In theory, anybody can learn a few rapid hypnotic inductions, which are freely available in books and on the internet, and set themselves up as a stage hypnotist. However, knowing the elements of a stage show doesn’t make you ready for the stage, just as being able to quote Hamlet doesn’t mean you’re ready to play the lead in a professional production. In many ways, the “hypnosis” part of stage hypnosis is the easy bit. In order to become a successful stage hypnotist, you will certainly need some form of training in stage craft and presentation.
So what sort of training should the aspiring stage hypnotist look for? In days gone by, most stage hypnotists would have learned their art from other stage hypnotists, in a sort of variety circuit apprentice system. The “secrets of stage hypnosis” would have been closely guarded and passed down from professional to professional, in a similar way to stage magicians. Times change, and the vaudeville or variety circuit doesn’t exist any more, or at least, not in the same way. However, if you’re lucky enough to know a stage hypnotist who is willing to teach you, then this is an opportunity you should seize with both hands. There is absolutely no substitute for learning directly from a professional. In any event, your training should certainly involve watching as many shows as possible.
With the demise of the theatrical apprenticeship, stage hypnosis training has opened up to the general public. The “secrets” are widely available and freely obtained without having to look too hard for them. So the first step for any beginner is to read up on the techniques and to practice them on friends and family. Ormond McGill’s Encylopaedia of Genuine Stage Hypnotism is a good place to start (go for the updated 1995 edition, the New Encyclopaedia of Stage Hypnotism).
The next stage for the serious stage hypnotist to consider is signing up for a course. A good course will teach you things that just can’t be adequately conveyed in books. A quick internet search will reveal dozens of stage hypnosis courses you could sign up for. It’s important to remember that there is no formal qualification in stage hypnosis, so there is no objective standard against which these courses can be measured. Choosing a course becomes a matter of shopping around, doing your research, and making sure that the course offers everything you feel you need to make your stage hypnosis career a success.
The first thing you need to consider is who teaches the course? As mentioned earlier, there’s no substitute for professional experience, so ideally your course will be taught by someone who regularly performs and makes their living from stage hypnosis. Secondly, does the course give you membership of a professional body? Stage hypnotism is an unregulated profession with something of an image problem. Membership of a professional body reassures your potential audience and potential bookers. It will help you to get more gigs, in other words.
Look at what the course actually teaches. Hypnotic inductions are an important part, of course, but they’re not the only part. Every stage hypnotist should remember that hypnosis is only a tool. Real success comes from the quality of your performance. This depends on the routines you devise for your hypnotised volunteers, since this is what the audience has paid to see. Good stage hypnosis training involves teaching you these routines, and it will also give you the confidence to devise your own.
Beyond the mechanics of hypnosis and routines, there is the business of putting together a show as a whole. This covers everything from getting the bookings in the first place, to publicizing your act, to making your routines work as a coherent whole. You’ll need to know about things like music and lighting, and the laws governing stage hypnosis in your particular area. Some countries, and even individual states, have very strict laws regarding the licensing of stage hypnosis shows, so you need to be very clear what those laws are.
Finally, there is the whole matter of presentation. Confidence and charisma are the secret ingredients that make a stage hypnosis show work. These are skills that can be learned like any other, and your stage hypnosis training should take this into account. You should learn how to project your voice, how to relate to an audience, how to deal with hecklers and so on. A good stage hypnosis course will also be practical. You’ll need to practice on real human beings before you go out and face an audience for the first time.
In the end, your real stage hypnosis training begins when you’ve completed your studies and begun performing in front of an audience. Practice and experience are the best teachers, as you learn what works and what doesn’t. You’ll inevitably make mistakes, but you’ll also have plenty of happy accidents. This is all part of the learning process, and a great stage hypnotist never stops learning.