Last week, in Tang Theater, two students “lost” their belly buttons, a pregnant boy went into “labor” and Shia LaBeouf made a surprise appearance. These unusual occurrences were brought about by the hypnotist Steve Taubman, who entranced both the audience with his antics and a select group of volunteers with his hypnosis. Taubman started his show by selecting certain audience members to go on stage after putting them through a series of tests to see how well each student responded to hypnosis. The pool of people who eventually made it on stage was based more or less on an honor code. Some members of the audience felt, however, that a few of the volunteers decided to feign hypnosis. Hannah Hall ’10, one of those on stage, wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “I think it is a bummer [when people fake hypnosis] because it undermines the truth that some people actually were hypnotized. But props to them! I would never do anything that embarrassing consciously!” Another hypnotized student, Ishan Kapoor ’09 said, “I wasn’t really hypnotized for the ‘Pepto-Bismol’ part [at the beginning of the show]. I was just pretending to be until then, but after that I was actually hypnotized… Honestly, I only remember one thing—taking my coach’s shoe and calling the president… Oh, I also remember saying ‘Push!’” The hypnotist tried to weed out a few fakers in the beginning. He said, “[To tell if someone is really hypnotized] I look for certain physiological signs, like rapid eye movement and how fast a person reacts to what I’m saying.” Taubman has been a hypnotist for twelve years, but he started out as a chiropractor. He said, “I was fascinated with how hypnosis can help with sports—it can heal injuries faster, improve performance and motivation. Then, I saw a hypnotist at a fair, and I saw that hypnosis could be not only clinical, but also humorous.” Taubman began as a clinical hypnotist; he studied at a clinic in the Midwest and obtained his certification from the American Board of Hypno-Therapy. He still works as a clinical hypnotist, but he mainly sticks to doing shows. “[In shows] I try to have [the audience] fall into a fantasy experience, and then I play with their perception and emotions, but stop short of anything troubling or humiliating.” Though not troubled, some of the Phillips Academy audience felt a little embarrassed by some stories they heard. Tom Palleschi ’12, who was hypnotized into believing that he was giving birth, wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “I had no idea [about] some of the stuff that I did until afterwards [when] I was shown a video where I was in labor. That was pretty surprising… I can’t believe that I was cuddling with some other guy. That scared me a little.” Stella Girkins ’11 was convinced that someone in the audience was her favorite celebrity, Shia LaBeouf. Girkins wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “I definitely can’t believe the whole Shia incident. I’m really embarrassed that it was an adult who I thought was Shia and that it was only me that everyone was watching. Now, when I walk around campus I have people yelling to me, ‘Hey! How’s Shia?’ and it just makes it even more embarrassing.” Despite the potential embarrassment, stage hypnosis can also help a person conquer his or her fears. Mike MacKay ’11 said, “All I remember was this weird dream where I was driving over a bridge, and the bridge broke, but I was fine somehow…I guess I’m not really afraid anymore, but I guess I’ll have to see when I drive over a bridge.” Taubman said, “It’s so gratifying when people tell me I made their lifelong fears go away. Actually, it works for some lifelong habits too, like biting nails, compulsive eating, smoking…This one woman was deathly afraid of flying, and, after working with me, I took her up on a plane. She was amazed. It was a great time.” He added, “We all have fear. It’s just about making that state of consciousness go away. Fear is what we call ‘false evidence appearing real’ because somewhere down the line, we made a decision about something based on some experience with it — the only things humans are born afraid of are loud noises and heights — and usually the decision is the wrong one. Fear almost never serves us.” Most people agreed that being hypnotized was a similar experience to dreaming. Oriekose Idah ’11 wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “Being hypnotized was an out-of-body experience. On one level, I knew what I was doing, but I couldn’t understand why I was doing it. It also felt like a series of illusions that couldn’t possibly be true, but felt real at that moment.” Shelby Carpenter ’12 said, “[When he took us backstage] he told us we were hypnotized, and I didn’t believe him until he showed us the time, and it was 10:30 instead of 8:00 like we thought it was!” Idah said, “When we were snapped back into reality, I was shocked at how little I remembered. My body was full of energy, but I felt mentally drained.” Taubman won over the Phillips Academy students. Palleschi said, “To be honest, I thought hypnosis was just the biggest scam ever, but now that I’ve heard the things I did, I’m a big believer.” Girkins said, “Part of me wishes that I could have been watching the show so I could have seen what everyone was doing, but it was also a really fun experience. If he comes back next year I think I will give other people their turn and see what it is like from the audience, because, according to my friends [our antics were] some of the funniest moments of their lives.” Phillips Academy will just have to wait and see if another famous actor, pregnant boy or missing body part are in its future — after all, he’s a hypnotist, not a psychic.
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