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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Mentally Speaking » » Osterlind on Mentalists and Mentalism (1 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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David Thiel
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When we were in the final stages of design for Magic Pendulums: Masterworks for Mystery Performers, we were unable to include some thoughts from Richard Osterlind on what Mentalism was from the perspectives of performer as well as audience. He was on tour and was having some email issues. With the deadline looming, we had to go ahead and publish it.

This weekend, true to his word, Richard sent me his Foreword to the book. In it, he answers those two questions and much more. It's controversial, passionate and definitive. I read it several times before I started to absorb what he'd said.

Osterlind says, among other things, that he does believe in ESP and when he's performing he's convinced he's doing real mentalism. What he said in this essay actually made me change my mind about some very basic things having to do with the literal presentation of mentalism. (If you purchased this book you should have Richard's Foreword by now since I emailed the purchasers over the weekend. If you don't have yours, please PM me and I'll send it out to you. Whether you agree or disagree with what he has to say, I think you'll find it fascinating reading. I did.)

I'm not starting this thread to get a fight going. Nor am I starting it to sell more of the eBooks (although that would be nice Smile ) But I am interested in having a FRIENDLY discussion on what's going on inside YOUR head when you're performing mentalism.

Here's an excerpt from Richard's Foreword:



'Now I know right now some of you, maybe a great many of you, are thinking, “What are you saying, Richard? Are you suggesting that we try to pass ourselves off as something supernatural?”

My answer is – YES! Isn’t that was magic is? Do you see how convoluted the whole subject has become? It is MAGIC! If you can’t submerge yourself in that role on stage, you shouldn’t be on stage in the first place!

If that seems preposterous to you, it is more preposterous to me that you would think any other way. Let me quote a line that newcomers love to throw around constantly as though they are so clever and as though the rest of the magic fraternity hasn’t heard it a thousand times before. “A magician is just an actor playing the part of a magician.” Well, how can one be an actor if one refuses to become the character that he is supposed to portray?

Tell me what you would think of Christian Bale if he did a terrible job of playing Batman because he said, “I can’t really pretend to be a super hero when there is no such thing as super heroes!”

How stupid would that be? And yet, isn’t that exactly the way most magicians act? The idea that they could convince themselves they have magic powers as they perform is about as remote from most magicians’ minds as translating ancient Latin documents."



C'mon. I double dog DARE you to say that Osterlind hasn't taken a powerful position. And it's one that, for the first time, I completely understand.

What's in YOUR mind when you're performing mentalism?

David
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Davit Sicseek
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Total strawman. Osterlind has taken many powerful positions and on several occassions he has been powerfully wrong Smile

Quote:
A magician is just an actor playing the part of a magician.


First off this is one of the most over-rated quotes pertaining to magic. While it is possible to make the argument that a magician is JUST an actor playing the part of magician - making such a comparison holds little value beyond having a moderately nice ring to it. If one wants to insist that both Christian Bale, Uri Geller, Derren Brown and Sylvia Brown are all "just" actors - but just because they can share the same broad descriptor - it doesn't then follow that any meaningful comparisons can be made between them.

I mean - Christian Bale will do press junkets to promote his film - is he spoiling his performance because he is letting people know that he isn't really Batman and hinting that there might not even be a real super-hero? After all - Uri Geller is "just" and actor and he'd never dream of promoting himself out of character - so why does Christain Bale.

Oi Christian! You mad bro? You're letting the facade slip!

(Or maybe we aren't all "just" actors where sweeping generalisations can be made. Maybe there are sound reasons for using disclaimers or otherwise framing your performance to reduce harm to audiences and wider society.)
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When I perform I am in the moment - like anything else, you are either in it or flying above it.

If you are (literally) flying above as an observer rather than a participant, the audience will know your insincerity with 100% accuracy.

When I bend a quarter on the specs fingertip I look at it and marvel at with fresh eyes even though I have done this 1000 times... amzazed at what is happending miliseconds before the spectators wrap their minds around what is happening.

So like anything - you need to be in that moment if that makes sense.

You are either present in that moment or you are not.
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Comparing what we do to a film is only half there in my view... we are a real live 3D interactive movie...huge difference, no fourth wall...
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I share a lot of Richard Osterlind's views, from ESP to the mindset needed when performing. I always go into every show/performance with the attitude of what I'm doing is real! Guess what? Sometimes it is!

If I don't believe what I'm doing is real, then I shouldn't expect people who came to see me to believe it!

Robert.
Tá sé ach cleas má dhéanann tú sé cuma mhaith ar cheann.
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The quote, originally from Robert-Houdin, is frequently misquoted. As I understand the quote more literally is "a conjurer is not a juggler. A conjured is an actor playing the part of a magician." The context of the quote supports this and in fact the context is very applicable to mentalism. So Houdin is talking more about the visual appearance of his magic and how that affects his spectators belief. In fact the whole chapter is worthwhile as is the whole book. Easy to find the full text on the Internet for free.

Dan
David Thiel
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That was a really outstanding read, Dan. Thank you!

At a corporate show last night, I decided to put what Osterlind had written to the test. I've always "acted" the part of a mentalist...but I've never stepped as deeply into the role as Osterlind suggests we should. So last night at a conference of oilfield people I did. I went in with the CONVICTION that I was a mindreader. Not a magician. Not someone in the role of a mindreader...but an ACTUAL mindreader.

I always prefer to do an hour of walkabout prior to the stage show as it allows for a little PS as well as meeting the audience before taking the stage. And so on this particular day, I set aside any reservations...forgot about methods and techniques and tried as hard as I could to ACTUALLY perform as though I was reading minds.

This involved a small but critical shift in thinking that resulted in a tremendous change in presentation.

Let me be clear: I went for it without reservation. I found several things changed:

1) I went much more slowly. I made eye contact with my volunteer. Contrary to what I expected, the presentation was only strengthened by this. I found audiences were paying more attention, both on stage and in close-up.

2) I found that the whole show flowed differently. There was an ebb and flow that wasn't there as strongly before. Maybe it was a subtext with the audience? I'm not sure. But the connection between us was much stronger. No coughing...shifting. Quiet attention.

Here's the big thing: Since I am admittedly a magician in recovery ( Smile )the thought of actually failing or not getting "it" perfectly made my knees sweat.

In one of my routines, I went for four hits out of five. When it came to the fifth hit, I dropped it intentionally. I let the audience see me working to get it and then see me shrug. It's mindreading. Not magic. And who says mindreading works ALL the time...like a magic trick? As Bob Cassidy suggested, I went back to the one who gave me a "hard time" and used him in the next effect successfully.

I've done this before. But I haven't done it within the context of actually BEING a mindreader in my own mind. The audience came completely on-side. They started pulling for me. I had the most cooperative volunteers I could ever wish for.

Why?

It stopped being a show. It absolutely wasn't about ME. It was all of us going on a journey.

I had a great time...so did the audience. After the show one of the participants asked me if it was "real." I told him I am an entertainer and that he could make up his own mind about what he'd seen. That satisfied him. Me too.

I would not have hit this without the essay from Osterlind.

I'll be playing the part from now on. I really feel like a corner got turned today...and I'm happy about the direction I'm headed.

David
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solarzar
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DEavid,

Just saw this and wanted to share my congratulations. I agree with you, and Richard, that belief creates the experience. Too often, as performers, we are uncomfortable with our premise so we don't commit. Whatever the premise is, commit, commit, commit. Even Derren Brown commits to his NLP/influence/persuassion premise completely.

As I've said in other forums when I perform I believe. When I'm not performing I believe it's possible. Again, congratulations on your experience.

Just my thoughts, Solarzar
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Bravo Richard and David,

I'm sick to death of all of this misdirection, NLP, body language, suggestion, psychological illustion etc. ad nauseam. I think many mentalists don't realize that there's a middle path between destroying the suspension of disbelief and claiming you're a genuine psychic.

AMBIGUITY!!!

I've never found it difficult to neither make a disclaimer nor claim outright that I have psychic powers. I leave that to the imagination of the audience, who would likely come to their own conclusions in spite of what I claimed anyway.
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RCP
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I had an opportunity recently to spend time with Richard. I think the point he tries to make is that magic should be magical. The example he gave was a Star Wars movie. Yes, its computer generated special effects and actors in costume playing make believe. When we watch a movie we don’t think about those things we allow ourselves to become part of the fantasy.


Good magic or mentalism should be the same and why would an audience believe in your performance if you don’t?
David Thiel
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That's a valid point, RCP.

I was thinking about another post where the writer said that he didn't believe people bought into the notion that mentalism was for real any more than they would believe magic was real. While I don't agree with that, I was thinking that that same suspension of disbelief could just as easily apply to a mentalism presentation.

David
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ThatsJustWrong!
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The Forward by Richard really has me pondering. As a theatre director, this should be a fairly moot point for me. Why do I make excuses or qualify the abilities as a stage persona or entertainment? Last year, some people went to see Al Pacino in Central Park but for most, he was Shylock and they were in Venice for three hours. For most of the rest of the actors to take the role, they're simply Shylock because that's the play and the audience accepts it - it says so in the playbill! The audience has paid money to see a story and so accept the dramatic setting and conceits. People usually don't break into song and dance on the street but that doesn't make Sky Masterson less of a hoodlum with a heart of gold, does it? And don't get me started on those kids in West Side Story.

Audiences are paying to see a mentalist, not someone playing a mentalist. Like any actor, we have to make our abilities genuine to ourselves or we won't sell it to them. I, for one, am going to let people leave wondering "What if?" and will not be the one to burst the illusion for them anymore. This actually ties in well with my ethic that I be more concerned with how people feel when they leave my show than what they think about what I did. If I can make them feel happy and amazed, then I have done my job as an entertainer and I won't have to tell them that I am one.

Just my .02
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ThatsJustWrong!
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Sorry, guys, didn't mean to kill the thread. That Forwardis worth discussing!
Joe Leo

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Too late, Joe. You killed it.
Bill Cushman
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NO! I'm the thread killer. Seriously, I've always wondered why so many threads I post on die. But that's not what this is about.

A couple of things. Believing you are a mindreader when performing is almost like method acting. But that doesn't mean the actor using this technique, or similar approaches, believes he is his part when not on screen or stage. If I understand correctly, Richard really believes he has ESP? I'd never gotten that sense from things he's written.

Regarding the NLP, suggestion, body language, etc., personae, a comment from Lee Earle on the wonderful Convesations with Mind Readers is especially apt. When Ben asked him if he thought such approaches weakened the impact of a performance, he replied something along the lines of "Who is the most succesful mentalist on stage today? Who is breaking new ground and achieving unheard of success on TV? Marc Salem and Derren Brown. "nuff said."

It is kind of hard to argue with that point. Lee is saying that these approaches are hugely popular with audiences despite what some mentalists think about them and that is what counts.

By the way, get Conversations With Mind Readers while it is still available. Ben has released it at a ridiculously low price. As I mentioned on the best of the year thread, not only would I rate this best of the year, it is the best mentalism purchase I've ever made.
David Thiel
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Richard didn't say he thinks HE has ESP. He simply said he believes in it.

As I've said -- I was initially conflicted about this. Reading this essay changed my mind. Here's the synthesis of the argument as I understand it: "How can you play the part of a mind-reader when you don't believe in mind reading?" Makes sense, doesn't it? The secondary part is this: "When I am performing as a mind reader, I BELIEVE I am reading minds." This doesn't negate the use of the things that help us along the way. It simply means that he, as the character performer, BELIEVES he is actually doing it.

It's a concept a little difficult to get your mind around -- but since I've taken this mindset on, my shows have become much more powerful and my on-stage character much more resonant. It's made a tremendous difference to my shows. I no longer pace backstage waiting to go on, for example. I am getting into the mindreading character and HE takes the stage.

Think about it: if you really WERE reading minds and you were completely dependent on this ability, wouldn't you behave differently as you go through your demonstrations and routines? What if this ability let you down once in a while...or made it very difficult to read a particular member of the audience? Do you see where the whole show takes on an entirely new worldview?

It's a small but critical distinction -- for me, anyway. That essay may just be the most performance transforming piece I've ever read. No bull.

What you say after the show when they ask...or how you handle the marketing of what you do...how you approach the essence of how you describe your show -- all of this is "off stage" and is up to the individual performer. But when I'm on-stage I am focused on using my "ability" to connect with this mysterious thing that enables me to do remarkable stuff.

Joe -- you didn't kill the thread. I'd like to see a reasonable discussion on this topic as much as you would. Hopefully we'll hear some other thoughts.

David
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Bill Cushman
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Thanks for clarifying that Richard believes regarding ESP. That seems more consistent with what he's written.

As for the rest I'll give you point two but completely disagree with point one: "How can you play the part of a mind-reader when you don't believe in mind reading?" Makes sense, doesn't it?

I love you David, but no, I don't think this makes sense. If so, how can you play the part of Santa Claus if you don't believe reindeers can fly?" or "How can you play the part of Superman if you don't believe in superpowers?" Though this may explain why so many performers focus on plots of reading body language, suggestion, etc. in that they really do believe in these things.

Point two is well taken. Of course you have to get into your charachter and Richard makes wonderful points about this in Making Real Magic and Making Magic Real.
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I think while performing, it is reasonable to "believe" in these things, even if only temporarily.
One could certainly make the argument that internalizing a belief in what you are doing, resonates with your audience.
Your beliefs, either expressed or implied create sub-context and changes the game, at least in regard to how you're perceived.
It alters your behavior, even if you're not aware you're doing it.

This does not mean to say that ONLY someone who believes in such and such a thing (That is to say offstage), can pull of the acting.
It simply implies that while on stage, believing these things internally is important.
Of course, I do think it might be harder to believe in these things (even if only temporarily) if you really don't.
Imagine being an actor with a phobia of spiders, playing the part of someone who enjoys playing with spiders.
It might just make it easier if you do actually believe in it.

While playing the part of superman, I would be willing to bet the actor does believe in flight.
Even if only for the moment to create sincerity. You know the old saying, "Once you can fake that..."
David Thiel
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I don't think you're understanding my point, Bill.

I've played Santa and I'll bet you twenty editions of Dr. Bill's Bend that I COMPLETELY believed in flying reindeer and elves and North Pole sweat shops while I was doing so. IF I ever played Superman -- highly unlikely though it is -- I'd absolutely believe in xray vision and flying -- even in the Fortress of Solitude. I'd know how good a kisser Lois Lane really is.

I can't imagine playing a role if I didn't completely believe in the stuff that is a part of that role while I'm performing it.

I'm talking about being "in the moment." In the moment of performing I absolutely BELIEVE. That's the connection I wasn't making before. I was an actor in the part of a mentalist -- which adds a layer of resistance and unhelpful crap to the equation. Why not just be a mentalist doing mentalism things?

It so happens that, personally, I DO believe in ESP -- although I've never seen it demonstrated to the extent we demonstrate in our shows. But when I'm performing, I absolutely believe in all of it.

Well...I do NOW.

David
Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Except bears. Bears will kill you.


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Tony Iacoviello
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I believe Richard actually addresses the point of belief in what he is doing on the last set of DVDs.
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