Roderick Russell’s upcoming shows at the Freeport Theater of Awesome are billed as “family friendly mentalism and sword swallowing.”
Mentalism is basically mind reading, so sure, it can be family-friendly. “Hey little girl, I can see in your mind that your favorite doll’s name is Dolly.”
But sword swallowing as family-friendly entertainment? Do the little ones really want to see a 2-foot-long sword go deep into a man’s throat, potentially giving him a tonsillectomy right there on stage?
“I think when people think of sword swallowing, they think of someone with tattoos and piercings; a carney. But I’m not into shocking people or grossing people out,” said Russell, 34, whose pictures show a clean-cut young man.
“What I do is present it (sword swallowing) as a feat of the power of the mind, an intellectual and psychological challenge that requires physical discipline.”
But it’s a magic act, right? That sword isn’t going down his throat for real, is it?
“Of all the things I do, the sword swallowing is the most real,” said Russell, who is doing two shows in Freeport this weekend and two the following weekend.
Russell, who lives in Burlington, Vt., and has been performing since he was 20, says most of his 75-minute show basically consists of mind-reading — or, more accurately, the illusion of mind-reading — with members of his audience. His sword-swallowing routine is only about 10 minutes long, but is a dramatic illustration of all his feats — the power of the mind.
In the case of sword swallowing, it’s Russell’s mind that needs to be powerful, he said. He’s trained himself to avoid the gag reflex most of us would experience when sticking a big steel blade down our throats. He’s also trained himself to not fear the blade — which comes in pretty handy when you’ve got one touching your lips.
Russell’s particular talents have allowed him to perform around the world and on TV. He’s even appeared in some of the “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” books.
Russell says he started studying about the power of the mind as a teenager because of his own troubled childhood. He says he was on his own at an early age, and decided to take charge of his life with the main tool he had — his own mind.
So he studied psychology, magic, con artists, politicians, languages — anything that could help him make sense of how the mind works.
“I realized the way to change my world — the way anyone changes it — is to change what you believe about it,” said Russell.
Russell says he doesn’t “preach” or “lecture” about the power of the mind, and he certainly wouldn’t recommend that folks to take up sword swallowing. But he does explain what he is doing and how his “mind-reading” exercises work every step of the way.
When he’s doing the bulk of his act — the mind-reading part — he begins by explaining to the audience exactly what he’s going to do. How, by reading their body language, through the power of suggestion and via other means, he’s going to appear to be reading their minds.
But he’s not really. He’s doing a bunch of other things that end up with him telling them what they are thinking, and they basically agree with him.
“I’m using my five senses to give the illusion of a sixth sense,” said Russell. “I create this illusion and I end up, most of the time, predicting exactly what they are thinking, specific names and all. But I’m really placing ideas in their heads.”
“It’s funny,” said Russell, “that even though I tell people exactly what I’m doing, so many people think my mind reading is real and my sword swallowing is not.”
Which makes sense. It’s a lot easier on the brain to imagine one’s thoughts being pilfered than it is to watch a mental picture of a sword scraping down the inside of someone’s throat.
A mind is a terrible thing to waste, indeed.
But so is a throat.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: