What I love about mentalism is the audience interaction. Most mentalism presentations involve audience members onstage. Not surprisingly, the choice of assistants or volunteers to help in the show can make or break a mentalism program.
The show can suffer when the performer picks unwittingly a lukewarm volunteers to help. On the other hand, choosing an over-eager assistant can threaten to take over the show and relegate the mentalist to second fiddle.
This problem is not unique to mentalism. It also torments magic shows and other live shows requiring audience helpers.
Choosing the right assistants, therefore, plays a crucial role in the success of a show that features audience participation. It is a skill that one can learn through experience and by employing one’s gut feel and putting into play some simple strategies.
All this is another topic I want to write about in the future.
Meanwhile, let me write the deadliest trap in mentalism. “Deadly” in the sense that it can totally ruin the show and lead the mentalist to contemplate hara-kiri.
I’m referring to the part where the mentalist gives his assistants instructions—and the assistant does not understand or fails to follow the instructions. An unskilled performer, or someone careless, can easily fall into this trap.
I once watched a mentalism act that stalled, crashed and burned. All because the performer, who carried his performance in English, picked an assistant who understood very little English.
In another instant, I watched a mentalist bomb after failing to divine the chosen card. It happened after a long-winded instruction to the assistant: “Here’s the deck of cards. Fan in in front of you. Choose mentally one card, then take it out from the deck. Put the whole deck under the table, reverse your chosen card…blah…blah…blah. Now give me back the deck. I’ll find the card.”
The result? The card could not be divined, not by the mentalist, or by other psychics.
A good script can prevent 99% of similar gaffes from happening. Write down the instructions you would give during a performance and idiot proof your copy.
In the advertising world, “idiot proofing” means striving to write copies that are so crystal clear that even an idiot can understand and interpret them correctly.
Though the term “idiot proofing” sounds snobbish, it is grounded on well-founded principles. When applied correctly in the preparation for a mentalism show, it can save the performer from grief that an ambiguous speech may cause.
A good strategy for the mentalist I mentioned above is to review his script and “idiot proof” it, especially the part where he is giving the assistant complex instructions on how to choose a card. Then he should practice that part live with a friend or family member to make sure the instructions are clear enough and no longer likely to be misinterpreted.