Monday, August 2, 2010

Beginner's Guide to Mentalism

Mentalism is like so many other things like singing and writing: everyone thinks they can do it and they're usually wrong.  To that effect, I've decided to assemble this little beginner's guide to mentalism for the newbie.  It took me some time to figure out what to include and what not to, but I've organized everything into a sequence as best I can.  The intent is to keep things simple and straightforward, giving you a clear progression through those first steps into a new skill.

I'm going to note right away that the first two on this list are an either/or situation.  It depends entirely on your background.

Mark Wilson's Complete Course in Magic
If you're a magician and want to break into mentalism, this is good for introducing you to certain mental magic concepts, particularly in some of the card effects and the Mental Magic section (duh!).  The wealth of material available makes for a good jumping point while still providing plenty of fodder to keep you busy into the foreseeable future.  Of course, I should point out that if you're a magician and do not already possess a copy of Mark Wilson's, you're doing it wrong.

Magic for Dummies
If you're new to magic, this is probably going to be one of the best places to start.  There's plenty of fundamentals, time-tested effects, and some rudimentary performance theory.  A pretty good bargain.  If you're so inclined, you can acquire Mark Wilson's at a later date.  The important thing is to establish a strong foundation in sleight of hand.  Investing the time and energy into this now will make the journey later on much smoother. 

Self-Working Mental Magic
As regular readers probably remember, I have a lot of very positive things to say about this book.  And I hope my recommendation will be enough to cancel the stigma that seems to follow self-working effects.  Especially when new magicians get a grasp on sleight of hand, they start to imagine that self-working magic is beneath them.  For more info, please refer to my earlier review of the book.

So the previous choices gave you material to work with.  Now you need to know how to use it.  This is quite possibly the best of Bob Cassidy's output, and he's put out some pretty good material.  Performance theory, showmanship, routining, character building, and more are all covered here.  There's also an appendix called 39 Steps that lists 39 different books that Bob considers essential to any working mentalist's library.  Fundamentals is a must-have.  This is not negotiable.

Practical Mental Effects/13 Steps to Mentalism
The reason you want to hold off on a large book of mentalism effects until this point is to prevent information overload.  That was a mistake I made.  I bought 13 Steps before I was ready for it and kneecapped my progress because I was trying to absorb too much information at one time.  The choice between Anneman's Practical Mental Effects and Corinda's 13 Steps to Mentalism is a neverending debate and for the longest time I championed the former.  However, in more recent times I understand that both are equally strong texts, if a bit dry in writing, and though some would call their material dated it's still very strong and time tested.  Do not underestimate this material.  Pick up one of these books and save the other for later.

Nail Writer/Swami/Pocket Writing
At this point you should decide whether you want to work with nail writers or pocket writing.  The choice is largely a matter of personal taste.  Though I will say that pocket writing should be attempted only when you plan to regularly wear outfits that have roomy enough pockets.  Slacks, hoodies, sport jackets, that sort of thing are all better suited to pocket writing than your jeans.  If you wear dressy and casual about as often, dabble in both and see which one works better for you.

An Actor Prepares
This was the original text codifying the craft of acting in the modern era and to this day it is still one of the fundamentals.  I've heard a lot of magicians and mentalists alike recite that Robert-Houdin quote about all magicians being actors.  It's like a reflex to them, they've got the syllables down to muscle memory.  But surprisingly few of them know how to act.  Don't make the same mistake.  You've got your material, your performance theory, your utilities, now learn how to really sell it to an audience.

Okay, we have these essential fundamentals, but there are different branches of mentalism based on the nature of effects.  The following items are all optional based on specializations.

Psychokinetic Silverware/PSI Series
When it comes to PK effects, it's hard to do better than Banachek.  These DVDs will give you the essential work on metal bending.  There are a lot of good books and DVDs on the subject now of course, but this remains the best place to start bar none.

Peek Wallet
If you're going to work on mind reading, having one of these is essential.  Many would recommend the Sight Unseen Case, but this has sadly been discontinued.  I made my own peek wallet using the SUC principle and it works very well.  Barring that however, the peek wallets from Outlaw Effects are high quality and effective.

Invisible Elastic Thread/Loops and the Loops Trilogy and The Cloak
Yigal Mesika's invisible elastic thread is incredible as a resource, but tying your own loops is a pain.  You can purchase loops pre-tied, so if you question your own fine dexterity and don't want to spend the time learning to handle the finicky material, it's a good way to go.  Thread and loops both are excellent PK utilities with a huge number of effects and applications.  Justin Miller's Cloak is a great thread setup and the Ellusionist Loops trilogy provides plenty of effects and inspirations.

Quick and Effective Cold Reading
I'm just going to come out and say it.  You will be hard pressed to find a better teacher for cold reading than Richard Webster.  There are other great books on the subject by such giants as Herb Dewie and Bob Cassidy, but Richard is an indisputable master.  If you're not comfortable making the transition into cold reading just yet, instead pick up Richard's Cold Reading for the Magician booklet first to give you a primer into the basic concepts of cold reading.

So there you have it.  A straightforward beginner's guide to starting your education in mentalism.  Among the vast ocean of books, DVDs and gimmicks available, I hope this simplifies things and gives you a stable jumping point.  Truthfully, the material here is enough to last you for a long time to come.

1 comment:

  1. Ahhh so the mystery reveals itself... I now know who your are!