The Circus Show # 1.

The Circus Show # 1.

By Peter Zapfella

It all started in the usual way… an email inquiry. 

An events company was asking me to do a Comedy Hypnosis Show at the iconic Luna Park, diagonally opposite the Opera House on Sydney Harbour. It was to be the annual Christmas Party for one of Australia’s biggest building and construction companies.

(Photo by Caroline McCredie/Getty Images for Paramount International)

My Comedy Hypnosis Shows ( would usually run around 60 – 90 minutes, and occasionally longer. Truth is, my shows would almost always run over time, as the fun and excitement on stage would carry us away.

A second email from the event organizers explained that according to their new schedule for the show I would only have 30 minutes on stage. I was less than happy about the idea, however I really wanted the opportunity to perform at Luna Park so I agreed. In any case, I thought I could somehow squeeze in another 15 or 20 minutes.

They would fly me across the country, from Perth, Western Australia to Sydney and put me up in a top hotel, plus pay me the fee I demanded. It was a good deal for me.

Days before departure I received another email from the organizers to tell me that the entertainment had evolved into a circus. There would be fire-eaters, flying trapeze and other circus acts too. I would get just 10 minutes on stage.

“Ten minutes?” I thought out aloud. “I can’t do a ten minute show. By the time I do a pre-show warm-up and call volunteer performers I will be out of time. This is crazy.”

I phoned them immediately in protest, and quickly realised I was not going to get any extension of time. If I was only going to get 10 minutes on stage I was going to need to find creative ways to speed up the whole process. 

When I worked for Spano, a ledgendary ‘old time’ American stage hypnotist, ( observed he often took up to 40 minutes to do his pre-talk, performer selection and hypnotic trance inductions – only then did the show begin. I had a much faster show, but 10 minutes for the whole show was ridiculous.

Spano’s shows were always ‘honest’. No stooges or actors.

I knew that some ‘old time’ stage hypnotists, such as the late Frankquin, from New Zealand ( had used ‘stooges’; paid actors planted in the audience to ensure a successful show. I knew some stage hypnotists would recruit volunteers before the show and pre-hypnotise them back stage, as an assurance of a successful show.

I had never done that, always preferring to do an honest ‘as you see it’ performance.

I put it to the event organisers that I could do a 10 minute show …. IF they could recruit a dozen volunteer performers who wanted to be a part of the show on stage. I would take them back stage and do the pre-talk and hypnotic induction before the show, then send them back to their seats in the audience. After dinner I would go on stage and call them up, and do the 10 minute show. They liked the idea.

I usually performed my Comedy Hypnosis Shows with a technician who would assist me set up all the lights and sound systems, he would then operate the control console during the show. He knew all the cues for music and sound effects. He was my second pair of eyes, and also the ‘time keeper’. I decided to invest my fee and take him with me to Sydney. It was a brilliant idea, because as it turned out, without him there would never have been a show.

The Circus Show # 2.

By Peter Zapfella

We were to catch an early Saturday morning flight out of Perth, arriving in Sydney in the early afternoon. Suddenly I was woken by a phone call from my technician. He was at my front door, I should have been dressed and ready to drive to the airport. My alarm had failed.

I leaped out of bed, grabbing my bags and clothes. I dressed in the car, as he sped down the deserted freeway toward the airport. We were running late, perhaps too late to catch our flight. If we missed this flight we would not get to Sydney in time for tonight’s show.

At the airport there was a mad scramble as we sprinted into the departure lounge. While it was deserted outside, there were hundreds of people inside. As my technician took up a position at the end of a long queue of people, I heard a ‘final announcement’ for our flight. We rushed to the ‘late desk’ and managed to slip through the door as it was closing.

Sydney street performers

Around six hours later we were wandering along Sydney’s colorful Circular Quay, watching street performers, while looking for our hotel. We found it, but the room was not ready. 

A quick check of emails revealed another problem. The event organisers informed me that New South Wales government regulations required me to hold a special insurance policy for my performance. It was already Saturday afternoon, and the event was just a few hours away. The insurance offices were closed for the weekend. Checkmate?

The event organisers put me in touch with an insurance agent over the phone who could give me an immediate ‘cover note’, however the insurance fee was to be ten times more than the fee I was to be paid for the event! In short, I was required to pay ten times more to the insurance company, than I was to be paid for the performance.

That was the local law, and I was already there…. ready to perform in a few short hours.

The insurance agent then told me that even if I agreed, I had to pay the insurance policy before the evening’s performance, and he had no facility to accept payment from me. 

As we waited for the hotel room to be made available, I was stuck in an impossible dilemma. I am ready to perform tonight as agreed, yet I am suddenly informed I cannot perform without the required insurance policy, which must be paid before the performance, but cannot be paid because the office is closed.

I called the event organizer to explain the dilemma, who called the insurance agent, who agreed to accept payment if I paid the event organizer. I had to pay the event organizer so I could do the performance… crazy!

The Circus Show # 3.

By Peter Zapfella

We checked into our room, and then immediately went to Luna Park, across Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Luna Park, Sydney Harbour

I met the event organisers and paid them my insurance fee as arranged.

Upon entering the venue I was shocked to see an elevated round platform in the middle of a massive tent like building, filled with lavish dinning settings. A round stage?

Comedy Hypnosis Shows are performed on a traditional theatre stage. It has a front, a back and sides – left and right. We stand on a stage and face the audience…. there is a front.

On a standard theatre stage I can make sure my volunteer performers stay well away from the edge of the stage during the performance. How can I watch a dozen people on a round stage?

If I face in any particular direction I am only playing to around one third of the audience, while the other two thirds are behind me somewhere.

The event organisers did not tell me it would be a round stage, and to make matters even worse, it was particularly high. All the further for my volunteer performers to fall and injure themselves! 

I am aware of only one successful insurance claim against a stage hypnotist, where he returned an unsuccessful performer to the audience by pointing in their general direction, and saying “I cannot hypnotise you. So go back to your seat in the audience.” The person stood up and walked off the front of the stage, over the edge, breaking their leg. The court found the stage hypnotist was negligent because he did not direct the person to use the stairs.

As fire eaters and flying trapeze performers were doing their thing, I had to get creative and come up with some quick workable strategies. 

I decided to arrange a dozen chairs in a circle, in the middle of the round stage. I would stand in the center of the circle, behind my performers, who would all be facing some of the audience, in every direction. In that way we would have a 360-degree front, with no back.

We did some sound checks with the radio microphones, and located the back room where I would pre-hypnotise my volunteer performers. Then back to the hotel near the Sydney Opera House to shower and dress for the evening performance.

The Circus Show # 4.

By Peter Zapfella

We had used the train as the quickest and most direct route back and forth across the coat hanger. If only the event organisers had booked a hotel room for me near Luna Park, of which there were several, it would have been far more convenient and easier for me.

I was standing on the railway platform at Circular Quay waiting for the train which would take be back across the Sydney Harbour Bridge for my evening performance, when I realised other commuters on the platform were becoming irritable. The train was late…2 minutes, 5 minutes, 7 minutes, 10 minutes….too late. The train was not coming.

I do not know why…. but the train did not come at all. We had to wait for the next train, by which time I was running late for my performance.

By the time I got to the venue it was crowded with hundreds of people in elegant evening dress. They were the who’s who of the nations building and construction community, on show in their finest attire.

I was introduced to a group of these people, and then lead to a back room where I proceeded to outline the show and what I expected from them. I also took the time to explain the basics of hypnosis and answer their questions. They were an intelligent and enthusiastic group, and we were all feeling confident.

I proceeded to hypnotise them using my usual stage method. A couple of minutes in, and suddenly the fire alarm went off. Loud bells rung through the building. I decided to use the bells as part of my hypnotic induction, telling my volunteers that the sound of loud bells would increase the effectiveness of the hypnosis.

I noticed the reflection of flashing lights and looked around through the window behind me. Fire Brigade trucks had pulled into the forecourt outside. Firemen were pouring out of the trucks wearing breathing apparatus. No one had told me otherwise, so I continued my hypnotic induction as my volunteers all stood around me – eyes closed.

Suddenly the doors to the room flung open and a group of uniformed men burst into the room. They were firemen wearing full face masks. Just as suddenly they went out again through another door and I never saw them again.

Satisfied with my volunteers I sent them back to their seating in the main venue to enjoy their evening.

I had never tried a pre-hypnotic induction before, and certainly not an induction during an apparent fire emergency false alarm.

Being an eternal optimist I expected an excellent performance, although the day so far had been one problem after another. What could go wrong next?

Look for: The Circus Show # 5. Soon

By Peter Zapfella

© Copyright. 2014 – 2019 Peter Zapfella

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