As a young kid, I watched a magician turn his wand into a bouquet of flowers, and perform some other basic tricks, and of course, I was blown away. Later on though, I found out how those tricks were done, and the magic of the performance diminished a little.

That’s the thing about regular magic tricks isn’t it? It all seems fascinating until the secret is uncovered.

Mentalism on the other hand, is quite different. It rarely fails to intrigue and entertain. Even if you find out how a Mentalist performs a certain trick, the skill it takes to perform it is still awe-inspiring.

This weekend, world renowned Mentalist Nicolai Friedrich will be performing a one-night-only show at the Esplanade. We speak to him ahead of his show.

How do you define a “Mentalist”?

Mental Magic is a special discipline of magic. A Mentalist does not use big boxes or make white rabbits appear out of top hats — instead, he uses all his skills and five senses to create the illusion of a sixth sense, and he tries to enter our most sacred place; our minds. The audience will experience incredible mind-reading and witness crazy thought manipulations. Some will even get to perform miracles themselves. However, Mental Magic is a combination of psychology, suggestion and magic. It has nothing to do with the supernatural despite seeming like it.

A Mentalist is someone who does not only use magic tricks, but also has great knowledge of the psychology of human nature.

Our mind has much more potential than most of us are currently aware of. If you train and use some of that hidden potential, then you can do things that may seem miraculous to others. Moreover, if you have studied the psychology of human nature, and know human behaviour, then it is quite easy to detect a lie or predict future behaviour. Our bodies are constantly providing information, so if you think that your thoughts are safe and secret in your head as long as you keep your mouth shut, then you are wrong! 

How did you first find interest in illusions and tricks?

At the age of four, I saw a magician perform at a circus and I was so thrilled and amazed by this experience that I wanted to become a magician myself. From then on, I invested all my time and money in learning new magic tricks, and that’s how everything developed.

While I like and still perform classical magic, I was always fascinated by the art of Mentalism because it has a huge impact on the audience. The idea of someone being able to look inside your head or even manipulate your thoughts is exciting, but also frightening at the same time. That’s why I concentrate on that field of magic, and started to study psychology and read up on this. Besides this, I also had the pleasure of learning contact mind-reading and hypnosis from some of the best in those fields.

Who would you say has been your major influences?

The cornerstone of my career is probably the first magic show I ever saw (performed by an unknown magician). There are many magicians and Mentalists who have inspired me and influenced my work. However, most of them are not very well-known to the public. I still admire the way David Copperfield turns a magic trick into an emotional experience for the audience. I also love the creative and entertaining way Derren Brown performs Mentalism in his live shows.

Additionally, I was also a big fan of the early Star Wars films, and of course, I wanted to become a Jedi. Today, I am a big fan of surrealistic art, such as the works of Salvador Dali.

What is the most common misconception about Mentalists?

Mental magic has nothing to do with the supernatural. It’s a combination of psychology, suggestion and magic. No one can look into your head and reveal your thoughts.

What is the most important skill for a magician or an illusionist? 

Firstly, you need to love the art of magic, because without real passion, you can never become a true master. You will also need to be creative, willing to practise a lot and know how to entertain people. Finally, to really enchant your audience, your personality is more important than your tricks.

What is the best part about your job?

For me, it is to see the sceptical eyes of the audience change into wonder, when they are truly stunned, mesmerised and amazed.

How do you go about planning an illusion or trick?

There are different approaches. Sometimes, you get inspiration from everyday life, which leads to having an effect in mind that you want to achieve, or you try and reinvent or update something which has been done before, turning it into something new. After that, you will have to choose your method and experiment on what works best. Personally, I practise in front of a mirror, then in front of a video camera. I even test new stuff in front of a live audience to see if the response is good. It’s a time-consuming process of trial and error, but it’s a great feeling if you finally manage to create something new and original.

On the television show “The Mentalist” the main protagonist, Patrick Jane, is able to deduce things about people through observation. Is that something Mentalists do in real life?

I think all Mentalists are good observers. Mentalists know how to interpret signals and information that people’s bodies are constantly giving out. Most of the knowledge of how the human mind works can be very helpful in everyday life, and of course, I use it myself, from time to time. However, I do not use it to manipulate others. It can also be useful to trick or manipulate yourself, such as in the fields of perception or self-motivation.

Nicolai Friedrich performs at The Esplanade on 6 May, 7pm. Get your tickets here.

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