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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Penny for your thoughts » » Twenty Years of Café Mentalism (6 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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Martin Pulman
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This year is the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Café and the green place becoming a place for those performing, collecting or interested in Mentalism to congregate.

Mentalism has changed an incredible amount in that time. The life of the Café has coincided with the explosion of the internet. What do people think has been lost and what has been gained in those 20 years? Do people think Mentalism is in a stronger place now? Has there been a noticeable improvement in performances, methods, plots etc? Has the internet been a force for good or ill in the world of Mentalism? Or is it a mixed bag? Have any performers emerged in that time to rank alongside the greats who used to post here (Lesley, Maven, Banachek, Brown (in disguise!)?

And where do people think Mentalism is headed in the next 20 years?

Any thoughts greatly appreciated.
Nestor D
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Great question, I am impatient to see the answers! Let me dump my thoughts on the subject...

I think that mentalism is much more common nowadays and attracts much more hobbyists than before which is not necessarily a bad thing as it put many more mind and perspectives to work on improved methods and variations of existing plots.

Regarding trends, we see more electronics (that leaves me cold), apps (idem), propless (some gold nugget in a vast sea of mud), business card effects and moves (good things getting out at regular intervals, I expect further progress).

A performer said that there is a magicinisation of mentalism with people introducing very clever methods and sleights to solve problems in cleaner way. Which has pros (cleaner methods) but also cons (the method should not be the point and it gets harder to realise every time the method gets more clever).
That to me is the key to explain the current and future developments of mentalism.

Regarding the café, my feeling is that well known performers have mostly retreated from this section (topics where they have something to sell being the obvious exception) which is our loss. David Thiel might be my favourite poster currently active, there is a lot of wisdom to be gained from him.
Bob_Hummer
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Most mentalism lacks surprise.

You say you are going to do something.

And then you do it.

The audience ends up exactly where they expected.

It is a demonstration rather than a performance that pulls them in and surprises them in some way.

The next big challenge for mentalism will be to work on this. That way the trick becomes more than just a puzzle to be solved.

I wrote a blog post on this issue.

https://www.vanishingincmagic.com/blog/t......surprise

My post was addressing this issue in magic. But the problem is sadly ten times worse in mentalism.

Joe Mckay
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Interesting read,

While the premise of mentalism seems inherently fascinating to most people the presentation of it unfortunately is often inherently dull/boring.
I don't mind if the audience ends up where they expect to, as long as the journey to get there was fun and entertaining. Look at it as a good "Who's done it" book.
you expect there to be a crime and you expect it to be solved by the end of the book. Nothing wrong with that as long as the way they get to it is entertaining.

As Derren Brown mentions in ( I think its) Pure Effect. Allot of mentalism unfortunately consists of people writing down a thought, the mentalist grabbing a pad writing something down and showing that somehow he was correct. During this the audience doesn't get to see anything of what they came to see ( mind-reading, influence, etc.) I know this book is 20 years old but I still think it applies to allot of mentalism now.
If you can add an extra layer by having a surprise ending it can certainly be a plus, but I do not think it is absolutely necessary as long as the presentation/process during the effect is entertaining.

As for It being a demonstration rather then a performance, I know its personal choice, but I actually prefer this and for many effects I choose a demonstration and sometimes even lecture type of approach. I also do memory demonstrations ( something that also inherently lacks surprise) and find them to blend better if the mentalism also has the demonstration aspect.

And for the puzzle part.
As long as the spectators ask themselves: how did he know what I was thinking by, ... moving my arm while I answered unrelated questions, ... looking at me pouring a drink, ... looking at my throat while I shout the answer in my head. etc.
Instead of how did he manage to read what I have written down.
Philemon Vanderbeck
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That most mentalism lacks surprise is a feature, not a bug.

It follows the classic premise of "first you tell them what you're going to do, then you do it, then you tell them what you've done."

Consider how movie trailers basically give away the entire plot, and yet folks still go see them in the theaters (or at least, used to before the pandemic).

The art of mentalism is having a good story to tell along the journey, and having a good character that invokes interest.
Professor Philemon Vanderbeck
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Bob_Hummer
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I am going to link to something else I wrote (apologies for that!)

This time round I focused on a brilliant essay by David Ben that explored a key piece of theory that underpins a lot of the work of Penn & Teller.

If you understand the advice that Teller gives below - it will provide another avenue that mentalists can explore in order to make their performances genuinely compelling.

https://forums.geniimagazine.com/viewtop......p=362083

Joe Mckay
Martin Pulman
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Thanks for the replies, everyone.

I think "Mentalism" is all but unrecognisable today compared to 20 years ago; certainly in a UK context. 20 years ago there were very few mentalists at all; no street Mentalism, no table-hopping mentalism, no mentalists performing at weddings; very little in the way of books; very few single effects available to purchase.
Mentalism was almost exclusively a stage/corporate entertainment and the product releases reflected that. We now see almost the direct opposite with most mental-themed releases geared towards close-up, informal performances.

One could possibly reasonably argue that most of the changes have actually been expansions of the concept of mental magic, rather than a downgrading of Mentalism, but things are certainly very different today than 20 years ago.
countrymaven
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I think that in spite of a lot of overfishing in routines and routines that are too complex and thus unconvincing, mentalism has been improving. The one thing I believe that is often lacking is a highly convincing presentation.

When people are truly convinced that someone is receiving even a part of someone else's thoughts, it is very entertaining.
The key is that people are truly convinced. This takes quite a bit of showmanship and BELIEF, TRANSMITTED, by the performer.

The best mentalism has always been VERY DIRECT, and very convincing. And being convincing often means partly messing up the reveal before the final revelation. My two cents.
funsway
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I have always contended based on my decades of experience that each audience member has some degree of belief in PSI things
and is looking for validation as much as entertainment as part of their expectation of a demonstration.

Internet exposure may have increased this "general awareness" with alive demonstration able to provide validation not possible vicariously.
Thus, I see the necessity of a mentalist coming across as authentic as well as clear as to what is being demonstrated.

Sadly (for me) most demonstrations seem to be muddled, shotgun approach and pointless (no relevance to anything important)
One problem is giving a long show. I can envision many ways for a single demonstration to be impactful, validating, entertaining and meaningful,
But then what? How can one have series of demonstrations at that level? Can small demonstrations built to a grand demonstration? I don't see how.

So, fo me, I see some future in powerful mentalism (by any definition) for small groups/parlor events in which the entire audience can be engaged/participate,
but no way to make a living doing so, or having any "best effect" be a reputation maker.

As to the changes over time, my favorite methods are the same as 60 years ago - any my presentation has changed, based on my guess at audience expectations.
For example, audience familiarity with pendulums as me now use Multi-bob, no-touch techniques and Radial pendulums. My "abilities" have not changed at all,
and any notion that my efforts could be enhanced by electronics or gimmick is shameful.

I also do not consider NLP, hypnotism, readings, memory skills or medium work to be mentalism. Mind based entertainment, yes.
To that end, I am sure the concept of what mentalism is for the general audience is very confused. One must be clear as to what they are about.

That is, if I purchased a ticket to see a mentalist and they did any of the above I would feel cheated.
"the more one pretends at magic, the more awe and wonder will be found in real life." Arnold Furst



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mindhunter
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Ohhh...this has a the potential to be a great thread...

I look forward to hearing that the MIND READERS chime in with, and have some thoughts myself when I get a sec.

(just chiming in now so I don't forget and this pops up when I search my name.. Smile )

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Martin Pulman
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In terms of Mentalism on the Café, one of the biggest changes has been in the proportion of consumers vs creators. 20 years ago very few people on the Café were releasing Mentalism effects. That meant the reviews were more trustworthy in a way as there was as a clear divide between seller and buyer.

Now, the majority of people seem to have released effects of their own or have their own youtube review shows, which makes it much more difficult to truly trust any review. I must admit, I preferred it before, but the sheer volume of people trying to create effects has undoubtedly led to advances in some areas -mainly in effects suitable for close-up.
Mindpro
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So true, but it extends way beyond just affect releases. Also, I have not seen much actually new in years, with the exception of electronics which has had some great advances. I too preferred it more when more people listened and fewer people talked trying to sound proficient when a quick look at their work or releases quickly displays the reality.

Much it this has to do with the UK kiddies spawned from the Derren popularity. I think this was a turning point, of course, along with the internet and youtube. It was so much nicer before where everyone seemed to accept their place and those leaders were the ones to learn from.

Also when less mentalism was available and harder to discover. Things were earned and worked up to, not just delivered by someone on a silver platter for the asking. The ramification of this is now apparent, easily seen, and widespread.

Also, the foundational aspects of mentalism were more of a concern to most, and wanting to learn how it differed from magic. The last 15 years or, so have just muddied the water, eliminated the well-respected different levels of those here, and created some poor perceptions that unfortunately the forum is now based upon. This has driven many of the pros away from here to let the lesser level of the mentalism community to think they are today's leaders.

Yes, I too preferred it the way it was before.
Mindpro
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There were also a lot more workers (performers) here years ago than just hobbyists or those with a casual interest. Again I think the Derren-effect, youtube, and such created more casual members here today rather than workers.
Martin Pulman
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The Derren-effect is probably not that different than the Geller-effect in the 70s in the US. Someone making a big splash on tv inspiring a young generation to adopt his attitude and effects. The combination of the Derren-effect and the Internet however has, in my opinion, created a great danger for mentalism.

Brown, probably inadvertently, created what amounts to a new branch of mentalism. The young guys (and occasional gal) inspired by his early tv shows to see mentalism as something that was performed on the streets, using few, if any, props; innocently mistook tv editing for the totality of the effect and became obsessed with trying to recreate what they saw on TV in reality. Mix that with what felt like a fresh manifesto of Invisible Compromise in works by Brown, Knepper etc, add a dash of the Rutledge psychological approach and we ended up with this strange new beast: propless-mentalism.

That opened the doors to mentalism being something people felt they could perform in casual settings -as opposed to the stage and corporate world it inhabited before (certainly in the UK). Almost inevitably that brought mentalism closer to magic. Add to that the mass exposure of methods on YouTube and for sale as downloads and it began to feel as if Mentalism was something anyone could do. Where once little kids showed their latest coin or card tricks to their friends or their granny, we now have little kids performing mental effects on you tube (the modern equivalent of the playground).

That seems to me to be the greatest danger to mentalism. Up to now it always played as a more mature, more adult entertainment than magic -Dunninger, Berglas, Canasta etc all seemed to be very sophisticated, intelligent men. But it is now perilously close to being viewed in the same slightly childish and embarrassing way many sophisticated people view magic. Mentalism can indeed seem very silly indeed, as the methods often appear so trivial when exposed without the cover of a strong performer. And performance is one of the aspects rarely covered in the acres of YouTube footage or downloads.

I hope more of the younger guys try to take mentalism back to the stage where it really belongs. And hopefully the current fad for magicians performing mental effects as part of their table-hopping will pass. If not, Mentalism could be unrecognisable, in a bad way, in another twenty years.
peirceman
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I agree with Martin that mentalism has migrated away from the stage, but disagree that it is a bad thing. I started out in magic, but I always felt that the audience never felt there was magic, just a method. Sure, they were entertained and may not even know where to begin to describe the method, but the "I have no idea how he did that" was always in the conversation. Mentalism, on the other hand, always felt magical to me. Even watching a mentalist myself, there was always a moment when suspension of disbelief took over, and I was just one with the performance. Close up mentalism can achieve this as effectively and stage mentalism. As long as the performer presents him or herself as a mentalist, I do not think the venue has a negative impact.

What I do think is a bad trend is the one towards mental magic and the "let me interrupt my endless card tricks and read your mind." I believe that this fails to achieve that suspension of disbelief and it becomes yet another trick for the audience to be fooled by.
Martin Pulman
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On a podcast, Derren Brown told a story about how, despite having appeared in his own TV series, he had to continue performing at the restaurant he had worked at before. The big money bookings his new manager had promised hadn't materialised. One of the customers he was performing for said "You look like that Derren Brown guy, from the telly". Derren said "I am him!". The customers found it hard to believe that a mind reader with his own TV show would be table-hopping at a Bristol restaurant.

That's why I think the move away from stage may be a dangerous thing for mentalism. There are many brilliant, creative people performing mental effects close-up, but it's very hard to create the idea that what you are doing is potentially real if you're doing it on order from table to table at a restaurant or wedding. Part of the believability of Mentalism comes from the implied status of the performer -similar to a hypnotist. I think performing in a stage or parlour environment helps that enormously.

It'll certainly be interesting to look back in another 20 years and see what has happened.
funsway
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I will agree with "stage" in the sense of larger audiences rather than one-on-one or table hopping. My earlier experiences with mentalism back in the 50-60's were
fairly small venues - 30-50 people in lounge or 'surround settings. Seeing Dunninger in 1558 was a disappointment because he was so abusive of the audience -
but I later figure it was a developed style that worked for him. The demonstrations he performed would not work today such has having a spectator add a column of numbers.
He also used allusion to Hamlet that would be risky today. This is to say, his expectations of audience knowledge and experience was "on" back then,
but a performer today would have a difficult time in judging an audience. So, methinks a lot of what passes for mentalism today is simple tricks to amuse with little substance.

Of course, I am going back 60 years and not 20, but the progress has been linear and sad. Change does not mean better.

If telepathy means being able to transmit/read a single word or number- so what? I would rather be able to have a spectator pick up a random,
turn to a page selected by another person and read a paragraph. I would then speak to emotion, themes, character, setting, etc. in growing empathy and connect
with others in the audience picking up on the "signals." I can do this IF the group is of parlor size, the folks are well read, accustomed to reading novels and discussing serious themes.
Where do I find such a group? Do I prepared a different telepathy demonstration for each audience mix. How do I gauge attention span and distraction sensitivity?

Or, do I adopt a watered down type of mentalism with playing cards and thee minute presentations?

I see a time in which serious mentalism and even conjuring can have a place on a parlor setting, where folks gather for entertainment rather than to "be entertained."
Probably won't live long enough to see it, but can be prepared for the rare occasion where what I can do will be appreciated.

I can do Helstromism with astonishing results - haven't in 15 years and probably will not again. The audience expectations and respect have changed, not me.
But, if the right conditions should occur I am ready. Maybe someday.
"the more one pretends at magic, the more awe and wonder will be found in real life." Arnold Furst



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Martin Pulman
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Quote:
On Jan 20, 2021, funsway wrote:
Seeing Dunninger in 1558 was a disappointment because he was so abusive of the audience -

1558?! Your photo makes you look a lot younger!

But seriously, having seen Dunninger live. That's pretty special.
Mindpro
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Quote:
On Jan 20, 2021, Martin Pulman wrote:
That's why I think the move away from stage may be a dangerous thing for mentalism... Part of the believability of Mentalism comes from the implied status of the performer -similar to a hypnotist. I think performing in a stage or parlour environment helps that enormously.


Absolutely! This is something only experienced performers know and many close-up or street "mentalists" have yet to realize. The mystique, performance dynamics, and the implied status you mentioned often are more important than the effects you perform. Today's mentalists seem to focus on the wrong things, many with the true foundational aspects of mentalism missing.

Unless there is a concerted effort or a throwback in mentalism, it will likely only continue to be trivialized and get worse in the next 20 years.
funsway
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Quote:
On Jan 20, 2021, Martin Pulman wrote:
Quote:
On Jan 20, 2021, funsway wrote:
Seeing Dunninger in 1558 was a disappointment because he was so abusive of the audience -

1558?! Your photo makes you look a lot younger!

But seriously, having seen Dunninger live. That's pretty special.


my arthritis didn't effect my typing so badly in 1658 either Smile
"the more one pretends at magic, the more awe and wonder will be found in real life." Arnold Furst



ShareBooks at www.eversway.com * questions at funsway@eversway.com
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