The Real “Mentalist”

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Originally published at on March 12, 2011

In the middle of the stage, there is a glowing eyeball staring at you, the audience member. This bloodshot eyeball is concentrated solely on your most frightening thoughts, your buried secrets, and deepest desires. THE QUANTUM EYE is Sam Eaton‘s undeniably impressive and entertaining exploration into mentalism, dark magic and unnerving deception.

This Off-Broadway show begins with an unsettling murder mystery. Someone in their seats might actually be a vicious killer. Which one has the poison in their hands? Could it be the thuggish-looking man with a scar down his right eye? What if it’s the elderly woman with bright yellow teeth? Or could it be the innocent child with the creepy and sinister smile?

Mentalist Sam Eaton utilizes the audience members to get the answers he wants. Amidst the spooky ambient sounds playing in the background, each suspect waits patiently under a searing spotlight. As a human lie detector, Eaton uses his keen sense of awareness and calculation to pinpoint whom the hidden murderer is. On cue to shrieking music, the mentalist captures the killer red-handed.

This is a different kind of experience in the theater, which involves audience participation. At this event, there is spontaneous interplay between the mentalist and the awestruck crowd. How is Eaton getting all his answers? Are there spirits in the room whispering into his ears? Toward the end of the show, you will be asking yourself, “How did he do that?”

After his presentation at Theater 80 St. Marks Place, Eaton spoke with Fango about his show, his interests, and the overall message behind his performances.

FANGORIA: Now that your mentalism show is in its sixth year, tell me how THE QUANTUM EYE began?

SAM EATON: The show started with me wanting to communicate a message to people. I really wanted to do a show that left my audience better after seeing it. In my case, the message was to make my audience more skeptical when they saw psychic phenomenon. When I started the show, I might have been a bit too pedantic. I did the same demonstrations, but I was maybe a little too blunt when saying everything is a deception. Now I found a more comfortable way of getting that message across to people and entertaining them throughout. I perform the show in an atmosphere of suspension of disbelief, where I am performing psychic feats for them. After stating that everything is a deception, I end the show with the moral, just ask questions.

I don’t think you can really do a show like mine for six years without having a reason for doing it. You need a reason to drive you, to make a show better every week. You don’t have an Off-Broadway show that performs once a week to become a millionaire. You do that because it’s something that you love. The show gives me a platform to get the message across. After six years, I think I’ve gotten a lot better getting that message across, while still entertaining the audience at the same time.

FANG: How has the show changed over the past six years?

EATON: The content of the show has not changed much. I think I decided on certain demonstrations that were most effective and I really stayed with them. There are minor modifications that happen because no plan faces contact with the audience. You learn how to foolproof everything that you do. Given enough time, everything that can possibly go wrong on stage will. You learn ways of covering yourself when things go wrong on stage. What has primarily changed is how I interact with the audience. I decided to keep the arc of the show message-free. But I start and end the show with a message.

FANG: As a one-man performer on stage, how do you keep the act running lively?

EATON: I have the advantage of the show being very interactive. The audience is a prop during the show. The audience is different every week. The show is better when people are not following directions. Mistakes are part of the show, part of the entertainment. When someone makes a mistake, there’s certain ways of making them entertaining, without making fools of them. The show has a little bit more to do with improvisation than being a scripted show. It’s my interaction with the audience that’s important.

FANG: There are clips of the show on the YouTube page. You can see audience members making mistakes during their parts. As a showman, it seems effortless, improvisational, as you attempt to save the situation. Is it difficult to keep the show going when the act might be turning into something horribly wrong?

EATON: For the most part, no. Things going wrong are guaranteed at every show. The show never goes exactly as scripted because it relies on audience members and their interactions. It’s my job to have a flow chart of various possibilities for the show. At this point, I built quite a vocabulary of what to do when certain things happen. I’m prepared for many eventualities, but I’m always surprised. You have to be a personality that can handle improvisation, deal with the situation. My persona on stage is a likable one. It’s a nonthreatening one; that’s very important. People are not looking for me to fail. People are on my side during the show. When you’re doing something that requires participation and cooperation of audience members, them being on your side is all important.

FANG: You use very few props during the show. Is that integral to the performance?

EATON: The show is anti-technological. I use few props as possible—pens, paper and envelopes. That’s what I would bring into someone’s home. It’s a show that I can travel to another country. In that sense, you can pack small and play big. I didn’t want to do a show that relies on props. I wanted to do a show that could’ve been done 2,000 years ago, that was as simple as possible. I bring mentalism down to its core psychological principles and make the show just about the personal interaction. The props aren’t characters on stage, they don’t exist. This is something that can be done in anyone’s home.

FANG: You have also performed your show at B.B. King Blues Club and Reality Check’s “Rise Above Tobacco” program for young adults. Do you change aspects of the show at each venue? Does the performance depend on who the audience is?

EATON: Absolutely. I’ve preformed the show for audiences with children, for our servicemen abroad, for college students. Every show has a different flavor. I’ve also performed the show in many different venues. Every venue brings its own flavor. I’ve performed the show in cabarets, bars, auditoriums, theaters and in homes. Each one lends a different level of intimacy to the performance. So you’re given different permission, different context to do various things. The first time I performed in an audience that was drunk—totally different rules—I learned that I had to take control. I had to physically move people around. And I had permission to do things I didn’t otherwise have. In other contexts, control is very light. An interesting thing about performing this show, people who come on stage have given me permission to enter their personal space. Usually people have a wall of resistance that you can’t cross. As a mentalist and my personality, people allow me to control them on stage. There’s a certain giving over of the wheel that is fascinating. The only way to learn is to actually perform. It has taken me years to also give myself permission to enter people’s personal space in order to do this show properly.

FANG: After your performances, you meet with audience members. What is the one question that most people ask you?

EATON: The question that I’ve consistently seen per six years of performing the show is: “At what age did you get these powers?” I’ve been hearing that question less over time. When I first started the show, I heard it constantly. I took that as an indicator that I was not getting my message across strongly enough. I make it much clearer that everything is a deception. Looking back at it, after talking to these people, I realize they’re projecting something that happened in their life at a young age that convinced them they had psychic abilities. They’re comparing their life to mine. The fact is I have no psychic abilities. Next time you see someone with those abilities, just ask questions. I don’t want to make anyone feel their beliefs are being attacked. The fact is I don’t believe in psychic phenomena. As a magician or a mentalist, you learn how it’s done. I would love to believe in these things, but I haven’t seen them yet.

FANG: You have shows at Theatre 80 running till May. What plans do you have for the show afterward?

EATON: I have been running the show for six years. I intend to run it for another 20. The show is sometimes once or twice a week. For the rest of the week, what I do for a living is perform for colleges, do private parties and corporate events. The show allows me to bring my demonstration to a wider audience. I love the show because it allows me to control the environment and really play with new demonstrations to see what works for an audience.

FANG: What are you working on now?

EATON: The show continually does change a little bit. I bring in newer demonstrations and I remove some. The content of the show doesn’t so much matter as the interaction with the audience. That does evolve as I learn how to control people better on stage. We may at some point introduce a new show. The message will be the same. If I do another show, it will be more of a marketing issue. We have people who come back to the show four or five times. It’s not so much the specific demonstration, but the interaction with the audience that’s interesting.

For more on Eaton, go here. EatonMagicCreation’s Channel on YouTube offers clips.