In an arc of chairs, a group of 20 students is seated on stage with their hands clasped in front of them. While ethereal music drifts in and out of the background, a man describes the physical sensations they are about to experience.
The man is tall, personable, and relaxed. His speech is both an invitation and a command — an invitation to relax, have fun, and try something new, provided that they let him be in charge. As he counts higher, he explains, they will find their clasped hands becoming constricted around each other more and more tightly, as if he coated them with super glue, as if he had put them in a vice. Knuckles whiten. Wrists tremble. Then he explains he can release them with a simple touch of his finger. One by one, as he goes around, the pairs of hands relax and fall down.
The man is Kevin Hurley, the most recent entertainer brought by SCPC to perform for Georgia Tech’s student body. He has spent the last several years touring colleges and other locales across the nation demonstrating his stage hypnotism.
Once the students are under his will, Kevin uses hypnotic suggestions to delight the audience. One boy among the hypnotized became a nine-months-pregnant woman whose water had just broke, and another became a doctor of 25 years who would safely deliver the baby. He conjured for each of them a bottle of hypnosis in lotion form, which they all rubbed on themselves, with one girl going so far as to rub it thoroughly into the skull of her compliant neighbor.
Hurley ended the night with a dance competition, for which the reward for the winner was a microphone stand transformed into the girl of his dreams. He invited the winner to dance with the girl, resulting in an intensely physical display of affection.
After the performance, Kevin released his hold on the students with a word. The students stood, looking a bit dazed, to thunderous applause from the audience. Afterward, they reported different experiences while under hypnosis. “I couldn’t not do what he said,” explained Bridget Leighton, first-year CHBE, who was one of the 20 on stage. Though she was aware of what was going on, others confessed amnesia. “I just remembered going to sleep a few times,” said Muswele Lundy, third-year AE. “[Now I] feel lost. It’s like waking up from a night of really bad drinking, when other people are telling you that you did stuff you don’t remember.”
What happened on stage wasn’t coercive, as Hurley explained. He started out by asking audience members to imagine a rubber band pulling their fingers together to help identify those with imagination, that being a key component of the show. “We’re gonna go into their imagination. Everybody has a good time watching people’s experience when they use their imagination,” he explained before the show. “It’s kind of like they’re daydreaming, but I’m the maestro, so I’m telling them what to daydream about and they react to that.”
Though Hurley has been hypnotizing people for ten years, he still has some incredulity towards it. “It’s like pushing an elephant up a bunch of steps. Think about it — it shouldn’t work. A roomful of people that don’t know each other sit down and go to sleep on top of each other? It shouldn’t work, but it does. It’s a phenemenon,” he said.
Hurley hypothesized that most people came to his performances to see if his hypnosis would actually work. “I would say that more than half of the people that come probably are skeptics,” he said. One such skeptic was Emma Browning, a first-year IAML student who saw the show. “I’m not sure what I think about hypnotism and I wanted to see a show before I made a real decision,” she said before the show.
Once all was said and done, audience members could decide for themselves what exactly happened on stage.