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The Black Book of Mentalism

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by Bob Cassidy
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The Black Book of Mentalism by Bob Cassidy

Joseph Dunninger has often been credited with saying. "Every time you add a prop to your act your price goes down." His reasoning should be obvious - every additional prop takes the illusion one step away from what "real mind reading" would look like. And, as Bob has noted many times in his previous ebooks, every additional type of mentalism you demonstrate (apparent telepathy, precognition, psychokinesis, clairvoyance, etc.) also detracts from the overall illusion.

Recently a "mentalist" challenged Bob on this point: "How entertaining is it to demonstrate the same ability over and over again? It is much more interesting for an audience if you do a prediction, then perhaps a blindfold test, a key bend, a memory test and maybe a picture duplication. My business is to entertain them - and that means variety. How entertaining is it to watch the same billet test presented five or six different ways?"

Why not throw in a few jokes, a tap dance and a piano solo? There's some variety for you!

(I'm reminded of the heckler Dr Bob once wrote about - the guy who yelled at Frank Sinatra after he finished a song, "So ya can sing, what else do ya do?")

The ability to transcend one's material is the hallmark of excellent performers in all areas of show business, but for some reason, even well informed "authorities" on magic and mentalism miss this point. A recent work on mentalism contained the following passage:

...Rare is the performer who can mesmerize a crowd by performing only mentalism. Usually these performers have some dynamic effect that will be remembered by the audience. Some performers can do this successfully. Others try and fail.

The fact is that you can't mesmerize a crowd with only mentalism. The statement that those mentalists who do "mesmerize" rely on "some dynamic effect" that people will remember, simply is not true. Those laypeople old enough to remember seeing Dunninger perform; rarely recall the exact effects he performed. They just remember that he was able to read people's minds. As his confidante and behind-the-scenes man David Lustig once said, "It's not what you do, it's what they think you do that counts."

If you have a ton of props and do twenty-five separate effects demonstrating every conceivable type of paranormal phenomena, it doesn't matter if you call yourself a psychic, a spirit medium, or Nostradamus' direct descendant and sole surviving heir - no one is going to believe you anyway.

The more minimalist you get, however, the more likely there will be audience members who believe you are doing the "real thing." Think of the leading "psychics" and "mediums" who nowadays have their own syndicated television shows. They use no props and only do one effect - the most popular being the claimed ability to converse with the dead. They never call themselves "mentalists" and you will never catch them at an SAM or PEA convention.

If you feel that they operate within an ethical "no man's land" that you would rather avoid, the solution is simple. Compromise - but just a little. Use a minor prop here or there. Call yourself a mentalist. Avoid doing private readings. Confine your "strong" performances to the stage and limit your speaking engagements and so called "educational" gigs to memory training, self hypnosis, and other similar non-paranormal themes.

The effects and handlings in The Black Book of Mentalism reflect the degree to which Bob has compromised the minimalist concept while maintaining a believable illusion of mentalism.

1st edition 2003; 29 pages.
word count: 8902 which is equivalent to 35 standard pages of text

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08/21/2017
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