In 1969, Jimi Hendrix wowed audiences at Woodstock with his poignant and pointed rendition of the national anthem. On the evening of Jan. 28, a student delivered his own take on the song – which boasted “Hodor,” a fictional character in “Game of Thrones,” as its repeated and only lyric – to an audience in Distler Performance Hall. But this was no political statement. Rather, it was an unexpected response to a song request at the Winter Hypnosis Show.
Senior Artoun Nazareth, who announced during his show that he hopes to, like Adele or Madonna, go by his first name only, started teaching himself the art of stage hypnosis at 16. Inspired by a distant relative’s performance, he persevered through nearly five unsuccessful months of book learning and practicing on his often-doubtful family members.
Artoun is now a seasoned performer, but his first show began as part of a senior research and performance project at his high school. He explained that the practice of hypnosis goes back centuries to the Ancient Egyptians, and that patients used to be hypnotized before surgery in the days before anesthesia or chloroform were used. While Artoun is well aware of the widespread distrust of hypnotism, he hopes to work against it.
“When you think of a hypnotist, excluding me, you think of some kind of older creepy guy, wearing a suit, but I think that’s just a stereotype,” he said. “There are a lot of young men and women who are hypnotists, who are trying to keep it fresh. I try to make my shows feel young.”
Artoun also said that he doesn’t try to make his volunteers do anything embarrassing or anything that they strongly wouldn’t want to do. He explained that trust is a key part of hypnosis.
“It does feel a little bit like a superpower, but I keep remembering Uncle Ben from Spiderman saying, ‘With great power comes…great responsibility,’” he said.
Artoun explained that his craziest experience as a hypnotist came at a time when he was still figuring out what that responsibility entailed. The first time he performed one of his signature tricks – having his hypnotized volunteers turn into velociraptors and chase someone – he had one of the volunteers be the target rather than himself. He realized only afterward that this was a problem for the volunteer, who was deep inside of the imaginary scenario he had created.
“‘They started chasing the guy, and I saw the…real fear of being hunted down by what I’m sure he believed were real velociraptors … I was able to stop it before they caught up to him, but when I was talking to him afterward, he was like, ‘I think I may have experienced death,’ and I realized I have to be a little careful with something like that,” he said.
Since that experience, Artoun said he has learned to be more exact with his hypnotic instructions.
Typically, being hypnotized is a relaxing experience, since hypnosis works by relaxing the conscious and offering suggestions to the subconscious, according to Artoun. He told the audience during Thursday’s show that an hour and a half of hypnosis is as refreshing as eight hours of sleep. According to the American Psychological Association’s website, hypnosis “can be a powerful, effective therapeutic technique for a wide range of conditions, including pain, anxiety and mood disorders.”
While Artoun would possibly consider being trained in hypnotherapy in the future, he explained that he’s not ready to give up stage hypnosis, which he would have to do in order to practice it medically.
Max Greenhouse, a senior who has been hypnotized by Artoun twice, explained that his experiences have been relaxing and have debunked the misconception that people forget what happens when they’re hypnotized.
“It was fun because it releases inhibitions, and even though you’re still completely in control when you’re hypnotized, you have less inhibitions and less self reservations,” Greenhouse said.
For Greenhouse, lower inhibitions meant delivering his “impression” of an unfamiliar language.
“He had me give a crowd-raising rant in German – and I don’t speak German. But it was very easy,” he said.
Director of the Office for Campus Life (OCL) Joe Golia explained that while the OCL rarely hosts events, several factors, including the time of the semester, made hosting the Winter Hypnosis Show appealing.
“Usually they’re very popular, hypnotists … It’s a great opportunity to give this one individual student the opportunity to practice his craft while also entertaining a number of students,” Golia said.
Artoun, who chose one of his majors—Cognitive and Brain Sciences—as a result of his interest in hypnosis, hopes to perform his craft on the side while he pursues an acting career in Los Angeles after graduation this May. He said he is excited about the possibilities that further research on hypnosis could create.
“I think [hypnosis] could be used to do so many things,” he said. “If people were doing research on hypnosis, who knows what the benefits [could be].”