What is a Mentalist?

What is a Mentalist?

I’m cold calling a prospective booking agent.
She says, “What do you do?”
That’s a fair question.
I answer, “I’m a Mentalist.”
She says, “What is a Mentalist.”

I know the person I am calling is busy and that I have only seconds before she tells me she has to go so in the interests of brevity, my typical response to that question is, “I’m a theatrical mind reader,” or “I do a mind reading act,” but even that, while brief and to the point, can be a bit misleading in that I am actually not reading minds during my act.

Mentalist, mentalism, etc. is jargon.

People outside of the magic community don’t necessarily know what a mentalist is and I don’t think the long running and very successful television show “The Mentalist” helped to clarify.

If you Google search the term you will get this definition, “A magician who performs feats that apparently demonstrate extraordinary mental powers, such as mind-reading.”

In this context “magician” means practitioner of legerdemain as opposed to witch or practitioner of real magic.

Personally, I love the Google definition because that is exactly what I intend to communicate when I refer to myself as a mentalist. That is the understanding that I want my booking agent and my audience to have but not everyone understands the term this way and it is precisely because they don’t understand the term that ethical dilemmas creep into the performance of mentalism.

I mentioned in the section “About David” that one audience was visibly and audibly disappointed when, at the end of my performance I was asked by the booking agent in front of everyone if what I had demonstrated was genuine ESP or a magician’s illusion. When I told the audience it was an illusion they were clearly disappointed. At that particular show there was a sign outside of the theatre that read, “Performing tonight at 7pm David Dellman, Mentalist.” And, I was introduced as a mentalist, so why the confusion? And should those of us who perform mentalism clarify the term for our audiences?

Personally I like the fact that there is some ambiguity.
My job, as I understand it, is to convince my audience that anything is possible.
I believe in genuine ESP but a demonstration of actual ESP would not excite the average audience.

I have participated in studies of ESP.
In a typical study clinicians test large numbers of people and those people were randomly selected.
The results of such studies generally demonstrate statistical significance that is beyond chance.
If you watch a study you will see plenty of misses but you will also see hits that will amaze you.
Hits and misses are the nature of the real thing.

These studies are fascinating if you are really into psychic phenomenon; dull as dishwater if you have come out for an evening of entertainment. So while the end result is impressive the scientific process is simply not engaging at least by entertainment standards.

I want my audiences to leave my show thinking, “I wonder if that was real?”
I want them to open their minds to the possibility because the possibilities and potential of any given human being are without limit.
If I didn’t believe in human potential I wouldn’t be a mentalist.
I perform as a mentalist to inspire the best in my audience but I don’t want to lie or misrepresent – therein lies the mentalist’s dilemma.

My conscience tells me that if I identify my performance as a demonstration of mentalism then the audience has a responsibility to understand that what I mean by this is “A magician who performs feats that apparently demonstrate extraordinary mental powers, such as mind-reading.”

If on the other hand I am doing a tarot reading or attempting to relay a message from a loved one on the other side and I am not in a theatrical context then you have every right to believe and to expect that what you are seeing is genuine.

Someone who deceives in a “real” context is a fraud but someone who performs on stage is an actor – there is a difference.

I place emphasis on context because, I believe, if you are in a theatre watching a “show” your expectation should be vastly different than if you are in a private sitting with someone professing to be a psychic.

By the way, most mediums are Spiritualists.
I believe in the tenants of Spiritualism and I practice mediumship.
In order to avoid confusion I do not create illusions where mediumship is concerned.
To me, Spiritualism is sacred and mediumship is a precious gift.
I treat it with respect and reverence.

I feel the same way about the tarot.
The tarot is one of the most perfect things I have ever encountered.
The tarot works because there are no coincidences.
There is an energy in the universe, an “infinite intelligence” as the Spiritualists call it.
Some call it God but whatever you call it there is definitely “guidance” during a reading.

So, for me, the tarot and mediumship are off limits as performance pieces.
They are religious services not entertainment.
That is not to say I won’t read the cards at a “show” but when I do read the cards it is done sincerely and for real. I read exactly what my intuition senses without cold reading tactics or showmanship.

Some magicians specialize in creating the illusion of spirit contact.
Many of those magicians refer to themselves as “bizzarists.”
In short a bizzarist is a magician that specializes in spooky illusions, ghost shows, and bogus séances.
Some bizzarists and even some conventional magicians use the tarot as a prop.
They are not props for me, as far as I am concerned they are sacred and I treat them as such.

Back to mentalism, if a mentalist is concerned about an ethical dilemma why doesn’t the mentalist simply state a disclaimer?

Some do, I don’t and this is why:

When Harrison Ford portrayed Indiana Jones did he pause during the film to say, “For the benefit of those who might misunderstand my real name is Harrison Ford, Indiana Jones is a fictional character that I am only pretending to be.”

When a traditional magician is on stage sawing a person in half does he or she pause to say, “Don’t worry folks, it’s only a trick.”

Why don’t they stop their performance to make a disclaimer?

They don’t because such disclaimers ruin the fragile illusion they have worked so hard to create – that maybe Indiana Jones is a real person that you should care about at least until the end of the film and that maybe that person being sawn asunder is in some actual danger.

This is the same reason why I do not make disclaimers during my act.

When I am on stage performing mentalism I am an actor playing the part of a person with genuine psychic ability.

What is a mentalist?
A magician, an actor creating the illusion of extraordinary mental powers, such as mind-reading.

Enjoy the show.

Much love,
David