This weekend I was in Vegas at a seminar on “Hypnotic Wizardry.” So, what is that? Well it was all about learning the art of Stage Hypnosis and using principles of hypnosis in performance magic.
Sounds cool doesn’t it? Well, it’s even cooler than you might think.
But let me start at the beginning –
I’ve been doing magic for “a while now”. But when I first got started I was practicing in isolation. There were no other magicians in my area and there really wasn’t an I.B.M. (International Brotherhood of Magicians) club or an S.A.M. (Society of American Magicians) club in my immediate area. The closest magic shop was about an hour a way, which is admittedly not that far but far enough to make just hanging out there not really an option.
I was learning everything from books and training videos. Early on I discovered the works of Michael Ammar who is one of the most respected teachers in the field of magic. I went to a few of his seminars and learned a lot of great stuff. Stuff that is still in my repitoire today.
There are magic conventions, just like there are conventions for damn near everything else. None of them particularly interested me. I went to one or two and all you get is a couple hundred guys (and about half a dozen women sadly – a different topic entirely) all trying to outdo each other with the latest card sleight. No thanks.
Then I saw Jeff McBride on TV. Worlds Greatest Magic. And he was doing some really amazing stuff. About half of it was card work, but it was the kind of thing that I found interesting enough that I wanted to know more. I was finding myself as a magician and Jeff was doing magic I wanted to do. (This is, of course, on top of long standing admiration for David Copperfield who I had been watching since I was a kid.)
Doing my research I discovered that Jeff ran “The Mystery School.” And what I read about that was amazing! But controversial! How? Well, here was an annual gathering that was limited in size, focused not on the latest and greatest card trick but instead on theater, storytelling, character building, and a healthy dose of mysticism.
Yup, Jeff and his crew were trying to put magic back in to magic. At least that was what everyone on the outside was thinking. Ads and reviews talked about Mystery School as being an “experiential retreat” and that there would be drumming, and dancing, and fire circles……
Sound familiar? Sound like something someone like me would be fascinated by? Damn skippy!
Mystery School ran for ten years. I got to go to the ninth and tenth years. And while I could go on and on and on about how amazing it was for me, no matter how many words I used you wouldn’t entirely be able to get it. And that is on purpose. That’s what “experiential retreats” are about.
But I will say this, and my wife can confirm it. I came back a changed man.
I know how overly dramatic that sounds but truthfully I mean it. I had transformative experiences going to Mystery School. Profound shifts in the way I saw my art and how much impact it could and would have not just on my art but on my life.
This first one I went to was held in San Diego. I was there for a week. I took the train home. When I got off the train my wife said she didn’t need to see me through the crowd because I was hovering over the top of it.
Since then I have spent years learning more and more from Jeff and from Eugene Burger, the Dean of Mystery School. Their words, their works, their advice, has informed so much of what I do that other magicians who know them can see their finger prints on my work.
Since then I have returned to transformed versions of Mystery School whenever I can. And every time I return I am welcomed with open arms like I’m coming home.
Which is a long introduction to how I got here, but now there is another introduction to come. You see, like anyone my life has multiple paths in it. My journey, like yours, is made up of many components. One of those components is a long standing interest in hypnosis and hypnotherapy.
When I was younger, I loved the show M*A*S*H. Still do and now that Netflix has it I have been happily devouring it. My favorite reoccurring secondary character was Dr. Sydney Freedman. His calm, left of center approach to the insanity around him always appealed to me. Then there was an episode where it was necessary for him to put a young soldier (weren’t they all young?) in to a trance and recreate a battlefield scenario for him in order to get him to break his amnesia and begin to heal.
That scene taught me a lot about acting (I learned how to make myself cry on stage whenever I needed to from watching that scene) but it also sparked a deep interest in hypnosis. I began devouring material on the subject and even learned enough to start doing simple hypnosis with my friends. I took psychology classes. I wanted to learn it all.
Over the years I have returned to that interest many times. If I hadn’t gone in to a career in the software industry it’s very likely I would have become a hypnotherapist. Even now I have not discarded that idea and have researched courses on the subject to become a certified hypnotherapist.
Enter Richard Nongard, the guest speaker at the seminar I just came from.
Richard is a magician. But he is also a stage hypnotist and he is also a fully certified hypnotherapist. And, in fact, he is so good at what he does in this realm that other professionals come to him when they need advice.
Richard offers courses to become a fully certified hypnotherapist. I’ve looked at taking those course for a number of years and believe me, the moment I can put sufficient funds together to be able to afford it, I will be doing precisely that.
Richard, as a magician, was a student of Eugene Burger. He was also a student of Jeff McBride.
See how the circles close in?
I began with Richards work, in the same way that I began with Jeff’s. Books, video training, and learning everything I could. And my skill set with hypnotism has increased from that. But now we’re here.
Jeff likes to keep in touch with his students past and present. He uses Facebook to check in on them. He pops up on occasion liking things or making a quick comment just to let you know he’s there and he cares about what’s going on in your life.
A few months ago he posted something on his own page that I commented on, and I guess that the comment was insightful enough that he decided to reach out to me. In that conversation he invited me to come out, made it possible for me to do so and with the help of my friends and family I returned to Mystery School, this time to learn not just from Jeff, but from Richard, a skill set which has always been of deep interest to me.
So, that’s my introduction to this weekend. Yeah, kind of wordy, but necessary for you to understand the depth of what I got here.
As it turns out I had remarkably little trouble flying out and back. Usually flying is not the best situation for me, but short flights (only about an hour) are easier and I was able to manage.
I got out, got to my hotel, settled in and then waited in anticipation of the first evenings festivities. Just a meet and greet, but when it comes to Mystery School there is never anything ordinary about what we do. I met the other students (there were nine of us), and we were treated to a show. Jeff has part of his house set up as a theater space.
And let me just say right now that the range of people who come to Mystery School is pretty incredible. One of the students who was there was a competitor on Wizard Wars and this week will be filming for another Penn & Teller related even which I won’t say more about other than – COOL!!!!
The show consisted of some great magic from Jeff and a few visitors and a couple of the students. Some wonderful stuff really. Including a version of an David Copperfield effect I first saw several decades ago that is still one of the strongest effects in my memory, and this version was even better.
From there we simply enjoyed the evening and prepared ourselves for what was to come.
The next morning was registration, setting expectations, learning some magic and then learning the foundation principles of hypnosis. We got some great revelations.
Here is where things start to pay off for me. While I had learned so much about hypnosis already, I was now in a position where I could review that knowledge in a larger context and get a much better understanding of how all those pieces actually fit together and how to use them more effectively. I was given the tools I needed to actually bring my skills together, and I was given additional skills that let me start doing things I didn’t think I was ever going to learn.
Chief among those skills – the speed induction.
You’ve seen it. When the hypnotist walks up to somebody, snaps their fingers, says “sleep”, and the person just falls over in to a trance. Yeah. I can do that now.
Well, I can do it the way it’s actually done as opposed to the misunderstood “Hollywood Stereotype” way everyone thinks it is.
It’s the skill set that let me, that first day, put Jeff under hypnosis in less than fifteen seconds. Twice. In a crowded, noisy room.
How cool is this? It is deeply cool. You see so much of what I had read before on the topic was just unclear enough that the couple of times I managed it I was still uncertain of everything that went in to the process. Now I know. (Insert evil laugh here.)
The rest of the weekend involved learning more of the tools of the trade of Stage Hypnosis. It involved learning new magic that works on the same themes and can use some of the same principles. It involved building a deeper understanding of how minds work and how to work with people.
We also heard some “war stories.” Oh wow.
So a stage hypnosis show is all about “the things you get people to do that they wouldn’t normally do.” At least that is the basic understanding most people have. The classic “cluck like a chicken” comment pretty much sums that up.
But to give you a more precise idea, stage hypnosis is about creating hypnotic phenomena. What are hypnotic phenomena? Well that can be all kinds of things. Creating dreams, removing and blocking pain, time distortion, forgetting things, and catalepsy just to name a few.
So, what kinds of “war stories” do hypnotists have? Wow.
Let’s start, just at random with catalepsy. Here is how you can tell the difference between a stage hypnotist with insurance and one without insurance. The one without will do full body catalepsy in their show.
Turns out insurance companies that handle entertainers don’t like you to do things that might get people hurt. The typical full body catalepsy demonstration usually involves turning some small light bodied person into a board, setting them suspended between two boards and then sitting on them like a bench. Or some variation thereof.
Well, hypnosis can produce that full body catalepsy and a nice healthy strong body can become stiff enough to support a fair amount of weight. But what do you suppose happens when the person that gets hypnotized has a bad back? No way for the hypnotist to know that in advance.
Enough bad shit has happened that insurance companies call out “FULL BODY CATALEPSY” specifically as a reason they will not insure you or pay out a claim.
Let’s try something else.
Picture if you will, a row of people sitting on stage in a deep trance. In the center is a big biker dude. Sitting next to him is a tiny ninety-eight pound girl. While in a trance they have been told that when they wake up they will smell that most terrible smell they have ever smelled. It will be horrible. They will not get sick on stage, but it will be awful.
The hypnotist turns around, faces the audience, snaps his fingers and from behind him he hears a voice shout “OH MY GOD YOU STINK!” followed by the unmistakable sound of someone being punched in the face.
Turns out the little girl jumped out of her chair, turned and punched the biker in the face and broke his nose.
And he had his nose broken so many times in the past that all he did was reach up, snap his nose back in to place and kept on going like nothing had happened.
Or here’s a good one.
First you have to understand something about hypnosis. You’re never really completely asleep. You aren’t sleeping at all really. You are just in a state of trance. There are only two things that can happen as a result of this. Either –
1 – You wake up.
2 – You fall completely asleep like normal and you wake up later.
However, because people who come to see these shows often don’t understand this (did you before I said it? You may have but that’s because I have a generally smarter readership.), they have been known to pretend to stay hypnotized looking for their opportunity to either get more attention for themselves or to even maybe sue somebody, probably the hypnotist.
One such case involved a teenager who ended up suing on the grounds that while being left in a hypnotic state from which he allegedly could not awaken he was also left open to being possessed by demons.
The insurance company settled that one.
One last “war story” that was shared with us.
The hypnotist who we went to see Saturday evening put on a hell of a show. And one of the things he advertises as part of the show is that every single show is recorded and if you want a DVD of the show (for instance because you were on stage) than you can buy one within minutes after the show is done. He has a full DVD burner set up where here is cranking out several disks in just a few minutes.
He keeps a disk of every show for himself. Now, a lot of performers record their performances for a variety of reasons. Archival, self examination to help improve the show. Things like that.
He keeps it because he has been accused of doing things that he has later needed video evidence of in order to prove his innocence.
As a stage performer I am aware of, and have had to deal with hecklers and other problematic audience members or volunteers.
Imagine being approached by an angry husband who is accusing you of being rude, nasty, and even potentially abusive to his wife.
“My wife says you called her names and threw her off your stage.”
“Well, sir, I did throw her off stage, and here is why.” Cue video footage of drunk off her ass wife making herself a total nuisance, disrupting the show, being politely asked to restrain herself, refusing to cooperate, calling the hypnotist nasty names, repeatedly being asked politely to restrain herself, getting physically violent with the hypnotist and being forcefully removed from the show.
Now imagine embarrassed husband shaking his head, apologizing to the hypnotist and leaving.
Other things we learned?
Hmm, how about, shake the hand of every person you bring up on stage. Why? Because if you do that you can take a moment to pull their arm slightly and twist their wrist up and look for cutting or needle marks. Yup.
How about, don’t bring up the painfully thin looking woman on stage. Why? You can tell the difference between thin and painfully thin, and the painfully thin ones are potentially anorexic which means they might trigger for a variety of reason, none of which you have any real control over but if they do on your stage then you know you’re going to have to, at the very least, defend that in court.
Don’t bring up the 350 lbs guy who broke a sweat standing up. Why? Because he’s going to pick a moment during your show to have a heart attack. And once again, at the very least, you’re going to have to defend that in court.
Now, lest you think that these things are a common occurrence allow me to reassure you. These are rare. These are “war stories.” Every performer has them. The point is that I got to hear them and I got to learn from them and I got to learn what to do about them. That’s what “war stories” are good for.
But the good stuff…. oh wow, the good stuff.
Here’s the thing. A hypnosis show is about the good stuff. It’s about helping a bunch of people on stage have the best damn time of their lives. How? Because what hypnosis does is it allows you to come out of your shell. It brings out the silly side.
Examples from the show we saw.
Two of the students from the class were on stage. They were on either side immediately around the big black dude sitting in the center named Chad. He was the anchor. Everyone, when they fell in to a trance leaned to the center because Chad could support them all, and he was awesome.
Remember that “everything smelling bad” from earlier? Know what happens when you tell everyone that the smell they are about to smell is the best smell they have ever smelled and that smell is coming from the person sitting next to you?
Everyone sniffs each other. Picture two small guys sniffing Chad in the center of the stage. Are you laughing? You should be. It was hilarious! And the next day at school, one of them walked in and said in a nice loud voice “that dude smelled really good last night.”
And Cynthia. Oh Cynthia.
Cynthia was a short, somewhat overweight, mid-40s lady. And she’s got some moves. How do I know? Because she got up and danced like Britney Spears. And she loved it. Not just because she was told that she loved it, but because after she had been brought out of hypnosis at the end of the show the entire audience cheered her on for how cool she was.
And Brenda? Well, Brenda wasn’t on stage. She was sitting in the audience. Who is she? She’s Chad’s girlfriend. They were in Vegas for their two year anniversary. I don’t know a lot, but I know this – for the rest of the weekend, any time Brenda (and only Brenda) said the word “purple” Chad was compelled to give her a big kiss.
Was he really “compelled”? Well, you can’t make someone do something they wouldn’t really do anyway. But with hypnosis you can trigger them to do things they want to do without reservation that’s for sure, and from what the audience saw, Chad must be a pretty damn good kisser.
In the end every single one of those people on stage had a fabulous time. And in the end they were all given a great experience that they will always remember (because they were told to remember everything they did, and I’m sure there were some DVD sales at the end there as well), and they were left with post hypnotic suggestions that gave them energy and well being and joy.
Now, who wouldn’t want to be able to do things like that?
I certainly do. And now, thanks to my trip to Vegas, the generosity of my magic mentors and friends, all my friends and family here, I have a new skill set. And a new energy and drive to entertain and help people with what I’ve learned.
Would you like to experience hypnotism?
Then listen to my voice as I count back from –