Do you remember the night Reveen came to town?

Tom Parkin

Do you remember the night Reveen came to Revelstoke? Posters stapled on telephone poles were spread around town, and the Big R radio network (established 1965) carried advertising for the event.

Reveen is an Australia-born magician and hypnotist who placed his act in the realm of the surreal by calling himself “the Impossiblist.” His advertising at that time certainly emphasized the improbable. This link will take you to a 1960s TV ad for a Reveen show:  Today he lives in Canada’s Maritimes.

I’m not sure of the date, but the year was likely 1968 or 1969 when I first saw one of his performances. He was in town for single night, and there was a sizable crowd in the RSS gymnasium that evening. The crowd sat in the bleachers, and also on the floor in round-bottomed metal chairs. The show started with his introduction about what hypnotism is—and isn’t—and he mentioned it cannot make you do anything which is against one’s personal values or will. Some people are susceptible, and some less so. To find out, he would conduct a simple test in which everyone in the audience who wanted to participate, could press their palms together as in prayer while he spoke of the idea that they would become so fused as to be impossible to separate. We were not placed ‘under a trance’ of any kind. After a minute of this suggestion, he asked us to try to separate our hands, and a surprising number of people could not! Reveen’s handlers then went through the crowd and escorted six to ten of them up on stage with him. Among them were Ginny Williams and Scott Coulter.

Do you remember when Reveen came to town?

The first part of the performance had some of these people waiting aside while others put on silly performances such as pretending to play instruments, etc. Some were told to follow his instructions later, which might kick in only after the show. Others were involved in some magic conjurations, but it was hypnotism which was the strength of his show. In return for basically losing their price of admission, all were given positive lifelong suggestions such as they would never have trouble falling asleep in strange places, losing any fear of dentists, etc. They were also warned that they would have no memory of the events on stage whatsoever. It all seemed very enhancing, and participants gave the audience no cause for concern in that they responded to conversation, walked with their eyes open, etc.

But as the show progressed to more difficult theatrics, the Revelstoke volunteers began to slip out of Reveen’s control. Those who returned to full awareness were asked to not interrupt or otherwise distract companions who were still acting out his instructions. These ‘awakened’ people gradually returned to their seats until, at half-time, only Scott Coulter remained on stage. At that point Reveen (formally known as Peter J. Reveen) could only hope Scott remained ‘under,’ for without a subject, his remaining act was doomed. Audience member Warren Ennis remembers him vowing under his breath (but still heard through the microphone), that he would never play our small town again.

I can’t remember all what happened that night, but to this day I do recall Reveen telling Scott that he had become a strongman, and to prove the point, positioned him horizontally between two chairs. Scott’s head and shoulders were on one, and his heels on another, his torso stiff as a board. It was no illusion. We were all amazed. Then Reveen stepped up on Scott’s belly and stood there, 18 inches off the floor! My classmate never wavered—it was a tremendous feat. There was also a later demonstration of strength by lifting enormous barbells, but these were subsequently revealed to be made of Styrofoam!

All in all, the audience went home happy that night. But a recent email from Scott gives a different perspective:

“I recall going on stage with a number of other people and becoming completely submissive. Antics of acting like a chicken come to mind; some singing and some barking. The next thing I know it is only he and I on the stage, all the rest of the people have gone. The only thing that I can remember and this is vivid in my mind was him suspending me between two chairs . . . and him standing on my stomach. And the funny thing was I did not feel his weight. I wish I could remember more but I think my mind has blanked them out. I will say that is was a very unnerving experience, of not being in control of your own body and mind. I will say that on my walk home I was extremely frightened, almost to the point of being frantic. The thought that I had lost complete control of my emotions, thoughts and body really bothered me. Suffice it to say that I have never and never will attend another hypnotists performance, it really frightened me that much.”

That evening, a group of girlfriends were gaily debriefing the show at Sally-Ann’s Coffee Shop on First Street. Suddenly, from the women’s washroom came the triumphant crow of a chicken: Cock-a-doodle-doo! It was Ginny Williams, carrying out her post-hypnotic instruction.

Tom Parkin is an RSS grad of 1969, and writes for The Revelstoke Current on the last Saturday of each month.