I spend most of my show reading people. Not minds - people.
I’m constantly scanning the audience for the next volunteer. I need a person who is cooperative and seems friendly. They need to be helpful and able to follow instructions. It helps if they’re sober, too.
See, my show is not about me. It’s about you, the audience. I think of you as my cast, your thoughts as my props, and your mind as my stage. So I need to find the best volunteers to become supporting players in this production.
I don’t stop reading someone when they come onstage either. If anything, I’m watching them even more closely.
Are they uncomfortable? Or nervous?
Am I respecting their boundaries?
Are they able to take a joke? Or did I just cross a line?
I’m always weighing those questions and catering my performance to their subconscious, subtle demands.
Then, I watch for the ultimate cue: Are they ready?
Are they ready for the moment? Have I taken them to a place where they are fully prepared to react?
Will they be amazed?
Then, and only then, will they be ready for the moment of wonder. These things take time, and it all comes down to being a good judge of people.
When it comes to the show, I can be a bit of a control freak. I’ll give you an example:
During my tour this summer I hid somewhere in the theatre so I could watch people while they entered the room. In Florida, I paper clipped the curtains at an angle so I could peek thru a slit. In Ontario, I hid in the shadows to get a view of people as they took their seats. In San Diego, I widened a pre-existing hole in the drywall. I wanted to get an idea of what kind of audience I was working with before the show even began.
There’s a point in my show where I try to find one of the smartest men in the room to participate. I want an engineer or architect, someone who is good with numbers and a bit cynical of the proceedings. It’s not supposed to be a challenge. It’s because I want the audience to witness a transformation.
The penultimate show of The Mystery Tour was also the best show of the entire tour. It was perfectly paced and the audience was with me every step of the way. One of the best parts was when I called on a man for the “transformative moment”.
I’d been watching this guy the whole show. He was clearly very smart and also extremely skeptical of what I was doing. It wasn’t a rude skepticism. It was a “I’ll-only-buy-it-if-it-happens-to-me” kind of vibe.
“What do you do for a living, sir?” I asked.
“I work in IT,” he replied.
I smiled to myself. After hundreds of shows, year after year, you just know these things.
The man took a seat onstage and I started to break down his barriers. My script is full of self-deprecating jokes and reassuring gestures to make sure my volunteer knows he is an equal and not an adversary.
Several minutes passed and we’d reached the point of no return: the moment of wonder. In rapid succession his guard dropped at roughly the same rate as his jaw. Then, he just started laughing to himself.
It was incredible. The audience had seen a jaded man walk onstage and visibly transform in front of their very eyes. It had all happened in under five minutes.
“Give him a big round of applause!” I said, shaking his hand as I led him back to his seat.
Under the cover of the applause he looked up at me and said “That was fucking insane.”
I wish I could put that quote on my website. In a way, I guess I am.
My title may be “Mind Reader” but the truth is, it really comes down to reading people. I’m not here to convince you of something supernatural or get you to buy into a new belief system. I’m just here to show you that maybe there’s something more to this than what you think. Maybe the world is just a little bit bigger or more mysterious than you thought it was before the curtain went up.
To do that I need the right person. And if you’re lucky, it might be you.