There is a school of mind reading that suggests that everything you do when performing should underline the idea that the thoughts of others are an open book to you. They will tell you that, should you be attempting to duplicate a drawing being made by someone else, it is a nonsense to ask them, when one’s back is turned, whether or not they have finished drawing. You are about to wander into their mind and pluck their drawing from them, so really you ought to know whether or not they’ve finished drawing.
I don’t wholly agree with this. Fundamentally, reading someone’s mind should not be easy. It should be really really difficult. It should seem difficult to our audiences. Really what the small subtleties like the above do is sell the idea that what you do is without effort. But if it is without effort, then how can it be spectacle? Aren’t you just coasting, however remarkable your ability?
We know story structure. It’s practically hard-wired into us. We have a hero; those he cares about are put at risk; he attempts to rescue them but fails - he barely survives; he goes on a quest; he returns and, only just, succeeds in defeating his enemy. That is the kind of story someone wants to see. What they don’t want to see is a hero who fetches up and defeats his quarry on page 2. In fact, if we see such a story, we’re probably going to doubt whether or not that guy really is the hero. If he can crush his enemies like bugs, isn’t he more likely to be the villain?
The idea that mind readers can read minds so easily also gives rise to the idea that mind readers are “always on”. If you, as a performer, can keep that up when not on stage, then that’s all well and good, but it’s unlikely, isn’t it? I’ll admit, one of the fantasies that informs my own work (if you can call it such) is that I can read someone just by looking at them. I never think of this in terms of full-on mind reading, though. This is more like a slowly growing subconscious extension of my normal abilities, that has emerged from my active mind reading. Most importantly it is not a conscious or controlled effort.
The other question that comes up is that, if the mind reader can read minds effortlessly, and is always on, then why has he chosen a career path that is so pointless? Why isn’t he working with the police? Why isn’t he a psychiatrist? Why has he eschewed worthy pursuits.and has, instead, decided that the best use of his faculties is to dick around on stage with a bunch of envelopes?
So doesn’t it make more sense if, actually, mind reading is very difficult? Doesn’t it make sense that it’s so difficult and lacking in certainty that you would never feel confident enough to make serious judgements (guilty or not guilty) using these skills? Isn’t it likely that to get any kind of success at all with mind reading you need to control things as much as possible - restrict people’s choices, influence their decisions? Isn’t it then likely that the only place where you could put such skills to good use might, indeed, be as an entertainment and nothing more?
Finally, it shouldn’t be all about you, should it? We want our focus to be on our participants too. My process is almost entirely focused on talking my participant through the sending process. This does a few good things. It gives them something to do with their brains than think about other means by which I could know their thoughts. It allows them the possibility of an impressive skill-set that isn’t mind reading, but isn’t exactly cheating either. What it also does, though, is share the burden of the mind reading and, with it, the glory. It sets up a relationship where you and the participant are working towards the common goal of thought transference, making a challenge situation less likely. All of this is made more difficult if the mind reading is presented as an effortless, always on ability.