~How the art of improvisation can be just as important as your skill as a hypnotist.~
With the popularity of such television programs as Whose Line Is It, Anyway? there is a surprising amount of people who fully understand the art of improv, or the ability of a person to apply the art of improvisation to an unexpected situation. At least, they understand what it is. Not many people have the means to pull it off.
Parties and friendly gatherings soon added games based upon the Who's Line show during the height of its popularity, sometimes ending in hilarious results from guests and buddies, other times ending in disaster. I recall a time at a church youth group meeting I helped host where we challenged the kids to a game of 90-Second Alphabet. In that improv game, a series of verbal exchanges is begun with a sentence beginning with the letter "A", the next with "B" and so on. ["Alfred spilled the chip dip tray!" "Because Alfred is a clod." "Clod—who are you calling a clod?" "Don't get me started." and so forth.] The idea is to run through the entire alphabet in under 90 seconds. With the right people, it can be a gas. I have learned that, conversely, with a room full of church-going teenagers, it leads to awkward silence and even the sharp-witted honor students staring blankly at one another with no clue of what to say.
Well, at a casual gathering or party, that can actually be part of the fun. But there are times when you need to access the art of improv and you need it lickety-split. Obviously, one of the most vital times to be able to improvise is during hypnosis.
I've inserted below a rather fun video I found on YouTube called "Messing About At Home With Mike Tweedie". As the title implies, it's a fun session showing 9 minutes of excerpts of a hypnotist working with a lad named Mike, surrounded by his friends. It's a charming little clip and I'd like you to watch it now before continuing with this article.
Fun, isn't it? The hypnotist in this clip clearly understands the basics and implementation of hypnosis, and he has a certain presence and a natural air of authority. He appears to know what he is doing. With that, there is no fault.
Now, as stated above, for the most part, this video is good clean hypnosis fun. All the same, there was one aspect to it which I found prevented me from enjoying it more fully. That being the complete absence of any ability on the part of the hypnotist to improvise. Once I got past the nails-on-chalkboard shrieking giggles of the little girl (okay, there was a second aspect—it's a major pet peeve of mine), I was able to make a blow-by-blow assessment of what I felt had not necessarily gone wrong but certainly could have gone better. Let's review:
While not lacking in any understanding of how hypnosis works, the hypnotist did show some signs that he lacks a certain amount of showmanship and an ability to build and preserve rapport with his subject.
I loved the whole pick-your-nose/stick-your-finger-in-your-ear bit. I may very well steal that. Yet following that, we get our first glimpse of the hypnotist's hesitation when he attempts to apply a new name to subject Mike, only to arrive at a pregnant pause as he silently searches for something comical enough. This could be a shift in his attention to amusing his audience rather than tending to his subject. As a result, midway through his clumsy suggestion, Mike rouses.
When Mike begins to wake up, the hypnotist immediately shuts everything down—possibly without considering WHY his subject was waking, nor, it appeared, to be reassuring Mike that all was well as he emerged from deep trance. For starters, after finding his finger stuck inside his nostril, Mike was overcome with confusion, thus his natural inclination is to come out of it. Right here our subject needs to be reminded that he still feels very good, told that he is comfortable and safe, and even assured that the confusion is actually amusing to him.
We jump ahead at that point to find Mike deep under once again and the hypnotist referring to what could be notes on what he wants to do next or--I sincerely hope not--reading from a script. Either way, Mike's head is down and he appears to be comfortably back under.
Sliding easily into a nice rendition of number amnesia, the hypnotist is back on track. That is, until Mike insists he has six fingers rather than five, to compensate for the loss of his memory of the number 3. Then our hypnotist goes back to putting Mike under, trying to revert that finger count to 5. Instead, he might have run with that notion and had Mike count ALL his fingers, winding up with 11, rather than the 12 that 6+6 would have given him. Hilarity would ensue. Instead, at the advent of this unexpected turn, the routine is abandoned and both subject and hypnotist are the poorer for it.
Each hypnotist needs to roll with changes in situation, or with his original plan, in order to keep up with the varying response of the subject—and EVERY subject responds differently! If our hypnotist in the clip was indeed working off a script, it would explain his concern on getting an unexpected response from Mike--as well as demonstrating the pitfalls of adhering to a rigid set of scripted expectations.
The reaction of the hypnotist was to put a stop to everything when things went off-script, rather than use that moment as an opportunity to not only preserve the flow of events, but hone his natural improvisational skills. Were this to happen in front of a crowd, putting the brakes on and halting the show is really not an option. As hypnotists, we have to roll with it. When a subject surprises us, as so often the brighter ones will, we must roll with the punches, as the saying goes, and use whatever curve ball we've been thrown as best we can to make the session even more enjoyable to watch, and most importantly, enhance the experience for our subject.
To keep from sounding too harsh about our nice hypnotist seen above, it behooves us to note that he does so many things correctly. The hands stuck to knees was perfect. The switch of Mike's name with his buddy Rob was delightful. The final routine which transforms the handsome Mike into a chicken could have been even more fun than it was, had the clip sufficient time to let it run longer. But then, I'm biased in favor of the chicken routine and any chance to see a good-looking guy bucking and clucking is alright by me.
Beyond the lack of improv skills, the basic problem I can see with this otherwise enjoyable session is that there are no compliments, no praise for the subject. When checking to see if suggestions are registering, there needs to be warm encouragement for the subject at all times. "That's right, you're doing great. Superb. Fantastic. You're doing splendidly" You get the idea. More on that in a future post, perhaps. Back to improv.
One of the Cardinal Rules of the hypnotist working in an entertainment environment is remembering at all times that the subject is never your means to make yourself look good. Rather, you are the means to give your subject the spotlight. The subject is not a device, a prop, or a method. The subject is your partner. And as such, he is a person. If that person surprises you by going off-script or tossing you an unusual response, as long as it is safe to do so, you should go with it. A session in hypnosis is your gift to the subject. His individual response and originality is his gift to you.