Performing psychic: the performance of mentalism and psychic arts on stage, screen, and in everyday life

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McQueen, Scotty
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University College Cork
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Throughout post-industrial societies, consumers regularly buy tickets to watch mind readers and psychic mediums, tune in to the television and radio shows of such performers, dial psychic hotlines, and visit psychics, fortune-tellers, numerologists, astrologists, tarot card readers, and energy healers. Despite the popularity of such practices, this booming performance-based industry aimed at entertainment and self-improvement has yet to be analysed in any depth within the field of Performance Studies where such performances have either been omitted entirely or conflated with conjuring tricks or shamanism. This conflation is understandable given the secrecy, artifice, and misinformation which enshroud the shapeshifting performances of mentalists and psychics. The aim of this practice-led research was to – through both embodied and theoretical knowledge – situate mentalism within theories of performance, performativity, and play, paying close attention to the ways in which these fictional performances purport to be “reality.” My intention was to reach a new understanding of the practice of mentalism while also offering insights for the benefit of practitioners and contributing to practice-led research as a methodological approach. This dissertation was developed reflexively in conjunction with my practical research, during which I spent three years immersed in the social role of psychic and created 13 original performances for the stage and screen. This combination of public and covert performance provided me with a means to look behind the curtain, so to speak, and to assess the performance practices and performative behaviours by which people “do psychic” and in so doing, create the very experiences and beliefs which those actions purport to be.
Mentalism , Kayfabe , Psychic arts , Mind reading , Dark play
McQueen, S. 2020. Performing psychic: the performance of mentalism and psychic arts on stage, screen, and in everyday life. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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