Issues



July, 2015 Issue

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12 online articles from this issue. Next


DAN LORNITIS

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Entertainment is a lot like cuisine. There are a lot of flavors, genres and styles. Comedy, Music and Variety may be like Asian, European and American Cuisine, but not all American foods are french fries and not all comedians are George Carlin (shh ...don't tell Gallagher).

The same is true with hypnosis. To the glancing or untrained eye, it may appear that all stage hypnosis is the same, much like an American Buffet might all just seem like fried food to someone on an Aboriginal diet. The fact is though, that hypnosis shows and specifically the hypnotists that host them can be as different as the audiences that attend them.

The days of the fatherly hypnotist with a pocket watch have long passed and there is an established generation of dynamic performers who are a perfect fit for the campus market. Dan Lornitis is one of them. Don't expect a dark and scary vibe in this trance-inducing experience, because this guy had to be a clown in a former life.

Pretty much every hypnosis show is billed as funny or hilarious, and a lot of them really are. There is something inherently comical about an audience watching their peers do things their pride wouldn't allow under normal circumstances, no matter how much fun it might be. The thing about hypnosis is that to the untrained eye, it might appear that this show just sort of puts on itself, but if you want to truly light up the room, you have to drop the right guy between the audience and the volunteers. The issues of skill and safety are important, but are skills that can be taught. The true determining factor between a good time and a truly unforgettable experience is personality. It's the ability to have each and every member of the audience feel like they are connected to the performer, as well as his hypnotized cohorts. This is where Dan truly shines. He's Down To Earth, not aggressive or offensive with his wit, and makes you feel like you've known him forever when you've only just met. Just having a normal conversation with this guy can be like going to the comedy club, and when you put him in his element with lights, stage and sound, there is never a dull moment. He tells us why.

"When I say this, of course I hope you'll make me sound more elegant than arrogant (laughs) because I am just speaking off the cuff but first and foremost I think it's because I'm funny. I find humor in most things and I like to make other people feel good."

It's a positive trait that Dan was born with, but he hasn't just rested back on his laurels. He's put hard work into developing the knack of connecting with people on a personal level (isn't that really the essence of comedy after all). "I've developed a character. I've studied at Second City Improv and learned so much through personal advice from other entertainers. Christopher Carter in particular has been a huge influence on me. He's done more for me and my career through personal advice and sharing his incredible level of experience than watching 1,000 other performers. He was essentially my mentor.

"I've also worked very hard at trying to become better at my timing, references and most especially working with volunteers and reading audiences. I look at myself as a comedian that is on stage with a bunch of characters."

There are definitely skills in the process of hypnosis specifically that are important for anyone studying a career on the stage to put time in to, but the investment Dan has put in pays off huge dividends that wouldn't come to a hypnotist that only focused on the actual process. As an example, during the induction process (putting the volunteers 'under') the success rate for even the best hypnotists is rarely 100%. It's something every hypnotist deals with, but there are far too often awkward or dead times when the audience realizes there is someone up there faking it. This type of faux pas culminates from several sources. Perhaps the performer didn't properly address this possibility with the audience. Perhaps he isn't paying close enough attention to all of his volunteers or maybe it's some other lack of preparation. But even good hypnotists that notice the problem and ask a volunteer politely to be seated often have trouble keeping things moving. Someone with the special skills of Dan can turn this adversity into an advantage. "For example," he says, "being good at improv means that even if I pull someone who doesn't go under, I can leave them on stage and still get just as many laughs by interacting with them as if they had been hypnotized. Any time someone is just asked to stand up and return to their seat, there's a little bit of an 'aww' feeling from the audience and I hate that. I hate that feeling. It's a let-down, especially because you have to think that this person, who already mustered the courage to get on stage in front of all their friends, might feel like they failed somehow. People are looking at them when they are walking back to their seat. I want to send them back as a star of the show, not a speed bump."

There is a separate issue with volunteers whose idea of a good time is to be a jerk on stage. That takes a special kind of care and patience for a performer to deal with and is another situation where improv experience pays for itself. "Now if you have a situation where someone is being a real clown and disrupting the show, or they're clearly faking it, then I'm going to send that person back because I don't want it to wreck the rest of the show. If someone is trying to be a Johnny Knoxville, then they are only going to embarrass themselves and the audience, not to mention yours truly. These are usually people who had no intention of following along with the hypnotic process and are on stage just to act like a fool. But anyone who comes up on my stage and follows along with the rest of the volunteers (but doesn't legitimately go under) might get to stay on the stage and have fun for a couple of minutes. It's more fun for them, the audience and honestly, it's safer. It's just a way to keep things more controlled and manageable to maximize the entertainment value. When they're sent back to their seat, they still get to feel as if they were a part of the show."

Safety in stage hypnosis seems to come all too often in the guise of the fabled pink elephant. Everyone is worried about it stepping on them, but very few people want to openly address the possibility. Safety is something that is paramount to a good hypnosis show and it's something a good hypnotist will never shy away from talking about. Any of them worth their salt will have exact procedures in place to maximize safety and can talk with programmers about them. If everyone in the hypnosis booking process would openly communicate about these concerns and best practices, a lot more students would be having a great time at these shows a lot more often.

A good example of this is sending people back and forth from the stage more than necessary; every step a volunteer takes up and down stage is a potential risk to the school, and having clear and marked paths, proper lighting, and a performer who carefully manages the traffic can minimize these risks.

Another example is a practice that has become a selling point for some young hypnotists, and it's a natural pit to fall into because it's disguised in the form of increased audience interaction. That peril, friends and colleagues, is having hypnotized people enter the audience, or attempting to hypnotize all or some of the audience itself. "It goes back to me keeping all the volunteers on stage. Ultimately, the goal is to center the focus on what is happening on stage and maximize safety. You want to minimize sideline distractions. I have seen people that are hypnotized that don't even realize it, and sometimes the performer can't even tell. If that happens and you send that person back into the audience, that's an entirely different dynamic and there are just so many things that are wrong about that. For one, I don't like when people go under in the audience. It does happen, you can't really stop it from happening, but I try to limit it. If they do go under in the audience, I pay very close attention to that and I focus on them right away. I bring them out of the hypnotic state or I bring them back up on stage. It is so unsafe to have them in the audience. I feel that my show is very safe and I focus on keeping it safe. You have some of the less experienced performers out there who are dropping people in the audience and they end up with more people under in the audience than they have on stage. This can get chaotic and very hard to manage very quickly."

Another common challenge for hypnotists is the induction process. Often you'll see the lights dim, quiet, soothing music comes up softly and the performer speaks in a smooth, slow, droning tone as he counts the volunteers back from ten to sleepy time. Again, it's a sensible assumption to make, another common pitfall. The hypnotic state is a state of deep relaxation - but so is sleep. And if you've been to a few hypnosis shows, you've actually seen heads nod during this part of the show, others look around and get restless, it's very hard to keep the energy up. Especially when you see 10-15 minute induction "ceremonies." The thing is though, the guys that really know what they're doing can drop their volunteers under in the middle of a marching band parade in less than half the time. Dan hasn't personally made that particular boast, but he does pride himself on keeping things upbeat and exciting from the moment the show starts through the final act.

"The moment I hit the stage, the character is already in play. I am hitting them with laughs, and it is just me. I get them opened up and excited right away. That is just my personality. Everything I am doing is in a comical fashion, heck I am getting laughs from the volunteers on their way up to the stage. But the moment I start my induction, things get a little bit serious. Now having said that, once I have brought them back down with the serious moment, I am working the crowd again during the induction. It might just be facial expressions, or a quick side comment, or lifting a volunteer's arm up and down to see if they are under yet. When that person's arm just limply falls in the lap of the person next to them, I am working my improv training again to make the most of every little situation. A lot of hypnotists would just ignore that and keep walking, but those students are watching. They are looking at that person who just went under that fast, so why not acknowledge that with them? You can create a moment right there in that 6-8 'slow' minutes that bridges the opening volley into the real fun thatís about to start. That is where I separate myself some I think. From the moment I hit the stage until the show is over, it is entertaining the entire time."

The last crucial point to cover concerning YOUR campus booking Dan Lornitis is something we've covered in a tangential way by saying he's a helluva nice guy. But the value of having a performer who is responsible, responsive and easy to work with can't be understated. "I communicate openly with the schools and try to be very attentive to their needs. I do advance work to find out about their students, venue and any specific challenges we might face as a team in an effort to put on a great show for their students. I always check in with the school two weeks ahead of time. I talk to the advisors, the students and the venue techs. I ask them about attendance and how to help them build it. I am going to send them high quality posters. I can come early and talk to people around campus to help bring in attention."

He's not just a collect-his-check-and-leave entertainer either. Keeping up post-performance to find out what worked and what can work better has made him a master of the coveted but ever-elusive re-booking. It says something about a performer who can keep their clients happy enough to have them come back to the same school year after year (or even twice a year). "I always do extensive follow up. I want to make sure every detail of that show was right and if it wasn't, what can be done to improve it. Delivering a home run for the planners of these shows is my goal every single time and working with them closely is the best way I've found of doing it, outside of maximizing the entertainment-per-minute value of the performance itself. It's what I live for."

BOOK IT!

Find out more about booking Dan Lornitis for your next action-packed,

laugh-a--inute event

by contacting:

The College Agency

651-222-9669

www.thecollegeagency.com