When it comes to separating mentalism from magic, Jon Stetson says there are a lot of blurry lines out there, but he doesn't see that as a problem.
"I've been doing this for over 40 years, and I'm at the place where people can categorize me anyway they'd like," said Stetson, a Boston mentalist and one of the headliners for First Night Saratoga 2018 on Sunday on the main stage at City Center. "Some people say its magic, and there are magicians that do mentalism. To me there are inherent differences between the two, mostly from a technical standpoint and philosophy. But to me it's all under the realm of mystery entertainment."
Stetson, who will put on shows at 8 and 10 p.m. Sunday, refers to himself as a third-generation mentalist, having followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. But he also thinks that anyone, with some hard work, can be a mentalist.
"Life should be a never-ending process of education, so if someone wants to dedicate themselves to mentalism they can do it," said Stetson. "There are things that can be taught. I'm third generation and things have been passed down to me, but you can adapt, change your lifestyle and do a lot of what I do."
However, you might not be able to do it as well as Stetson does.
Performing for presidents
Along with acting as a consultant on the CBS drama, "The Mentalist," Stetson has performed for President Jimmy Carter and both Bush presidents, the Royal Family of Monaco and the New England Patriots. He has also made appearances on PBS, CBS and the A&E Network.
"I probably have a little bit of showmanship built into me, but I believe that we all have certain gifts, certain intuitives, that are inherited," said Stetson. "I do have bad nights. There are times when it's hard to connect. But it doesn't happen often; in fact, I haven't had a bad night in a long time.
"To me the whole process of mentalism is fascinating to watch," Stetson continued. "It's like watching a football game. There could be an 80-yard run, and while it's an incredible run, the guy doesn't score. But that long run makes the touchdown anticlimactic, and I am hypercritical of myself. To me a bad night is a missed opportunity that I had. But like I said, I don't have too many of those and I can't afford to."
During his act, Stetson does everything from guessing the numbers in an audience member's head to guessing their mother's first name. He also has a "ladies only" night where he conjures up the name of the boy of a woman's first boyfriend, or perhaps memories of her first kiss. While fortune telling isn't necessarily a part of his act, he doesn't mind people who suggest they can look into the future.
"Everyone has the potential to experience some psychic connection," he said. "Fortune tellers and mediums can sometimes have very negative connotations attached to them, but as long as the individual is genuine and their intention is real and sincere I'm fine with it. I believe more in holding up a mirror to allow people to see themselves. And if you don't believe in a sixth sense, I believe once we get things percolating then anyone has the power to create a sixth sense at some point."
Like any profession, says Stetson, fortune tellers, psychics and even mentalists have their cheats.
"There are unscrupulous people out there in any field," he said. "Lawyers, politicians, car dealers. George Bernard Shaw said that every occupation is a conspiracy against the laity. The problem is there in any profession."
And if the lines blur between magic and mentalism, that's OK with him.
"Magic or mentalism? We park our car in the same garage," he said. "Some people feel the need to put up disclaimers, but I say, 'Just go out there and do it.' My goal is to create a genuine experience. I use the powers of observation, which to me is being psychic. I think with science and metaphysics, we're looking at the same thing from two different perspectives. One day we're going to wake up and realize it's all the same."
'First Night Saratoga 2018'
WHERE: Center City and various locations in downtown Saratoga Springs
WHEN: Some events begin at 5:30 p.m., New Years Eve, Sunday
HOW MUCH: $20
MORE INFO: www.saratoga.com