Aaron Calvert sat down with us after his show Declassified to talk a little about hypnotic suggestibility, his television show, and the pressures of performing at the Fringe.
Hannah: What got you into hypnosis? What made you decide this is what you want to dedicate your life to?
Aaron: I got into hypnosis at 15, I saw a hypnotist onstage and around the same time I saw Derren Brown. I was interested in magic and being onstage and performing, so I started to read up on it, started to research it, try and practice it. Then, I worked in America when I was 18, at a summer camp. They knew I was interested in this area and said “Hey, why don’t you put on a show for us?” I was hesitant, I was like, “…..ohh, okay…? Sure?” but I did and 35 people showed up and it was an amazing show and just worked. Then I went to med school, and I did hypnotherapy on the side, it was part of my medical degree, and I was kinda left with two choices at that point- either I could go full time into medicine or I could go full time into entertainment. And I couldn’t do both, because, if a patient walks in at 5 o’clock when you have a show at seven, it doesn’t really work out. So I just had to go with my heart, and hypnosis and performing in general are where my heart laid, so that’s exactly what I went for.
So does the medical side of hypnosis interest you, or just the entertainment aspects?
It does interest me. I combine the techniques I learned from hypnotherapy and the techniques I’ve developed onstage for myself, to make the approach I have. I think that’s…it’s not revolutionary, but it’s different that what most hypnotists do, either they’re very much stage entertainment or they’re very much hypnotherapy. Whereas I combine both of those and because of that I get a really good response to the hypnosis. As you saw tonight, there were a lot of the people in the audience I could have chosen and I got fantastic suggestions on stage because of that.
Can you talk about hypnotic susceptibility? Some people say no one can be hypnotized if they don’t want to, and others say everyone can be hypnotized?
Sure, well I think they’re two sides of the same coin basically. You’ve got some people who say you can’t be hypnotized if you don’t want to be, and that’s absolutely true. And the other side of it is that everyone can be hypnotized. And yes, everyone can be, but if you don’t want to be you won’t be. Some people are amazing subjects, and like in my Channel 4 show, we had to go out of our way to find incredible subjects who were highly suggestible that would work and would be able to let me erase their memory each time. At the other end of the spectrum you’ve got people who are just open to some suggestion, and we might not ever be able to do something like erase their memories but they may well experience something like their foot being stuck to the floor, and that’s it. So you’ve got a spectrum of suggestibility. There is a moment when you’re being hypnotized by someone when you choose to go with them. If you go with it, it’s an incredible experience. But some people resist it and it doesn’t work.
What’s your opinion on the suggestion that most participants at a stage show aren’t actually hypnotized in the strictest sense, but playing along because they’re onstage? Do you think it matters?
I think it matters a lot for my show. I don’t necessarily think it matters a lot for comedy shows, where by someone wants to get onstage and might happily follow the instructions to dance with a mop or whatever that suggestion may be. In my show I invite the whole audience to participate, I go out to the audience, and I purposefully test them. They don’t know what I’m looking for, so I can tell when someone might be faking, and I test them to make sure I get the most suggestible people onstage. Because the things I ask people to do, they wouldn’t be able to do properly if they were faking. And it’s so important. Each of the participants, every one of them, does something incredible. And if any one of them was faking it, it wouldn’t work, and it would be very obvious, and it would become very awkward. That to me- I’d hate to have that be the case in my show.
What’s the most stressful thing about performing?
You know, I get asked this a lot, and I don’t tend to get nervous before a show until I am side stage and I hear the video intro play, and suddenly I’m like “Oh my god, why do I do this to myself.” But the moment I step onstage the nerves are gone, the moment I open my mouth, on that stage, there are no nerves, I’m just having fun. When it comes to fears for performing, the first week of the Fringe is what terrifies me. I don’t get nervous before doing a corporate event or even a stage show in Manchester or anywhere else, but coming to Fringe, I know there’s so much to do. Fringe audiences are tough. They won’t let you get away with it if you’re rubbish, and so the first week of the Fringe is probably my most scary time of the year, and then I settle into it and I just enjoy the rest of the run.
What’s the most exciting?
It’s got to be sharing an experience with people. I want people to leave my show having had an experience that they will take away and talk about with their friends and their family. I don’t really care if they remember my name, but as long as they were in some way moved or left with something to think about and talk about from the show, that’s my job done, that’s great, that’s entertainment. It’s not about ego, it’s not about me, it’s about the audience experience. And if the audience are having the best time, the most exciting thing for me is seeing that response.
And now you have a TV show, Hello Stranger. What was your inspiration there?
That tv show came about through the production company that had an idea that was based on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, where two people have their memories erased. And they approached me with basically, ‘was it possible to erase one’s memory’ and I was like, yes, depending on how long and what for. And so we started to develop this idea and eventually came up that we wanted to have a couple and we wanted to have them erase their memories of each other and then go on a date. So the inspiration come from two points, one, the film, and two, the idea of giving a couple the chance to meet for the first time again. And getting them to meet each other, that’s what it’s about. It wasn’t about sending them on a date or getting them to break up, it was about getting a couple to meet and fall in love all over again.
Did it turn out the way you expected?
Yes. It did and it didn’t. I loved working on the show. What was brilliant was stuff that happened off camera that reaffirmed for me that everything that was happening in this experiment was genuine. The thing I didn’t like was that a lot of people called fakery on it. Which is natural with a hypnosis show and I think it was because we didn’t quite display all of the moments of genuine interactions we had that happened off camera. I’m very happy with the program, I’m happy that it’s out, I’m happy that everyone got to see it. But I think it taught me we need to help people understand hypnosis more, help people understand what’s going on.
So what do you think you enjoy more, live performance or television?
I enjoy both for very different reasons. I enjoy the live because you’re instantly getting feedback from the audience. So I know, if the audience don’t like something or don’t react to something at one point in this show, I can change it up again, that the audience can leave having the best show. And it’s great that when you see it live, you can’t call bullshit, because what is happening is happening to you, or is happening to your friend. That’s what makes television difficult, because they’re not there and can just say ‘oh they’re just stooges’. But what I love about television is that you can do things that take three days, or two years of planning, and bring it out, and put it on for such a wide audience. So I enjoy television because it allows us to do much bigger things, and I enjoy the live shows because you get to interact with people.
There are hundreds of shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. In one sentence, tell our readers why Declassified is a must see.
If you want the opportunity to be involved, and see people demonstrate inexplicable feats live onstage, come to Declassified.
Aaron Calvert can be found at The Gilded Balloon at the Museum during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe, at 18:00 on August 5-26
More information on Aaron Calvert and his performance dates can be found here