Vermont-based performer Roderick Russell may have the coolest job title ever: hypnotist/sword swallower/fire eater.
But he is not a magician.
“[Hypnosis] represents the last real magic that’s available to us as human beings,” Russell said. “When you go to a magic show, everyone knows it’s a trick so you’re always looking for a method.”
Russell, who has performed in Maine several times since leaving a teaching career to professionally perform, once again will visit John Bapst Memorial High School this weekend in an effort to raise money for the school’s student environmental action committee.
The club, made up of students passionate about supporting environmental change, has spearheaded projects that include bringing in a drinking fountain with water bottle feature and switching the lunch room’s plastic utensils with ones that are compostable.
“We’re doing what we can to make the school more sustainable,” Diego Grossmann, 17, a senior and vice president of the club, said. The group raises money each year for an organization that supports their mission. Money raised this weekend from the Russell show will be donated to the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.
A relaxed state
These days, hypnosis can be used for everything from childbirth to weight loss. In fact, Russell once was a clinical hypnotist but soon discovered he loved performing. According to the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, clinical hypnosis can be used to address psychological and physical problems, including phobias, anxiety, pain and speech disorders.
He is open about his process on stage and how he’s able to tell audience volunteers to do everything from sniff their armpits to nod off to sleep on a neighboring volunteer’s shoulder.
It’s all about relaxation.
Through a process called progressive relaxation method, Russell is able to encourage the volunteers’ subconscious mind become open to taking suggestions, however bizarre they may be.
Through breathing and visualization, the brain and body become profoundly relaxed to the point where self-control virtually is nonexistent. So in high schools in particular, where peer pressure is rampant, the students are so relaxed they don’t care what their fellow students or friends think of their on-stage behavior. But, they are still aware.
“They can really smell the smells or see the hallucinations I’m asking them to see, but they also know they are part of a show. It’s almost as if you were watching yourself on stage,” Russell said.
He argues that anyone who is willing to try can become hypnotized; however, Russell said he wants the atmosphere to stay fun.
“They’re reaching a point of relaxation where they will do virtually anything, unless it’s severely against their moral or ethical code no matter how typically restrained they are,” Russell said. “But I go out of my way to not cause any real embarrassment.”
Intrigue and mystery
Russell started pursuing his lifelong interest in the nature of consciousness more than a decade ago. He studied hypnotherapy, then began exploring “mystery entertainment,” learning how to swallow swords and snuff out fire with his mouth.
“I was interested in learning about how our minds create our world and how we can change our world if we can change our minds,” he said.
The previous three shows Russell has performed at Bapst have almost sold out, and every year the audience spends time after the show asking him about his technique and expressing fascination.
After hundreds of shows with similar reactions, Russell said what he thinks draws people is a sense of intrigue and mystery missing from, say, magic shows.
With hypnosis, what’s happening on stage is real.
“The very fact that we have these minds and we don’t know exactly how they work but that they allow us to engage people and toy with them is intriguing,” Russell said.
A hidden lesson
The shows Russell performs at Bapst each year for students and the public primarily are entertainment. Because they are meant as fundraisers, he must appeal to a diverse crowd that includes people from all aspects of the community — kids and adults alike.
However, he said there’s always an intrinsic, implied message.
“A lot of people take away that message of the power of the mind and what’s possible in their own lives, they see possibility and hope,” Russell said.
Grossmann said it’s that universal appeal he likes, which keeps the club bringing Russell back year after year.
“We wanted something that could bring a lot of people. And for a fundraiser, all of Roderick Russell’s shows work out really well,” he said.
The best part for the teen? Seeing friends and other people from the community let loose.
“He takes volunteers, friends or whoever and makes them do crazy stuff like dance. There’s music and people kind of being ridiculous, so it’s a lot of fun,” he said.
Russell will perform at the John Bapst Memorial Auditorium at 7 p.m. Saturday. Tickets for are $10 at the door or $8 online via Facebook. Children under 10 years old are free.