Even when magician Chris Bolter describes how his routine works, audiences still can’t figure out how he does it.
And that makes them wonder if his magic isn’t real after all.
“With me giving you this truth, it’s going to sound like a lie,” said Bolter, who is performing two shows a night at the Hawthorne Hotel from tonight until the 31st, with the exception of Saturday. “When you tell them what you’re doing, it almost seems like you’re denying it. They think, ‘You must have some supernatural ability.’”
If this reaction seems complex, it is part of the mind game that defines Bolter’s brand of magic.
“I am mostly in the world of mentalism, the mind-reading branch of the magical world,” said Bolter, 27, who was born in Quincy and still calls Massachusetts home.
He distinguishes between two kinds of mentalists: those like himself, whom he calls “realists,” who claim they are simply using suggestion and misdirection, while another set professes to have, or at least implies that they wield, special powers.
Bolter’s approach disarms people and makes them do a double take — many of which have been recorded and posted at his website — when they can’t figure out how he knew which card they chose.
Bolter got a taste of magic at an early age at the Marshfield Fair, where he worked at his family’s booths selling food every summer and met all kinds of magicians, jugglers and sideshow performers.
A strong interest in psychology and human behavior influenced the kind of magic he eventually chose to practice.
Mentalism relies on interaction with an audience, which Bolter prefers to acts that offer well-rehearsed material that only requires people to watch.
“Being a mentalist, you need audience participation,” he said. “That’s what makes the material stronger and harder to do: There are no guarantees. The shows are always up for grabs and always fun.”
The question-and-answer routine, which he described as “the pinnacle of mentalism, one of the oldest routines and one of the most difficult to do,” is a staple of Bolter’s act.
“Members are instructed to think of a personal question, whether financial, spiritual, whatever the case may be, and write those questions down, hold on to them, hold them down,” he said. “The performer never sees them.”
Through a series of questions, Bolter “intuits” or “predicts” an answer to such random and obscure questions as “What is my brother’s middle name?”
The fact that he sometimes provides the wrong answer is “the beautiful part about it,” because rare misses make his successes seem that much more remarkable.
Bolter’s show at the Hawthorne Hotel, The Salem Haunted Magic Show, will feature illusions of yet another sort, perfectly suited to Halloween, called bizarre magic.
He defines this as a mixture of “mentalist, straight magic and storytelling,” and consulted on the show with Eugene Burger, a master mentalist who helped create the routines of bizarre magic.
Bolter deliberately stayed away from overly familiar stories of the witch trials of 1692 and based the story in his show on the murder of Capt. Joseph White in 1830 in the Gardner-Pingree House on Essex Street in Salem.
“We’re using a scale-model dollhouse of Gardner-Pingree House,” said Bolter, who works with another magician during the show, Jonas Cain. “If the real house is haunted, maybe the dollhouse is, as well.”
Bolter has performed similar shows in Chicago and Los Angeles, which were also based on ghost stories native to those places.
Like the process of getting the audience involved in purely mentalist routines, such local details make the magic more vivid.
“I make it personal to the audience, and the place where I’m at,” Bolter said.
He pointed out that the Salem show will be performed in the hotel’s library, which has its own traditions of being haunted by ghosts.
“It’s an interesting place, with a vibe built into it,” Bolter said. “That makes it fun.”
If you go What: The Salem Haunted Magic Show Where: Hawthorne Hotel, 18 Washington Square West, Salem When: Today, tomorrow and Sunday through Wednesday, each night at 8 and 10 p.m. Tickets at $35 and $45 at 888-830-0038, www.brownpapertickets.com or www.thesalemmagicshow.com. A portion of each ticket will be donated to the charity Scares That Care, www.scaresthatcare.org/site. More information: www.thesalemmagicshow.com