What Happens When I Freeze Up

Robert Merritt Visits a Hypnotist

by by Robert Merritt

First off, I love my job. Writing the Indy’s ‘Around the Town’ column is a sheer delight. For example, I got a chance to go to the Twin Rivers Casino with my cool roommate, Drew to see a comic hypnotist act. Another nameless friend of mine came with us too but he was hypnotized and doesn’t want his parents to find out again. They’ll take the car.

I saw Frank Santos Jr. the comic hypnotist perform twice, once at Brown University in the multipurpose room and once at Twin Rivers Casino.  Twin Rivers Casino is a strange reenactment of coming to the new world, whereas the Brown Multipurpose Room is a venue for job fairs and mixed martial arts. And yes, the video slot machines are rivers, and yes, there was a ship dead center of it all its sails reaming the blown spiral.

Hypnotism can be expressed as a guided meditation or a relaxation with suggestion. For safety, a subject has to be willing to be lulled into a state of suggestibility. The show begins with Frank’s request for volunteers from the audience. A greater amount of volunteers allows Frank the opportunity to discriminately select subjects who are more susceptible to suggestion and relaxation.

After the volunteers get up on stage, Frank asks his subjects to trust fall into his arms after tapping them on the shoulder. The people who I don’t like don’t fall right, and usually they get kicked off stage first. These people will return to their seats; they will not be hypnotized. Now there are ten people and me just watching.  Next, the hypnotist, administers a series of tests to his subjects. The flute is playing, Alfombrar he counts backward the flute from ten I see Maggie but she is falling away for a second I see my own face freeze up.  These tests will lull the subjects into a more concentrated and relaxed sleep.

Frank is sensitive to those on stage who are, as he maybe said, “not feeling it” and will ask a subject he suspects of being awake to leave the stage.  At the Casino show, Frank had to ask multiple subjects who were not feeling it to leave the stage after thanking them for their participation. At both shows, some subjects occasionally broke concentration and simply walked off stage. For those who do remain hypnotized the fun is just beginning.

Frank speaks quickly into the microphone, lulling them away with a sinusoidal drone. He repeats himself in this humming and punctually inserts along the way words and phrases intended to clearly stand out to the hypnotized subjects. Later, he will insert warnings into his subject specific directions, like, “you won’t hit me or anybody else,” to the man, or, “but you’ll keep your clothes on,” to the woman.  After the music and backwards repetitive counting he asks them to stick out their arms so as to form a right angle with the floor.  If they are getting hypnotized their arms will appear as bars of steel.

At first, each test intends to freeze up or lockdown the body while suggesting sensation.  What follows is a progression of sensation from the extremities to the nose, to the eyes, and finally to the ears and mouth.  Interspersed with his countdowns, Frank will suggest something like, every time I say the word microphone you will feel your underwear shrinking, or feel your ass get pinched by the person sitting to your left.★★ He points the microphone at you and polls you, I mean, Frank solicits feedback.  Then sleep. Then sleep and he waves a hand or touches your head with a voice all the time rising and falling, itself repeating. Then he says as he walks by, you will all smell the worst fart. And you see everyone taken aback and unable to locate exactly what the smell is or where it comes from but it’s embarrassing, you know? My friend didn’t smell anything.

He says to picture everyone in the audience in their underwear; the shock of a world without fashion. At the R-rated casino show, Frank had his subjects imagine an orgy. I really wonder here how the crowd was being registered, were individual faces recognizable? Frank then pointed to a man in the crowd and said to one hypnotized subject, “and dad’s here whacking off.”  He couldn’t look at dad. It just killed me.

In the show’s climax, Frank exhibits all of his talents in a chain reaction of ecstasy and terror. A girl is told that there are aliens outside who have just landed in a space ship and will see them as she gets up to go to the bathroom then comes back to tell Frank what she’s seen.  Meanwhile, another girl argues that there is no such thing as aliens every time she hears the word spaceship. The South African next to her is incredibly offended by the word spaceship and begs Frank to stop saying it, but will not harm Frank or anyone else. On the wings of the stage there are exclamations. Every time a boy and girl hear the trigger word _____they yell out in succession, “you suck”, and “you’re great.” Each time the guy screamed, “you’re great” I watched him bury his face in his hands, ashamed and horrified, continually recognizing that he will never be able to regain control. On the opposite wing of the stage I saw a girl try desperately again and again to put her shoes on. Next to her a boy twisted his shirt into wild abstractions trying to put it back on but he could not. The contortions of his body exceeded the generative potential of the fully conscious mind. It looked like he hit a glass ceiling trying to come up for air. At my first hypnotist show at Brown, I was scared that I would go to the bathroom or somebody else would go to the bathroom. That’s how it began. I was so frightened by the potential deluge of anxiety of so many young minds unraveling that I began to gesture uncontrollably, screaming as I laughed. The volunteers were channeling the collected anxieties of an entire university. The room was in an uproar. It’s funny what comes back to you.★★★

At the Casino show, there was a much smaller crowd and thus a much smaller group of audience participants to pick and choose from during the initial (trust fall) screening. Unlike the previous show I had seen at Brown University, Frank spent a much longer time with the early stages of subject initiation. The size of the audience also affects the performance atmosphere. If the initial culling of volunteers is belabored and awkward the subjects have less potential to be guided into a hypnotic state. Because the casino comedy club was filled with couples whose minds were more focused on the anxieties of dating and walking around, Frank had little to work with. It wasn’t until he demonstrated that he could actually hypnotize 6 people at once that the audience started paying attention. At Brown, there were very strong vibes and I was shouting stop the show. The atmosphere was full of potential energy.

★★At both shows there was a sense of contagion in the air, although my memory has become convoluted. I noticed people in the crowd shifting in their seats at the underwear line and remember my eyes glued to the subjects’ expressions. I wanted it so bad to be hypnotized but was afraid that I would lose control and admit everything.

★★★Every single person who was hypnotized at the Brown show that Thursday, was magically reassembled at the Campus screening of the Super Bowl the following Sunday  like some fantastic cast reunion of ABC’s multinational epic, LOST.