Should You Put the Magic in Hypnosis? (Or is that just a bunch of misdirection?)

My name is Michael DeSchalit and I’m a magician and stage hypnotist… and the people sitting around the circle say, “Hi Michael.” Yup, I started my career as an entertainer as a dancer, but the music kept throwing off my rhythm, so I became a musician. But my audiences began to disappear. So, I became a magician, but then my audiences just fell asleep. So, I figured, why not just become a hypnotist?

Having been a magician for ten years prior to me becoming a stage hypnotist, naturally I had developed a pretty extensive repertoire of tricks and illusions to fool even the most analytical spectators. Because of this, when I first started doing stage hypnosis show, I wanted to show off those effects, and prove to the audience I had special magical powers to fry their brains. And, in my infancy of performing stage hypnosis, I used my magic as a confidence booster to open my show. If I could wow the audience with a few magical effects at the beginning of the show, I would win them over, earn their trust and build the rapport I needed to hypnotize my volunteers in the show. The theory sounded good back then and made sense to me, but other than that, it wasn’t necessary in order to put on a good hypnosis show.

What’s The Point In Doing It?

“Even if you can, it doesn’t mean you should.” I just love that saying because it always reminds me to ask myself the question, “What’s the point in doing it?” when I am programming routines for a new show, a presentation for a corporate event, or even developing an individual routine itself.  For those that are magicians and those that want to add a few magical effects to their hypnosis show, I want to remind you to think of what the audience expectation is. They must have seen an advertisement for your show somewhere and thought, “Cool, a hypnosis show, where people get hypnotized and do goofy fun stuff. Sounds like fun.” But then when they get to the show, and you start doing a card trick or mind reading, or anything of the magical sort, they can begin to think, “Hey, I thought this was supposed to be a hypnosis show. What’s with Merlin up there doing tricks”?

You gotta admit, you have not held true to your branding of the show. Something else to think about is whether the magic lends to support your hypnosis or distracts, or for you magician folk, MISDIRECTS from the hypnosis.  Remember, you are supposed to be playing the part of a hypnotist, not a magician. I am going to take a quick pause here to interject my opinion here, so buckle up… I am dead against doing any type of magic (or mentalism) in a hypnosis show! Keep reading before you get too upset. Everybody in the audience knows that magic is a trick or illusion. Even if they don’t know how the trick is being done, they still know that IT IS NOT REAL. So, if they see you performing magic, which is a trick and not real, then they see you hypnotizing people, then that must be a trick or not real either.

Okay, now that I have already pissed off half of my readership here, keep reading for the “BUT.” Every opinion has an exception, so here’s mine. If your magic trick or mentalism lends to the validity of your hypnosis, helps to drive the point of “the power of the mind,” or even warms up your audience for what’s yet to come in the show, then I can let that slide past my opinion and agree that it’s okay. Stand by for another “BUT.” But it has to make sense and not cause incongruent thinking or confusion as to what kind of a show they are seeing in the minds of the audience members. So how can one be sure that is not happening? Quite simple, just keep reading…

There Needs To Be A Clear Separation Of The Two

There needs to be a clear separation between magic and the hypnosis. It’s that simple. Just explain to your audience that magic is an illusion and the hypnosis is real. Okay, you wouldn’t do it quite like that. Let me give you an example.

First let me say that all that “My opinion” stuff mentioned above has loosened up for me over the years. Now I am okay with combining the two art forms as long as it’s done appropriately. Again, the “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should” rule still applies. I no longer open my hypnosis show with three magic or mentalism effects. I save that for my magic or mentalism show. However, I do open some of my hypnosis shows with a flashy “Newspaper Tear” trick.

After I am introduced with my pre-recorded voice over and the intro music is still playing, I walk on stage, look out at the audience, and say, “Watch this.” I then remove a folded newspaper from my inner jacket pocket, unfold it, clearly display all sides, front and back, of the unfolded newspaper, proceed to tear it into halves, then again into quarters, then again into, Uhhh, pieces (sorry, I’m not good at fractions). Clearly show the pieces and then in the blink of an eye, the newspaper magically unfolds into a full, reassembled newspaper. It is a brilliantly stunning piece of magic and one hell of an attention getter. I then make my opening statement when I say, “What you just saw was an optical illusion, but what you will see tonight on this stage (I gesture to the soon to be filled volunteer chairs) will be very, very real. Those who volunteer to be hypnotized will be able to see what I tell them to see, hear what I tell them to hear and feel what I tell them to feel. It will all be very real to them”. 

So, let me break the down psychology of that for you. First, the trick only takes 60 seconds and is part of the introduction and my walk onto the stage, so in their minds the “show” hasn’t yet really begun. Second, It is a great attention getter and causes the audience to direct their focus on the center of the stage and the person performing, which is me. Third, I make the statement about it being an optical illusion. Notice I don’t call it a trick or reference the word magic at all. And lastly, I do reference a clear separation between illusion and reality and how it applies to the show. 

Another example of the clear separation is when I am asked to perform my “An Evening of Mental Mysteries Show.” The subtitle of that show is: a journey through the powers of the human mind using magic, mentalism, and hypnosis. So now with that subtitle, I am separating all three, Magic… Mentalism… and Hypnosis. I will do about 30 minutes of mentalism (mind magic) that is crafted with effects that allow the audience to experience different levels of emotion, ranging from happiness with the comedy mind reading all the way to fear with my smash and stab routine. In this routine there are five bags on a table, four of the bags contain a small wooden block, while the fifth bag has a wooden block with an upward pointing eight-inch spike. The bags are sealed shut and mixed by an audience volunteer while my back is turned and then I will mix them while their back is turned, so neither I nor the volunteer knows where the nail is. The volunteer then tells me which of the bags I shall smash with my opened flat hand. We eliminate down to the last bag which of course has the spike in it. This causes an emotional reaction of fear with the audience, the volunteer and heck, even me. After all that hooha, I then will have a brief interlude to talk about the emotions they experienced in the show and how emotions come from our subconscious mind, and then I go into my pre-talk about hypnosis and related with they just witnessed up to that point in the show.  Again, a clear separation between magic and the hypnosis, the illusion and what’s real.

So When Could You Do Both?

So, when could you, should you, or can you do both? Here are a couple of thoughts on that question. Just like the examples I used above. I will sometimes, depending of the show and the audience I am performing for, open with the newspaper trick. But if I do, it’s only as an attention getter and then I make the clear distinction between illusion (of the trick) and reality (of hypnosis).

Another is when it is a special combo show featuring both magic or mentalism and hypnosis, such as in my Evening of Mental Mysteries Show. But another occasion you can consider adding some magic or mentalism into you show is when they need you to perform extra time. Of course, this is predetermined before you walk on stage, not while you are on stage, and they come up to the side of the stage and ask you to go long because they are still preparing the raffle drawing. We’ve all probably had that happen a time or two. If you are comfortable adding more routines to your show and extending your show from 60 to 75 minutes, or 75 to 90, or 90 to 105, or even 120 minutes, that’s fine, but if you know that going to be the case ahead of time and you have a few tricks up your sleeve, then why not add a little touch of magic (or mentalism) to your act.

Just remember, when you walk on stage as a hypnotist, you are not playing the part of a magician. Even if you have magic skills, it doesn’t mean you should use them. If you do use your magic skills, always make a clear distinction between the illusion and what’s real, meaning the hypnosis. And never let the magic be the misdirection in your hypnosis show.

About the Author:

Michael C. DeSchalit is a full-time Stage Hypnotist and Magician. He has over 5,000 performances to his credit with a career that spans over three decades (20 years as a hypnotist and 30 as a magician). Michael is a Member (30 years) and Past Regional Vice-President of the Society of American Magicians, a Member and Order of Merlin of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, A Performing Member (25 years) of the Academy of Magical Arts and Sciences (The Magic Castle, Hollywood), and A founding board member and current treasurer of the International Stage Hypnotists Association. Michael has trained over 300 stage hypnotists from 13 countries worldwide and maintains a rigorous 200 plus shows per year schedule.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *