Feature Story September 2009 – 2
Most of Mark’s early work was based on a comedic persona, “…the regular guy who has strange powers.” He gives credit to Carl Ballentine, one of the first comedy magicians (and television star as The Great Ballentine on the Ed Sullivan Show, Gruber in “McHale’s Navy” and Cousin Al in “Car 54 Where Are You”). During those years, Mark developed his “anti-Kreskin” persona, delivered in the Johnny Carson style of ” Karnak ” or “El Mouldo”. Along with the persona, Mark wore a rigged vest to convince people it helped him read minds. Worn under his jacket, it contained switches and LED lights used as a rationale for his ability.
Many high-profile mentalists were put off by his comedic approach to what they considered a serious craft. Ballentine took Mark aside and told him the presentation style was confusing. Mark would do a strong mentalism routine and then throw in a comedic bit, which lessened the impact. “Carl convinced me to go one way or the other,” Edward recalled. “Either be a comedy performer or a serious mentalist, but don’t confuse the audience with both.”
The persona Mark now uses is best described as “psycho-drama” and borrows from the iconic gallows’ humor of Alfred Hitchcock. “You still have to show that you are vulnerable and display humanity, but my style is a controlled paranoia,” Mark said. He induces a psi-conducive atmosphere where participants will more easily allow their imaginations to create the magic, where incidental and unplanned occurrences can be interpreted as possibly paranormal. “You learn to take total advantage of the moment and improvise,” Mark explained, “Everyone believes in ghosts a little bit. Something’s going to grab them; like a sudden draft, a squeak in a chair or whatever.”
Besides the long list of notables with whom Edward worked with at the Castle, Mark was also heavily influenced by Tony Andruzzi, Tony “Doc” Shiels and Docc Hilford during an era when bizarre magic was forming with the Invocation and Weerd Weekends. The bizarre format for a routine gives the audience a reason for strange things to occur, where in most magic there is no reason for the green silk to turn from green to red. “In my world, it’s the very believable (for many people) intervention of the spirit world that gets all the credit,” Mark said.
The advantage for Mark’s bizarre magic is partially that he doesn’t need to carry around a load of tricks and props like a conventional magician to do psychic effects. In its place, he creates a strong story line, striving for unplanned things to happen spontaneously and naturally, putting “the frosting on the cake” with a few killer routines.
“It’s okay to miss once in awhile if you are a psychic.”
The séance performer must create an environment so that unusual things can happen and be interpreted as paranormal, rather than focusing on a “magic show in the dark.” Mark points to Ted Lesley who may do a center tear to obtain information, but who uses solid psychological methods to acquire bits of information through conversation, restoring to glimpsing the center only when “natural” or possibly real telepathic means are exhausted. In the golden age of spiritualism, this was termed “mixed mediumship.” “It’s okay to miss once in a while if you are psychic,” Mark said.
Mark’s close ties with the bizarre magic fraternity were highlighted by a conspiracy created with Tony “Doc” Shiels in 1999. Mark and Tony decided to float the prediction that whales would soon communicate with aliens living in the ocean. They theorized that the aliens were deeper in the ocean than submarines were going, and would break the interspecies code with humans using telepathy with the whales.