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Mentalist ready to read your thoughts at Daytona Festival of Magic

Posted in: Latest News ♦ Tuesday, November 8th, 2011, 5:09 pm ♦ Comments Off
BY RICK DE YAMPERT, ENTERTAINMENT WRITER send an email to rick.deyampert@news-jrnl.com
November 1, 2011 12:05 AM
Mentalist Banachek will be performing Saturday night at the Daytona Festival of Magic at the Daytona Beach Resort and Conference Center.

“A Night of Magic,” 8 p.m. Saturday featuring mentalist Banachek, $30.

Banachek swears he isn’t a psychic.

Yes, the mentalist and former consultant for the TV series “Criss Angel Mindfreak” can seemingly bend spoons with his thoughts.

Yes, Banachek (who took his stage name from that old George Peppard TV series) can guess your pet’s name or, ahem, that secret fetish you keep buried deep in your gray matter.

Yes, patrons who witness the entertainer’s performance this weekend at the Daytona Festival of Magic may come away believing Banachek possesses supernatural powers.

However, the English-born mentalist says, he’s merely using his five ordinary senses — the same ones you and I have — to create “the illusion of a sixth sense.”

But don’t feel bad if you’re fooled. Among stage magician and mentalist circles, Banachek is famous for his role in Project Alpha, a serious parapsychology research study conducted at Washington University in St. Louis from 1979 to ’81. Working in league with stage magician and skeptic James Randi, a teenaged Banachek (real name Steve Shaw) and another teen were determined by researchers to possess genuine psychic powers — that is, until Randi revealed the hoax.

Banachek, who has long made his home in America and now lives in Houston, talked about the difference between reading minds and reading thoughts during an interview before a Las Vegas show.

So, you’re not a psychic and you say that you don’t read minds but, rather, that you are a mentalist who reads thoughts. Please explain.

If a husband and wife are sitting on a park bench, a pretty woman jogs by. Man turns to look. Wife slaps the husband in the face. We know something about the dynamics of these two people. We have not read their minds — we have read their thoughts.

That is what I do — read thoughts not minds. If someone comes up to me after a show and punched me in the face, I would know what they thought about the show, same if they come up to me with a smile. That is nonverbal communication. It’s a form of thought-reading.

If someone says Dolly Parton, what two things come to mind? Right: singer-songwriter. Seriously though, the words influence the thoughts and that is part of what I use in my show, mixed with magic. But I use a lot of this sort of psychology to accomplish and enhance my mentalism trade.

You are known for telling your audiences you are not a psychic, yet you say some people still believe you have psychic powers. How do you explain that yearning to believe?

Ahhh, people always want to believe that there is more to life than just living and dying and we all want to feel special. If we had this type of abilities, then most people believe that we would be more than special. I particularly already think that humans are very special indeed. I do not need to take advantage of people’s belief systems to entertain.

It is why I am very open about the fact I use verbal and nonverbal communication, body language, lots of magic and perceptual manipulation in my show — all packaged neatly to create a show that looks like and feels like real mind reading.

The other thing is I am doing impossible things. People are born to see patterns. They yearn for information. These are survival instincts. As a result, most people will latch onto whatever makes the illogical seem logical and what puts the world in some sort of order for them.

So, as a result it is easy to convince someone you are psychic if they have no other explanation that makes the impossible possible in their world. The idea of it being “psychic” is an explanation in their mind, something most people need.

So, some people believe you have psychic powers. Is it more difficult to amaze other people these days? Have CGI effects in the movies, techno-computer feats and even David Copperfield’s mega illusions on television made it more difficult for stage performers to conjure a sense of wonder?

I don’t think it is harder to amaze an audience. Great magical and mental performers do it all the time. In fact one of the most common compliments I receive is “Wow, I saw it on TV and did not believe it. Now that I see you doing it, it really is different and amazing. You just changed the way I think about this stuff. I just thought it was all TV editing.”

As you can see, people are even more amazed when they see these things live. However, having said this, information is so much more available nowadays on the Internet, so if you are going to be a mystery entertainer, you better be good and you better be amazing. Or you just really need to be entertaining. A good comic has not been hurt by all the comedy on TV. A good magician should not be either.

Have you ever been tempted to pass yourself off as a psychic, and just run with it?

Only when I see the amount of money some of these fakes make, but I am quickly reminded I could not sleep at night if I took advantage of people like some of these scam artists do.

This is why James Randi put up his million-dollar prize for anyone with psychic abilities (offered to “anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural or occult power or event,” according to the website randi.org).

I am the director of the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge. It also keeps me from such temptations as I am reminded every day what kind of horrible damage those type of scam artists do.

What routines will you be performing as part of your Daytona Festival of Magic show?

I probably will perform what I like to call the largest ESP experiment in the world, where the audience writes out thoughts, holds on to them and I try to guess their names, thoughts and even information they did not write down.

Usually I open with something quick like having the audience just think of playing cards in their mind, then without any real cards in existence I reveal three or four cards audience members are thinking of.

I like to close with something dramatic. Being the first mentalist in the world to perform a Russian roulette with knives, I may pull that one out on that night. I will make my final decision once I see the venue, the amount of people and realize what will work best in that environment.