Aaron Calvert shows people what is possible through hypnosis in DECLASSIFIED at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival
Name: Aaron Calvert
Name of Edinburgh show: Declassified
Venue: Gilded Balloon at the Museum
Performance time: 6:00pm
Show length: 1 hour
Ticket price: £8-12
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your performing background?
I’m Aaron Calvert, I’m a mind reader and hypnotist from Manchester. I originally trained as a doctor but three years ago I gave up my life in medicine for a life in entertainment, both on stage and most recently on TV with a new Channel 4 show.
I’ve been performing mind reading and hypnosis stage shows for the last 10 years, including two sell-out runs at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2016 & 2017 and before that, sell-out theatre runs during medical school. Looking back, I don’t know how I found the time, but I love performing so I made it happen. The incredible reviews I received gave me the confidence to make the leap to working full-time as a performer, guided by my trusty co-writer and director Sam Fitton.
My goal with hypnosis has always been to revolutionise it, bringing it into the 21st century, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. This is what I’ve become most known for with the theatre shows, and it was also the focus of the Channel 4 special, Hello Stranger, which saw me erase four years of memories from two people before putting their relationship to the ultimate test.
Other than being a hypnotic mind reading doctor I’m a fairly normal guy. When I’m not performing, I love to try and see as much of the world as possible or tune into Netflix for my fill of binge worthy guilty pleasures.
Tell me about your show, what it is all about?
Most people hear hypnosis and think people clucking like chickens on stage; this couldn’t be further from Declassified. At the top of the show I make a promise never to embarrass anyone. Instead, I show people the incredible things that are possible through hypnosis.
Without giving too much away, you will witness members of the audience perform the inexplicable in a series of superhuman feats. The inspiration for these feats has been taken from a mix of true stories and urban legends, the stories you’d normally hear and think ‘there’s no way that’s possible’. I don’t just tell the audience these stories, they see them unfold in front of their eyes.
How long have you been working on this show and what is it that makes it relevant to audiences in 2018?
We’ve been working on the show solidly for the last two years, but in all honesty the concepts and demonstrations within the show have been years in the making, dating back to early 2012 when Sam and I started working together.
The actual concept for the show came from Sam on his train journey home from the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe. Since then, it’s gone through several iterations but ultimately the core concept remains the same – we want to take regular people from the audience and show them their untapped potential, having them demonstrate superhuman feats live on stage.
With TV shows featuring super-humans becoming increasingly popular, the release of Avengers: Infinity War this year and the increase in stories of people achieving the impossible, we wanted people to actually witness a legend happening live rather than through a video on Facebook…
We’ve been working for the last six years to bring hypnosis into the 21st century, to make a show people will talk about for years and leave them with moments they simply cannot explain. Declassified brings those goals together and since the audience can’t snapchat it they’ll be left with no option but to talk to other people about what they witnessed.
Do you have any top tips for surviving the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – both for performers and visitors to the event?
My top tip for surviving Fringe for performers, which has kept me healthy for the past two years is… treat it like a job and treat yourself well. If you want your show to be a success you need to put your best show on every day. You owe it to your audience. If you’re unwell, hungover, tired or moody you won’t put on a good show and your audiences will know it.
So how do you keep yourself well? Get to bed early when you can, eat well and prepare healthy meals and keep drinking to a minimum. I dread to think how many performers have just rolled their eyes, but if you get drunk for the first 10 nights of Fringe, the next 16 you’ll have no voice. Simple.
Top tips for visitors…. Talk to everyone you meet. Whether you’re sat next to someone in a coffee shop or behind someone in the queue ask them what they’ve seen and what they recommend. You’ll find people will give you a more honest opinion than any review of what’s good, and importantly, what you should avoid.
What has been the funniest or most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
A few years ago, when my stage show was more mind reading than hypnosis, I would end the show by revealing a prediction.
After the last volunteer has made their decision, it’s normally a huge relief as at this point in the show I’m ahead of the audience, I know that the ending is correct and all that is left is for me to reveal the prediction and for the audience to go nuts.
However, one time stood on stage, I smugly walk over to the prediction ready to reveal all the hard work of the last hour psychologically pushing the audience to make certain decision, I take the prediction out, ready for the big finale only to realise I’d forgotten to write the prediction before the show.
When staring at a blank piece of paper in front of 200 people after hyping up what was about to happen with no way to wiggle out of it, it was embarrassing to say the least. I don’t think the audience bought, “well done! You all guessed correctly, I knew you’d do that.”
Who are your biggest inspirations in the industry and why?
I try and take inspiration from all genres of theatre and entertainment. Being a mind reader, I can’t not give a nod to Derren Brown who brought mind reading to TV and theatre in a way that revolutionised the industry.
Within Fringe I absolutely adore Paul Dabek, who sadly isn’t at Edinburgh this year, but his flawless showmanship and quick wit is what every performer should strive for and Tom Binns never fails to have me in stitches.
A show by Jakop Ahlbom called Horror is a recent inspiration. The show is terrifying and incredible, recreating famous horror movie scenes flawlessly on stage; from people crawling out of solid TVs to pictures spontaneously moving around the walls. It was so good, that both Sam and I flew to Berlin to catch it a second time.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Sam and I have a number of pre-show rituals. We adopted one after working with the Men with Coconuts, which is to wish each other a good show before we go on stage and repeat back to one another “this will be a great show”.
If we’re feeling in a more of a mischievous mood, Sam will often give me an unusual word to try and fit into the show to keep me on my toes, like ‘lettuce’. The goal is to try and fit whatever word it is into the show without the audience noticing… They get wild and weird and it’s always good fun. So, listen out in the show if I suddenly say something like ‘that’s great, lettuce begin.’
What other acts are you looking forward to seeing at Edinburgh Fringe?
I love seeing all kinds of acts at Fringe, they often spawn incredible ideas.
On the magic scene I’m most excited to see Sam Fitton’s show Dreamer, which fuses magic, theatre and special effects, and also Griffin & Jones, a dynamic comedy duo which are as spell-binding as they are hilarious.
In comedy I cannot wait to see Stephen Bailey, the hilarious gay agony aunt; Men with Coconuts, improv with style; Pattrick Monahan, who makes me laugh my socks off, and Spontaneous Potter, the latest iteration by the Spontaneous players.
I can’t recommend all of these guys enough, they’re great and I’ve watched them multiple times every year at Fringe. GO SEE THEM!
Why do you think people should come and see your show over the thousands of others on at the fringe?
I want my audience to leave with their own legends to tell. If you want to tell an amazing story people won’t believe and be able to turn around and say “I literally saw it happen”, Declassified is for you.
I can promise that audiences will see something so incredible they won’t want to clap, instead, they will sit in silence and gasp.
Most excitingly, they could be the volunteer who experiences the impossible feat on stage; you become the show and people leave talking about what you did.
Put simply, if you’ve ever heard a story you simply can’t believe… Then come and see Declassified. We have lots to talk about.