Stampede: Being hypnotized feels ‘weird’
A teenage boy seems confused when asked his name, another runs through the crowd searching for Kermit The Frog. There were also renowned musicians, a grouchy lifeguard and those possessed by a stuffed monkey.
No this is not some kind of low-budget variety show or a script for The Twilight Zone. It is the work of veteran hypnotist Terry Stokes who has had unsuspecting Stampede attendees following his every move and command for 30 years.
“Everybody can be hypnotized on a one-to-one level,” Stokes explains of his chosen craft, “but during a stage show I have only got about three minutes to do it and have to get my best subjects.”
Those subjects are chosen at random from the Coca-Cola Stage audience two times each day of the Stampede. Stokes then goes through a quick ritual with his group of willing participants and in moments the majority are in a deep sleep on stage. When they are woken, the real fun and games begins.
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Stokes says even now — after 37 years of commitment to his entrancing profession — he still runs into a lot of skepticism.
“A lot of times (participants) don’t think they were hypnotized because they can hear,” Stokes said. Then they watch the video and say ‘Oh my God I actually did that?’
“The thing about hypnosis is you understand what’s going on but you’re so relaxed that you don’t care. I have been told that it feels like being stoned, I have never been stoned but that’s apparently what it feels like for some.”
Brett Elder was one of those skeptics who decided to put Stokes to the test during a show on Thursday afternoon.
“I didn’t know if it actually worked,” Elder said. “I had been here before and had seen my friends get hypnotized and so I wanted to try it out.”
Over the course of roughly 40 minutes, Elder took his shirt off during a supposed stripper job audition, argued with Stokes in his own version of Chinese and repeatedly slapped the behind of a fellow participant screaming “I’m your daddy, I’m your daddy.”
After the show, Elder — still slightly bewildered at what had occurred — struggled to explain his first trip through hypnosis.
“It feels weird. You are dizzy and you get all of that starry stuff in your eyes. I can’t really remember it,” Elder muttered while scratching his head.
Explaining what it was like to come out of his supposed trance proved even more difficult.
“I don’t know, I just kind of out walked out (into the audience) and kind of came out of it. Wow,” he said.
And for all those skeptics out there?
“Yeah, it works,” Elder said.
Elder wasn’t the only one who lost all inhibition, as 15-year-old Katharine Schaab lip-synced the words to a Shania Twain song while strutting around on-stage in front of hundreds of curious onlookers.
“I don’t really remember but I guess I made a fool out of myself,” Schaab said. “I felt embarassed as I came out because I really couldn’t control it I guess.”
Stokes said most people don’t realize that they can enter a state of altered consciousness without the help of a trained hypnotist.
“Think of this for example, when watching television you are really involved in the program and someone walks in the room and asks you a question and you answer it like you normally would. A few minutes later when the show’s over you turn to the person and ask ‘Did you say something?’ ” Stokes said. “So you took in a question, analyzed it, and gave a response without remembering any of it because you were so involved in something else.”
It is apparently so easy for unsuspecting individuals to become hypnotized that during both of Stokes’ afternoon shows Thursday at the Stampede a member of the audience fell into a trance without ever stepping onto the stage. A young male became convinced that every time Stokes touched his forehead the child behind was pinching his bottom and an older women fell into a deep sleep for the duration of the show and had to be personally woken by Stokes.
Even Stokes himself has been hypnotized; his first experience during a spring break from college in Atlanta, Ga. actually drove his interest in the unorthodox career choice.
“I volunteered and got into the show. I tried it the first night and it didn’t work, tried the second night didn’t think it worked, but on the third night at the end of the show I was on top of pool table with my pants down around my ankles bumping and grinding in front of a bunch of bikers,” Stokes recalled. “At that moment I thought this shit works.”
Now, 37 years later, Stokes looks forward to returning The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth every single year.
“The Stampede is the biggest party of the year for me,” Stokes said. “I don’t take vacations, I perform seven nights a week in Vegas. The only vacation I take is when I come here to Calgary, even though I do more shows here and I work harder here than in Vegas.
“On top of that, it has to be said that there is nothing as hot as cowgirl in a cowboy hat. The best showgirls in Vegas cannot touch a Calgarian girl wearing her boots and her hat.”
If you would still like to see Stokes in action before this year’s Stampede packs up, he performs both Saturday and Sunday at 2 and 5 p.m. He will also host two adult-oriented shows at Stampede Casino on Monday and Tuesday; for more information on those shows call 403-514-0900 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org