Suggestions for Walk-around Mentalism

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

Postby Maddened » 10/14/08 02:36 AM

Hi everyone,

I am contracted to do a walk-around act for a charity show in about 2 weeks. A total of ten effects were asked for. Since I am primarily mentalist, I would like to clobber together a mentalism act suitable for a walk-around audience (peeks could be dangerous for this reason but I'm not inclined to reject it) that can be anywhere and everywhere. So would just like to ask if anyone has any suggestions on what I could do. Thanks.
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Postby Joe Pecore » 10/14/08 05:26 AM

I hope you have the October issue of Genii where Luke Jermay has an article "The New Mind: The BridgeAn Approach to Walk-Around Mentalism"
Share your knowledge on the MagicPedia wiki.
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Postby David Alexander » 10/14/08 10:14 AM

I have never heard of a booker requiring a specific number of effects for a gig. I was always hired because I was an experienced entertainer and knew what I was doing. The booker was buying a certain level of competence.

I always performed material I knew well and knew worked. A professional does not experiment on his audiences except in small ways that should be invisible to the audience. If you want to break in new material there a plenty of ways to do it other than at a paid gig.

Two weeks is hardly adequate time to work up ten new effects. Professionals do not "clobber" acts together. They deliver a known quality of entertainment. You may do yourself more harm than good in performing unknown material.
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Postby Maddened » 10/14/08 11:54 AM

Hi, thanks for the comments. Unfortunately I do not have the October Genii but that article sounds fascinating. Cheers!

Hi David, yes I'll admit that "clobber" was a poor choice of words. I was trying to inject some casual humour. Will try harder next time... :)

It's not a paid gig, it's for charity. The idea is for a few of us to walk around and engage any passers-by into checking out the charity display/fair.

I also am aware that time is not on my side. The 10 effects requirement is probably not a strict rule but a guideline since it is likely that in the few hours that we are there, we will have to have a variety of things to show.

It is not that I have absolutely nothing to perform. I do, and have already come up with 6 effects that I already perform regularly (some I just made some modifications). This post was more of an exploratory one, where I like to find out if other mentalists were put into such a situation, what would they consider doing.

To illustrate, I have planned a Triple Prediction effect that is a variation of the full one that I do for a parlour or stage setting. Instead of chairs, I will be using large envelopes. Instead of balloons, I am going to use stickers on a card etc.

There will be a blindfold effect with an audience member standing behind me to cover my eyes, rather than me being really blindfolded. The closeness of the spectators and the interaction with the one covering my eyes offers opportunities for some laughter and should play better with such an audience than on a stage.

And because of the nature of the walk-about, I am incorporating more effects using cards than I would if I were performing for a seated audience. The closeness and intimacy of a walk-around allows for that I think, and the effects with playing cards might play better.

I also have a couple of effects that require multiple audience participation, which I believe is good for the walk-about as I can gather a few people together, and that would draw others in to see what is going on. But again, I'm not sure if I'm thinking the right way since I am not so experience with walk-around audiences.

Because I won't have a table, I am limiting myself to business cards, index cards, playing cards, billets, and basically items that I can easily carry around with me, easily put in my pockets and coat, and still be able to do a variety of effects with. Effects with a lot of talk are out because the attention span and patience of a walk-around audience is definitely going to be shorter.

Metal bending has never been my thing because I find it too showy, and to walk around with 20 forks in my pocket seems like a waste of space. I rather put my business cards in that pocket and do some drawing duplications instead.

The only "prop-ish" effect I have in mind is a Ring through Rope which I plan to dress up as a demonstration of wish fulfillment. The patter addresses the idea of wishes and how I was told that sometimes when one wishes hard enough, and have enough belief, seemingly impossible things can happen.

I apologise for my poor post which seems to be fishing for effects. I should have taken time to explain everything. This thread is meant both as a sounding board (perhaps someone would have an idea that would set me thinking) and also as a general discussion of people's thoughts and experiences with walk-about mentalism.

P.S. I have read and used some of the material from Mark Striving's "Mobile Mentalism" before but felt that only a few of them hit hard enough for my liking.

T.A. Waters has an effect described in Brittland's book that involved chocolate gold coins and a real gold coin to be distributed to audience members and the holder of the gold coin is divined with a "Truth or Lie" premise. Am thinking of what I could possibly substitute the coins with since I don't exactly have gold coins (you'll know what I mean if you know the effect). But I think it is a nice idea to use and the people walk away with a small souvenir. Perfect for a charity roadshow, imo.
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Postby El Mystico » 10/14/08 12:43 PM

Whille I agree with David's points about not putting an act together in two weeks, and the oddity of a booker specifying the number of tricks...i do think this thread has merit. There are not many sources for close up mentalism, and I share Maddened view that while Mark Strivings book(s) is (are) useful, they do not contain many killer routines....

Walk around meentalism is a curious area, and I'd be interested to hear what effects people are using.
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Postby Tony Razzano » 10/14/08 03:38 PM

You might want to consider a thin paperback book test, such as Larry Becker's "Flashback", or one of its incarnations. Thin enough to fit in your pocket and the outcome will most likely be different every time you do it.

Another effect that might fit the bill is the recently released "Directors Cut",which,again, can fit in your pocket and would most likely have a different outcome each time.

I wouldn't be afraid of a peek or a tear. I use them all the time in walk around situations.

Psychokinetic (sp?) touch, with loops or Banachek's version. Nothing to carry.

Pocket writing and then loading the billet into a SUC, SAW etc.

Billet switching a la Anneman (the strongest in my opinion).

A watch effect.

Swami effects ( Don't underestimate these).

And of course, Craig Filicetti's wonderful Multi Dimensional ( which I have added to all of my shows).
Best regards,
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Postby David Alexander » 10/14/08 05:04 PM

OK, clarification noted, and it sounds like you already have enough material. Back when I was doing a lot of walk-around gigs I'd often end up doing the same four effects for different small groups over the course of an evening. This was especially true if I was working a large group.

Like you, I worked strictly out of my pockets but in later years I decided to experiment with a small green felt covered table. That also worked quite well, gave me a controlled surface to work on and made my work more important.

Learn a good tear and read Center Tear and a quick magic square. Doug Dyment's "Flash Square" is quite commercial and perfect for walk around...AND it leaves them with your business card at the end.
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Postby tboehnlein » 10/15/08 12:07 PM

Flash Squared is an excellent effect for walk around, have to disagree about the earlier Strivings remark, I feel his stuff for walk around works amazingly well. I would also recommend B'WAVE & a business card picture duplication.
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Postby Fred Zimmerman » 10/15/08 05:00 PM

I'd like to offer some quick advice about walk-around mentalism. Over 60% of my work is in this area, so I've given this a great deal of thought.

It's one thing to list effects you will use during walkaround (mentalism or otherwise), but it's equally, if not MORE, important to think about three very key things: The Approach, the "Set," and the Audience Experience. I'll briefly touch on each one.

The Approach: As with ANY walkaround situation, how you sell yourself, rather than your magic or mentalism, is key. When the group likes YOU, they will buy what you're selling. If they do not take a liking to YOU, it doesn't matter what you're doing. Therefore, pay special care about establishing your performing persona and building a relationship with the group FIRST; the rest will be much easier.

The Set: At cocktail parties, or walkaround functions, people tend to group up in fours or sixes. A couple tries not to be "anti-social" and will always try and latch on to another couple. We are, essentially, pack animals. This foursome then usually combines with another couple, so the usual group you'll encounter will have this many people in it. Why do I mention this? Because it is important to engage the group and design your material to include everyone either actively, or at least mentally (and just "watch this!" doesn't really count.) Think about the "set" you'll be putting together - beginning, middle, and end. How does it reflect on you and on your host? This will make or break your interactions. Also, you'll be encountering these people repeatedly during the evening. What's your second set? How does it relate and build onto the first? What if half of the new group has already seen your opening set? How do you deal with that, and use it to your advantage? Just as we do in designing magical and mental effects, try and take the "challenge" and make it an "advantage."

The Audience Experience: You MUST put yourself into the shoes of your audience, and design your approach and effects with this in mind. They've gotten dressed up to come to this event. Many will not really want to be there, but feel obligated to come. Many are spouses of the actual employees or invited guest. They are thinking, feeling people with full lives and issues on their minds. They are NOT simply audience-fodder waiting for you to perform for them. It will be difficult to earn mindshare for what you're doing. This is especially challenging for mentalists because the very nature of what we do requires a great deal of attention being paid. Magic can be visual and very, very easy to comprehend - even with 4-5 scotches under your belt. Mentalism often requires people to think, remember, feel etc. It's a tougher sell, especially with loud music in the background and food being passed by waiters. Be prepared for this.

When planning your approach and the framework of your effects, keep the participant's frame of mind in mind (so to speak). If you do, you'll find writing the opening and "stories" of your effects will become much easier. Why? Because, essentially, if YOU are putting yourself in their place, then you're basically trying to convince YOURSELF that what you're doing is interesting and worth your time and attention. And be truthful about your emotions. YOU like what you do. They don't have that prejudice.

If you are simply out there for yourself, people will turn off and go back to something more interesting - talking to their friends and eating and drinking.

Good luck!

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Postby David Alexander » 10/16/08 12:05 AM

With the addition of the post by Fred - especially the post by Fred - the value of advice given now tops several thousand dollars and several years cut off the learning curve.
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Postby Maddened » 10/16/08 04:39 AM

I agree, Fred has definitely shared some golden advice and lots of food for thought. Thanks!

David, I'll definitely think about the table idea because that would make things easier.

I'll go check out Flash Square since it's highly recommended.

Hopefully we'll hear other thoughts. Especially after Fred's post, I'm sure there are lots more things to be said about walk-around mentalism.
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Postby David Alexander » 10/16/08 11:27 AM

Keep the table simple. I took a piece of wood 12" x 16" and painted the bottom black. Attached a black flange, bought the best quality green felt I could find and had a professional upholster the felt to the top. It has a slight give to it and is a perfect surface. A folding screw-in top completes the outfit. It is simple and uncomplicated and does not call attention to itself.

For Doug's material see:

You might also check out Docc Hilford's material as a great deal of it will work in a walk around situation.
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Postby Kent Gunn » 10/16/08 12:47 PM

Mr. Zimmerman,


That was the best thing I've ever read on this forum.
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Postby Tom Dobrowolski » 10/16/08 02:36 PM

We are lucky to have Fred Zimmerman in the Chicago area and even luckier when he swings by Midwest Magic to spend some time. Some of the very best and most enjoyable discussions I've ever had regarding magic in all it's aspects (performance, material, theory, scripting, etc. etc.) have been with Fred. I always walk away from those discussions having learned some valuable new information and more importantly thinking about my magic. A great guy who has a lot to offer and is always willing to share this valuable information as he has here. Thanks Fred.

btw when are you going to do that lecture?
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Postby Lemniscate » 10/20/08 04:56 PM

I expected this to be a waste of a thread. I expected some people to list effects they happen to like, some to complain about the question itself, and maybe one or two posts that added something insightful, which the original poster would ignore.

It's a trend that one sees over and over again, in every topic imaginable. I'm happy to see that what looked to be a truly pedestrian conversation turned into a conversation where people shared what they have learned over the course of years.

The answer to the question itself is one that could have been found in several other places on the internet with a modicum of searching, but the thoughts shared by several people here are of real value, and they should be read and re-read several times because there is a lot of information packed into those words.

The only thing I will add is this: be interesting.

Please, in the name of <insert non-offensive deity's name nere>, please be interesting. It is easy to be technically proficient in mentalism, due to the general lack of technically demanding methodologies, but that means people tend to think it is easy. It isn't. You are the person that sells the effect, not a colorful prop or even an interesting story, it is YOU.

Please, be interesting.

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Postby Fred Zimmerman » 10/28/08 12:58 PM

Hi again,

Thank you for the kind responses. I've been busy lately and have just now been able to check back, and I'm gratified that some have found my post useful.

I just finished a weekend of two strolling gigs, and they could NOT have been more different. They also help clarify some of the points I made in my other post.

The first gig was being held in a recently converted warehouse space in a rougher part of town. It was very "constructionist," with a labyrinthine layout, the kitchen in the open (and I mean the WHOLE kitchen - shelves, stoves, etc) - along with tables, etc. There was also a low-ceilinged second level with a dining table, restroom and office.

Strange space, but who cares, people are people, right?

This was a surprise birthday party, and for all of the guests, English was pretty much a second, or even third language. But hey, great for them - I'm the American after all - monolingual - but I started with built-in communication difficulties. And I'm a mentalist. Hmmm.

Add the fact that is was a costume party (masks, etc), it was very dark, with only occasional dimply-lit areas. Also add loud, blaring Euro-pop, mostly in Polish and, I think, Russian.

The groups stood, not in small clumps, but it Rugby scrums. It was nigh on impossible to penetrate a group - they acted as if they were penguins huddling for warmth at the South Pole, and I was ... well, something that wanted to hurt them.

So I reverted to some tried and true openings - readings. I start with simple numerological readings (women love them), and then open the crowd up to what Im doing and to me. When they're warmed up, I transition to some regular material.

Not having it. I was actually told, after introducing what I was doing to one person, "No thank you, I know enough about myself." Pretty stunned, to tell you the truth. But I soldiered on, and actually convinced a few people to be read, but the vibe was definitely all about THEM, and I was an interloper.

I managed to get a few guests to tell the host (the caterer & owner) that they enjoyed what I was doing (that's a separate tactic), but the night was spiraling downward. It was a 3-hour gig, and I began to think I had crashed on the Highway on the way, and now I was in Hell. I actually stationed myself off to one side after a while, staying out of the host's view, watching the guests dance to the ear-splitting music and Spencer's disco lights, and I actively WATCHED 5 minutes tick by on a clock on the wall. Wow. I'm really good.

Eventually, I made my way upstairs AGAIN, and lo and behold a very thickly accented, Euro guy came up to me (interesting hair, many piercings, but a nice manner) and asked, in broken English, if I was the guy "Telling Fortunes."

"Sure," I said! What the heck - it was some interest. I sat down with him and took out my Tarot Deck (I always carry the Major Arcana with me ... just in case). He had specific questions, so I lapsed into full reading mode (party-style, of course), and the dam broke.

His wife then came up and sat down, and the line formed. I spent the rest of the night simply doing readings. My host came up at the end and wanted to be read, "Before you have to go."

The last 90 minutes flew by. At the very end of the night, I did a quarter-bend (making a Lucky Charm for her- separate routine) to demonstrate for my host (and potential client again) the flavor of my other stuff. It worked.

That was a night where the audience and situation was tough, tough, and standard tactics went out the window. (Lawyers are even tougher, but I digress...)

The next night I went to a private home show in a moneyed Northern Suburb. Long story short, I had a couple immediately recognize me from a previous gig and began singing my praises.

I started doing my regular routines and everyone was totally buying what I was selling. I could do no wrong. I used my 1,2 and 3 sets, along with some tangential stuff, and it was like a textbook version of my shows. Great night - the kind where you end up just having a drink and talking with everyone about psychic stuff - not even performing anymore.

In summary, it's never ever going to go the same way twice. Ever. Get used to that. I've posted on other sites about how many working guys create what I call my "Drunk Show." You gotta have one. Bulletproof stuff that will get you through the night.

I did a gig earlier this year where the private group of about 20 was SO drunk, many couldn't get out of their chairs to come up front. And I'm not exaggerating. I chose someone, and they couldn't stand, so I finally asked point blank, "who can stand up?" It got a laugh, but I was serious.

They were completely TOASTED. Even the wait staff, back of house, was commenting on the amount of liquor this group was putting away. (And to add insult to injury, the washroom in this small place was broken, so guests needed to go to the Sports Bar next door to go ... and get another drink.) Yikes.

Ugly, ugly night. I ended up doing more pure magic (like Sidewalk Shuffle, etc.) that needed no one to help. Just presentational, and if they were listening ... that was a bonus.

And of course, afterwards, everyone was very complimentary as they staggered out. (The guest of honor's Mom had to be "helped" to the car.) And these were (supposedly) high-class people holding an event in a private wine bar. Sheesh. Give me the Plumber's Union any day.

Ah well, the life of a strolling performer. Advice is good, but doing it will teach you what you need. Or you'll learn that you hate it, and stop.

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Postby mrgoat » 10/28/08 01:53 PM

Excellent post Mr Zimmerman.

I love hearing real tales about real problems and how people overcome them.

(I've had a similar 5 mins clock watching waiting for inspriation of how to do magic in a venue with a band so loud I couldn't be heard. I decided to go out the where the free bar was and entertain people in line there. Seemed to work!)
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Postby Maddened » 10/29/08 07:42 AM

Hi everyone. The walkabout event went really well. I haven't read Fred's latest post yet (I suspect it requires time to digest) but just wanted to make a quick update post.

Basically because there were other events going on during this charity fair, I found approaching to be easy. I picked people who were waiting in line at the registration counter or queuing to get a balloon sculpture.

In the end, I went with things there were visual and fast. The decision was made only when I arrived there and realised that because there were so many other things going on, getting a group's attention for more than a couple of minutes will be hard. Furthermore there were other strolling performances and music playing so something that was patter-heavy was definitely out.

It was probably an atypical performance since it was an atypical crowd and location. Luckily I brought a few spoons with me and I ended up bending more spoons than anything. Though I initially had reservations about doing it since it's not my usual kind of effect, something told me to just bring the spoons along. It went over very well with the crowd and I had people taking pictures of the bent metal and requesting a repeat performance so they can film it (I naturally declined with a joke about how I need time to recover my "powers").

A few things I learned -

1) In such a situation, there really is no time and no opportunity to make a long introduction. From planning to end a routine with the ring through chain, I started with it instead. That got their attention very quickly since the whole effect took about 30 seconds. Then I proceeded with my other effects.

2) Because the organisers were really poor at providing information before hand, despite requests for it, many things had to be changed or abandoned at the last minute. So finding out everything you can about the location, the events that will be going on concurrently, the kind of crowd, the facilities, the nature of the space etc. is paramount for a walkabout. I learned this the hard way unfortunately.

3) There was no holding area so I had to lug everything along with me. Since I had no portable table (now I think it might be a worthy investment), there were some things that I had to leave behind. Having all my pockets full of items also added an additional difficulty to performing that was entirely unanticipated. I felt heavy and was aware of the way my clothing fell as I moved about and had to constantly adjust things so they won't clink and jostle too much when I'm moving about.

4) Naturally there was no time for resetting any effect.

Overall, I thought it was still a good event. I wished I had the chance to present some of the more interesting effects I had planned, but I believe this is probably something that is entirely up to a performer's own style and comfort with what he chooses to present.

Thanks everyone for making this thread lively and informative. Let's keep it going!

P.S. Special thanks to Fred of course and Lem, who reminded me to be interesting above all else. :)
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Postby Maddened » 10/29/08 07:51 AM

I love Fred's story about the warehouse gig. Readings definitely seem to be something worth looking into for me now. Thanks Mr. Zimmerman!

One more thing I forgot to add - I think we mentalists like the full routines of mind-reading or psychometry a lot. But I realise that unless you're performing for a crowd that is interested in such things, and willing to spend time watching something like that unfold, the metal bending and "baser" materials work best.

My crowd was families and there were many children. The mind-reading effects didn't blend in very well with the atmosphere there. Metal bending and Card Warp (yes I resorted to doing that even...) did. I suspect even readings may not garner very good responses in such an atmosphere. Maybe something to think about... Maybe not. I'm still learning.
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Postby Fred Zimmerman » 10/29/08 01:25 PM

We're ALL still learning, and if anyone ever says otherwise, they're either lying, stupid, or dead.

The best thing about an event like that is it gives you the confidence to know that even in less-than-ideal circumstances (which are more the norm that we'd like in strolling situations) you can persevere and be successful.

Yes, long-form stuff is not preferable in these situations. I only use those for parlor shows where I KNOW I'll have attention. And regarding your pockets, there are umpteen posts everywhere about pocket management. But the best teacher is experience.

Congratulations on a successful gig!

PS. On a purely subjective note, my feelings (not advice, because who the hell am I to dictate material) are that I would avoid making metal bending something you can repeat a lot. In other words, a "typical" walk-around piece. To my mind, bending metal is a pretty amazing thing, and if it's easy for you to do - so easy you can do it repeatedly during an event, it tends to cheapen the effect.

I bend quarters myself using a very specific reason and routine, but I try and keep it to one or two per gig, and really work at it. Yes, I know it takes a really good piece of material out of standard rotation, but I suggest looking at the big picture.

But then, what the heck do I know?

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