In Defense of the Old School Way
IT'S NOT A NEW IDEA!
In fact, the reason so many get drawn to Mentalism used to be due to the fact that you need little to nothing and could still do a two hour show if desired.
If I remember correctly, and this pertains to things as of the late 1970s, all a Mentalist needed to develop was:
- Heightened Memory
Skills & Mnemonic System
Needless to say, we've added a couple of things to this list over the past 25 years or so such as the whole Psychological Force concept. While it is far older than most realize it only became a formalized concept when Banachek penned his book series by said title. While he's certainly not alone when it comes from borrowing from the past and revealing a technique the old timers played close to the vest, what Steve gave to us is certainly a thing of great value and beauty that empowers the performer in some very uncanny ways.
The other major addition that's come along would be the need to better understand the use of Magnets & Threads or, as a category PK Techniques. Though such things have been used for generations, the development of the Rare Earth Magnet and some of the newer Invisible Threads that have come along since the early 80's coupled with the whole Geller craze has made this a mandatory area for the aspiring Mentalist to at least know the rudiments of.
All in all, this is a very basic list of things and with only three chief exceptions, most all of it works without a single gimmick or device. The only requirement is to have a mind that has been prepared; conditioned to think and work from a single point of view or claim.
Needless to say, you didn't have to "master" all of these things, there were certain areas you only needed cursory experience at based entirely on what your own goals were. Not everyone needs to know how to make Tables move about, but they do have a serious need when it comes to the ideomotor concept and how to use it.
The word MENTALISM is in fact, a term borrowed from actual esoteric culture (see Hermetic Axioms). It refers to the power and prowess of the mind and how, when we discipline the mind all things are possible. Part of that discipline process however, required the student to silence the mind and learn to focus and process; everything from memory development and memorizations (two very different things) to being able to do basic mathematics silently within one's head. Of course, there was much more but this is the gist of things (see "Wisdom of the Mystic Masters" by J. Weed for further details). An important side-note however, in that it allows us to catch a better glimpse as to what the public, back in the day, associated Mentalism with and why so much of the earlier work catered to the philosophic and theosophic views of the day.
A man that I still look upon as one of my dearest Mentors (Millard Longman) challenged me long ago to "Just Do It" - to let go of all the left-brain programming I'd subjected myself to and listen to my gut, an idea that I've since found echoed in the works of Bob Cassidy, John Riggs and most recently Jerome Finley. Ironically, it's an idea that most all of us have known grief over because our magician cousins that discover this peculiar world, don't want to make such an investment - they are afraid of possible failure.
The old "Sinner & Saint" routine is a great example given that there are at least 4 excellent essays on how to do this simple piece without relying on the original linguistics or any sort of gimmick and yet, we have individuals buying magnetic rings and other such devices just so they don't miss . . . or at least the chances of a miss are greatly lowered (gimmicks misfire).
While it's been a matter of debate for generations now, there is a unique advantage when one has a miss every now and again over those that are consistently on the mark with things. In short, when you are too perfect and always right, people stop trusting you and suspecting that you're just a shyster. On the other hand, when you can't find that paycheck, you could very well find yourself a household name.
The Amazing Kreskin is known for locating his $2,000.00 paycheck after it has been hidden ANYWHERE in the theater by a select committee of patrons. In 50ish years on stage he's only missed it twice. Many believe that is why he's become such a household name who is likewise a verb, as in "I'm not Kreskin I can't read your mind".
Even those of us that take on the professorial role using science and statistics as our explanation will see a unique reaction from patrons when they have a miss when the guests can correct you either during the act or after. The reason is so simple we miss it - flaws prove to the world we're human and when it comes to PSI styled performance, the occasional miss, near hit, etc. validates us as well as our claim in ways that seem to defy logic. Those of us that come from a more Psychic/New Age angle probably know even greater advantage on this front, because the public expects a form of vagueness when it comes to the things we share. All the more reason to lend this "trust you gut" idea a chance vs. relying so much on pure logic and pure trickery.
I've found myself locked onto this issue recently because "rediscovery" when it comes to that list of simple things that once defined the Mentalist and how, mastering just one of those skill sets will give you the opportunity of a career with little else being required. Muscle Reading in particular, gives me the biggest intrigue because it is so widely accepted by the general public as something proving Psi and is even used to help develop one's psychic abilities. But look at how many paths one can take with this one skill; it's massive!
Now consider how much more "power" you would have in the mind of most laymen if you couple that one skill set with being able to deliver a solid Reading or making just one very solid hit on one out of five people in a group that you're doing general Readings for.
Like all of you, I see the ad blurb on things and flinch - I want it! But then I stop and consider a few facts, the biggest being "Why do I "need" this new trick?"
Granted, there's some really cool looking pieces on the market (I so loathe OUTLAW and Lebanon Circle when it comes to whetting my appetite), but as Dunninger asks, "What would this look like if a real Psychic/Mind Reader were to do it?"
Then I have to ask why I can't rely on what I have - those basic skill sets every Mentalist is supposed to rely upon - why can't I rely on that foundation to create something similar, less commercial and more unique to me; something no one else is doing?
Old School Mentalism insists on such processing because as Stephan Minch said long ago, we walk with one foot in the world of theater and the other in the life of the charlatan. We are both, thespian and con-artist and as such it is up to us to reconcile the fact that we are a part of 3 different worlds at the same time; we are first and foremost, actors. We are students of life & the world, and we are of the mind to do whatever it takes to bring about the phenomenal, doing so in ways that reflect reality not the corniness of Vaudeville or the lowliness of being a mere "trick".
Many of the individuals I've looked up to and learned from over the years use this point as a reason to discourage the use of Playing Cards within Mentalism demonstrations. While I'm not quite as hell-bent against such things as some, I still believe there is a strong sort of illogic when it comes to employing anything the lay public would associate with trickery & deception; playing cards are high on this list because they are tied to gamblers that are known to cheat and of course magicians that openly cheat e.g. by association it is assumed whatever we do with a deck of cards in our shows is most likely a "trick" vs. some kind of mental miracle.
There are exceptions to this rule, of course. Nonetheless, caution is warranted on our end as is the obligation to seriously study a routine and how we can adapt something other than playing cards when presenting it; photos, post cards, business cards, collectors' items like stamps and even paper money, etc. We must be more creative. . . imaginative when it comes to how we frame and present the things we do in order to distance our work from what our magician cousins present.
When I write on such things I frequently get accused of "elitist thinking" but that's really not the case. Firstly, magic is a kindred art form but not the same as mentalism, it is important that we understand and preserve this long running segregation even though it has become heavily moshed together in recent years (more than it was in the hands of Dunninger and others of the past). This segregation allows the material performed to know its own strengths without the hindrance of side-by-side association/comparison; Mentalism relying on an entirely different sort of psychology when presented vs. that of Magic. Why anyone would wish to stack the deck against themselves when performing, is beyond me, but it's the purity we allow these kindred niches that this article is really about, though my focus is with Mentalism.
The other issue when it comes to the whole Elitism charge is that I challenge novice and veteran alike to keep it simple, stop chasing after the latest nifty gadgets and keep your focus when it comes to what Mentalism is and isn't. As an associate of mine says, "Stop Thinking Like an F*^&ing Magician! If You Call Yourself a Mentalist Then BE A MENTALIST!"
Catch you the next
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