Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Do you mind? ‘Mentalist’ bends expectations, cutlery in performance

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

People coming to Chris Carter’s show at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus on Friday had better come prepared to be amazed and involved, since they may not have a choice in the matter.

Carter bills himself as a mentalist, and his performance is filled with feats meant to blow people’s minds, or at least reveal them.

“What I do, it’s a mix of illusion and psychological abilities to the point where, for all intents and purposes, I read people’s minds. I don’t, obviously, it’s not like radio waves are coming out of their minds,” Carter said.

For the illusion part of the show, Carter bends cutlery and makes light bulbs held by audience members illuminate or even explode. For the psychological feats, he has people tape his eyes shut, then describes details of objects they’re holding, and details of the people holding them. He asks people to think of the most amazing, craziest details about their lives, ones that there’s no way Carter should be able to guess. Then he does.

“That’s where it really gets cool. There’s part of the show where people are going, ‘OK, maybe he’s got this set up,’ and all of a sudden I’m working with them, so they scream,” Carter said.

Carter also dabbles in subliminal psychology and hypnosis, getting subjects to bend to his will.

“They realize it at that point, I’ve kind of played them like a piper and gotten them to do what I want them to do,” he said.

Carter got interested in the skills he blends into his mentalist performance through an early fascination with more traditional magic tricks. When he was 8 his uncle let him sit in on a poker game, and Carter realized people’s body language gave away what they had in their hands. He started doing a trick where he could guess people’s cards.

“When I did this on them they freaked out. Instead of, ‘Oh my gosh, what a cool trick,’ it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re inside my head,’” Carter said. “Ever since then I’ve just been absolutely in love with the idea of, I call it messing with minds, and that’s what the show is all about. That’s what makes it fun to do is it’s such an incredible mystery to people that they react in a way that’s just way out of proportion to something in just a traditional magic show.”

He’s had people panic and fling the suddenly illuminated light bulb they’re holding across the room. And there’s usually plenty of screaming.

“One of the things that makes it funny is the reactions from people from the audience,” Carter said.

“Big football players scream and run out of the room, then they come back in and they scream and run out again,” he said.

Carter originally went to college as a theater and business double major, but he’s always had an interest in psychology, he said.

“I knew from the point I was 10 years old I wanted to be a performer, but I’d always been fascinated by humans’ behavior, so I’ve taught myself a lot,” he said.

“I’m pretty much a self study. Hypnosis. Illusion is another area. There’s no college that will teach you that. You have to learn it from insiders,” he said.
Many of his feats, especially the psychological ones, he’s developed and perfected on his own.

“Three years after grad school I was light years ahead of the day I started to perform professionally. It’s the kind of thing you can only really learn by doing it constantly on a new pool of people. That’s what made all the difference,” he said. “There are things in the show that have taken me six or seven years of hard work to develop, and I have things in the show that took me two weeks. There’s really a lot of variety in it.”

Audience members themselves bring some of the variety, since they in effect are the raw material with which Carter works. He’s performed in every state but Hawaii so far, and there are a lot of similarities in the audiences he sees.

“Most people are really extremely receptive,” he said. “I think most people have a real strong desire to participate in something mysterious and something strange, but strange in a fun, exciting way. Not strange in a creepy way.”

That being said, there are some differences in how people approach the show.
“If I’m performing at a technical, engineering school, they tend to have a very left-brain response. They’re busy trying to analyze and come up with solutions, whereas other people may just relax and enjoy the mystery. … It doesn’t matter what frame of mind you take into a show, you still get what you want out of it,” Carter said.

Once in a while, even Carter is amazed in the course of a performance.

“Occasionally I’ll end up revealing something about people that turns out to be a little more personal than I intended to reveal,” he said.

In one instance he was reading a guy’s name from a woman in the audience. She kept denying there was anything special about him, until Carter said she’d spent the night with him.

“All of sudden I heard this other shout from this other girl across the room that was the guy’s girlfriend. Then this guy got up and ran out of the room,” Carter said.

“Usually I’ll hold back from revealing anything superembarrassing, it’s not my goal to embarrass anyone,” he said.

But the mind, like Carter’s show, can be mysterious, and reveals surprises when least expected.

“There’s always fresh surprises. People are somewhat predictable and yet they’re not completely predictable. You always learn something unique and fresh just about every time, so it’s still fun. It still keeps me on my toes,” he said.

Carter will perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Ward Building at KPC. Admission is $12 general admission or $10 with a valid student ID.

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