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Theatrical Seance

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Theatrical Seance

A theatrical séance is an aspect of mentalism that purports to give its audiences the feeling of contacting the spirits of the dead, as in a successful Spiritualist seance.

Theatrical séances are usually performed in either total or partial darkness to replicate the atmosphere of a traditional seance, to set the mood for the performance, and to hide the methods of the performer. Performance-goers may be treated to a variety of mentalism demonstrations during a theatrical séance include examples of clairvoyance, ESP, precognition and telekinesis, in addition to or in preparation of apparent mediumship.

Popular examples of theatrical séances

Theatrical séances are very popular at Halloween and are often offered for fright value. Private magic cabarets may offer this type of performance, including:

The Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brooks Psychic Theater in Scranton Poconos offers theatrical séances year round. It is one of the longest running performances of its type having started in 2003. The Fall 2008 issue of the Pennsylvania Pursuits Magazine [1]put out by the Pennsylvania Tourism Office of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania picked Psychic Theater as one of the 10 most haunted places in Pennsylvania, placing it at number 9.

The Houdini Museum offers yearly séances geared specifically toward "contacting Houdini."

A Houdini seance has been presented by Neil Tobin]], Necromancer at Excalibur (a night club) annually since October 2001. This event is presented on behalf of the Chicago Assembly of the Society of American Magicians during the last week of October to commemorate the late magician's death; Houdini helped found the Chicago Assembly in 1919. [2]

A short theatrical seance also concludes Supernatural Chicago, a popular interactive theater show by Neil Tobin. It is currently in its seventh straight year of performances.[3]

Los Angeles' Magic Castle has a separate room dedicated to theatrical séances. [1] Their evening séance program entitled, "Demons" is a recreation of a Victorian-era séance replete with mediumistic staples such as table-rapping, slate writing, spirit photography, eerie inexplicable sounds and many other "psychic" experiments.

Ethics and legality

It should be pointed out that theatrical séances are not intended to be "real" séances and should only be seen as entertainment; hence the adjective, theatrical. According to Houdini, if the séance leader is honest and admits his trickery, he is a theatrical performer; if not, he is a charlatan and a fraud. [4] Ethically, a paying audience should be notified beforehand that they will be experiencing a work of interactive theater rather than an actual Spiritualist seance. Once the audience is inside the performance space, however, the performer's primary responsibility is to create a convincingly realistic theatrical experience, just as in other forms of theater. Additionally, the ambiguity of whether every manifestation is the result of deception or not may be part of the enjoyment that a theatrical seance provides.

Spiritualistic and mediumistic performers

  • Anna Eva Fay
  • Harry Kellar (With the Davenport Brothers and later in his own illusion shows)
  • Harry Houdini (prior to becoming a debunker of Spiritualist frauds)
  • Dick Brooks(co-creator and performer/Psychic Theater)
  • Dorothy Dietrich (co-creator and performer/Psychic Theater)
  • Neil Tobin, Necromancer (creator of Supernatural Chicago and Medium for The Houdini Seance at Excalibur


  1. Pursuits Magazine, Top 10 most Haunted Places Christen Gruebel Pennsylvania Tourism Office, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania 2008
  2. Houdini's Halloween from WGN-TV and Red Eye, October 28, 2005
  3. Haunting Tales Fill Late-Night Haunt from the Chicago Tribune, October 27, 2005.
  4. Houdini in The New York Times, Hints of Seances at White House