony is (as I hinted at above) a well known mentalist/medium had just such an encounter many years ago IN THE CASTLE. I know of others who (when they feel free to share openly about such things) admit to similar experiences but will not devulge such things around certain factions of the magic community due to the pronounced prejudice that seems to exist.

I'm not sure if I understood what Craig was saying, but it seems I may not have been clear. I'm not saying I think it would be good if the magician actually received a message from beyond the grave and was reduced to tears. I'm saying it would be good if the magician presented a scene in which they received a message from beyond the grave, and this moved them to tears.
Pete McCabe
 
Posts: 2083
Joined: 01/18/08 01:00 PM
Location: Simi Valley, CA

Postby Guest » 03/14/03 03:46 PM

Originally posted by Bill Duncan:

In any of the three cases what he did after seeing her reaction was callous and exploitive. .... it made her cry, his reading the message aloud shows he was more interested in getting to the pay off of his routine than in the feelings of the person who had offered to help him.

[/b][/QB]
I have to agree that it may have been a "heat of the moment" situation as opposed to "getting to the payoff".

I do not believe it was "callous and exploitive" though.

By reading the final note and getting such a strong reaction may not be the 'norm'. Peoples eyes may water in enjoyment in most cases, others simply nodding in agreement when the note is read and then the 1% that actually cry real alligator tears trying to fight back the serious emotional rush that they experience in that one moment is what seemed to have happened. That reaction is an amazing one but at the same time can be a little uncomfortable for the performer. This feeling could make you a little un-nervy and you simply do what comes natural to you in all other shows. You read the billet.

Good or bad, it is still part of the effect and needs to be done for the rest of the audience to be filled in and, even though the reaction of this one was not the 'norm', entertained.

When the TV mediums begin to reveal things and the people start crying, they don't stop the show. That's entertainment. Rafael is a great entertainer and that is what he did. Entertained.

www.JeffEzellMAGIC.com
Guest
 

Postby Pete McCabe » 03/14/03 04:57 PM

Once again, I'm not trying to criticize Raphael Benatar.

But from a dramatic perspective I wonder if it might not be better to leave the message unread in that case. After all, the actual message is quite tame, from a magical perspective. I think if you leave that to the audience's imagination, they might well conjure up something much more... impossible (for lack of a better word), than what was actually written.
Pete McCabe
 
Posts: 2083
Joined: 01/18/08 01:00 PM
Location: Simi Valley, CA

Postby Guest » 03/15/03 06:19 PM

The reason that I left Rafael's name out in the original post: I wanted to make the discussion about That Thin Line, not Rafael, who is a fine magician.

Over the last couple years, I've worked up a 45-minute mentalism show and have been debating where to place That Thin Line. How much should you screw with people's heads?

Magic tricks inherently screw with people's heads, even the most basic card trick. Just look at people's reactions:

"Oh, that is really messed up!" some people say.

"Oh, I hate this kind of stuff!" others say.

"Ouch!" one 6-year-old said, as if I had pinched her. All I did was perform Torn & Restored Transposition!

But mentalism screws with people's heads even more because it's inherently more believable. It makes people wonder: Is the mentalist a genuine seer? Is there an afterlife? Does psychic phenomenon exist?

Last Christmas, I was coerced into doing a cold reading for a holiday party: A performer whom I had booked cancelled, and I had an hour to find another psychic performer. I suggested to the Mom that I cancel, but she vigorously protested.

"Just do it yourself," Mom said.

"I don't do that kind of stuff," I said.

"Oh it's easy," she said. "Just look into their eyes and say, 'I seeeee your futuuuuuuure!'"

So I did it. I'll tell you, it was very seductive. As each child (and a mother standing behind each one) stood in front of me, I used Corinda's chapter on cold reading and, bit by bit, told them all about their deepest darkest secrets. I blew them all away. Not only that, but I felt a sense of closeness and power with each person I read to. It was emotional, to say the least. I walked out of there feeling like a god.

But I sensed danger, that it was a power that could blow up in my face. I hadn't received a Ph.D. in psychology, for example, and sensed that I needed something like that in order to forestall disaster when it befell me, as I knew it must sooner or later.

I vowed never to do a cold reading again. That is, until psychic entertainer cancels out on me and a mother says to me: "Just look into their eyes and say, 'I seeeee your futuuuuuuure!'"....
Guest
 

Postby Guest » 03/16/03 12:23 AM

"The world is mine!..I can do it to a senator, I can do it to a governor!" (From Nightmare Alley)
Reality is that readings can be impressive for some people, but not as powerful as some readers(and skeptics) would like to think. Some will say you are amazing, even fewer will think you are amazing, and others couldn't care less. Some can be impressed enough to remember what you said for years to come. Others, who will praise you like a prophet, will forget about you tomorrow, along with the strolling magician and the chopped liver mold. Clergy/evangelists witness those who have an emotional, life-changing spiritual awakening, and then think nothing of it the next day, and go on to something else. Believe me, I have seen both ends, and to each extreme, but properly done, readings can be an uplifting and entertaining experience...again, when properly done.
Guest
 

Postby Rafael Benatar » 03/16/03 09:11 AM

I guess its about time to speak up. Though I had been tempted to do so before, I chose to let the thread follow its natural course. With due respect to everybodys opinion, I would like to set some facts straight.

Ian asks: Is David's description accurate? If the dialogue is as reported, how much of the clunky use of words could be due to Mr. Benatar working in a foreign language?

Being this the touchy subject it is, the precise way things are done and said becomes particularly important. Even if it werent, it makes me uncomfortable to be misquoted and misrepresented. To use quotes as if they were my exact words distorts the picture. So, Ian, to answer your question: No, language is not a problem but the clunky words are not mine.

David Groves quotes me as saying, when I ask a lady to write the name of someone who has passed, "Make it someone whom you were emotionally close to." What I say is: "I want you to think of somebody who is not anymore with us, somebody who has passed away. Preferably somebody you knew personally. Is that OK with you?"
I am prepared with a follow-up to that request in case the spectator shows the slightest hesitation, which is, "Or if you dont want to get too involved you might think of a celebrity or a historical character." The fact is that almost every time (in my last week at the Castle it was literally every time), the person nods in approval promptly. I have given a great deal of thought to the exact wording and it does make a difference.

The writing that appears in the billet at the end was also misquoted as: "Don't worry about me. I am in a better place. I will love you always, Auntie Mae." And what I actually write is: Hello [name of spectator]. I love you [sometimes I add, or substitute, I miss you]. Im OK. [Name/signature of the person thought of]."

Lets talk about what I intend to do. Do I try to make people cry? Well, I do try to get them emotional. Some cry and some dont. Mind you, its not actually crying, its their eyes getting wet with emotion.

I am surprised many of the posts have simplistically assumed crying is bad (laugh=good, cry=bad). Some people laugh when they are given bad news and many cry when their daughter gets married (being happy about the marriage, that is), or when their son graduates from college, to be clearer.

Several people have referred to what magicians think, or to what the husband of the spectator thinks. But what about the spectator herself? If you know me, you know I care as much as anyone. Let me express my view after hundreds of performances. The woman that cries (or gets emotional) often goes out of her way to find me and thank me for the experience. If I feel she got very sensitive, I find her after the show and make sure she's OK, and they always are. And I mean always.

What do I pursue with this effect?

In magic effects in general, people ideally should get nowhere near an explanation. Any possible solutions have been blocked and proven wrong by the time the effect takes place. (For an extensive dissertation on this see Juan Tamariz: The Magic Way). In the present case, however, when spectators are thoroughly convinced I cannot have access to that information, the only window that is half-open is that to the message from beyond. Even down-to-earth non-believers are led to put their heads through that window for at least a moment of illusion. The comments made by Max Maven in his first post accurately reflect these thoughts.

Do I pretend to be real?

By no means. Its an illusion. Its a moment of theater. But the illusion would be hampered if I were to admit it verbally right there. Same as in the movies, no more no less. In the case of emotional spectators who ask me difficult questions after the show, I tell them its an illusion.

So, how do I convey the fact that Im not pretending to be real? Well, this is a crucial point that is missing in all the posts that describe my performance, though Max Maven did mention something about the context in which its done.

Though magic is the top priority in my shows, I use a great deal of humor. People who have read this thread and havent seen the show have no way of figuring this out. I wouldnt call it comedy magic but here are some revealing hard facts. I was doing a 20-minute show at the Castle. I had made a chart, for myself, before this thread started of the number of laughs in my show. To be precise, I am including mild laughs, big laughs and chuckles of different degrees. I dont include mere smiles. Only those that make some noise just in about every show. I only count expressions of astonishment when they are mixed with laughter. The total for the 20 minutes is 32 laughs, 7 of which are in the closing trick (the one in question). When Im "letting my fingers write" I do it almost tongue-in-cheek. I dont sweat or appeared possesed, and I never get completely serious.

I do think it is possible to do magic without humor but even the most serious good performers resort to different degrees of humor, irony and tongue-in-cheekness. Its a way to establish a complicity with the audience. Like saying: "You and I know this is not real, lets just have some fun." Otherwise even a coin vanish could freak people out if you presented it (and were able to convey it) as real.

David wrote, "The cold reading was not sophisticated enough, it seems to me, to pass the skeptics." But there is no cold reading to speak of! He also says that the audience doesnt believe this to be real and suggests what is needed for it to seem real. Whats the point then?

He also said: "With billet routines such as this, one of which I have performed for several years, I have found that even though you get away with the sleights involved, a certain percentage of people always say: "I didn't see him look at the piece of paper, but he must have looked at it at some point. "It's the only logical explanation."

Thats the point I tried to make above. If the only logical explanation is proved to be impossible, thats when its magic. Getting away with sleights is too low a goal. Remember Erdnases most famous statement in p.83: "...in such a manner that the most critical observer would not even suspect, let alone detect, the action."

David also wrote, "I feel that the suggestion of the message simply plucked an emotional chord within her, and even though she knew it was a fake, the tears came."

In this we agree, though I see no reason to call it fake if Im not pretending to be real. If I wanted to be taken as real, believe me, I would act very differently.
Rafael Benatar
 
Posts: 223
Joined: 01/18/08 01:00 PM
Location: Madrid, Spain

Next

Return to Mentalism & Mental Magic