You say you've never been hypnotized? Can't be hypnotized? Au contraire, says Winters, who claims people unknowingly undergo hypnosis on a daily basis. A long car drive or hours in front of a computer are just a couple examples of everyday hypnosis.
You guys get hypnotized when you're daydreaming, he told the Pause audience. It happens 20 times a day.
For people who wanted a more significant hypnosis experience, Winters' show was the place to be. He invited 18 audience members to the stage, where for nearly two hours they succumbed to the subconscious. At the beginning of the show, Winters defined hypnosis as a process of slowing down the busy part of the brain, the active part of the brain. He emphasized his inability to control the behavior of hypnotized participants. I can't control a single person, he said. I only give suggestions.
And suggest he did. Winters took hypnotized participants to the beach, to a petting zoo and on a roller coaster. In a particularly memorable scene, he invited participants to attend a party celebrating their 200th birthdays. As participants sat with eyes closed, slumped over each other in an arc of chairs, Winters suggested away. You guys are ancient, he told the group. You guys are so wickedly old.
When they opened their eyes, participants had no shortage of answers to Winters' questions about their age. How did they get to be so old? I didn't die, said one participant. Did they have any words of wisdom for youngsters? Say no to crack, one person replied. Don't pee in the wind, said another.
Throughout the evening, participants laid eggs, performed in an opera, turned into animals and lost their clothes at least, they thought they did all to the delight of the audience.
Winters did not learn hypnosis after joining the circus and studying with a snaggle-toothed, crystal ball-wielding old woman. While that is a tempting story to tell, Winters' normalcy is much more interesting. Winters is a graduate of Northwestern University. When a hypnotist came to campus his freshman year, Winters was so fascinated by the show that he later contacted the hypnotist, a man who would mentor him for four years. When Winters worked as a tennis instructor at a resort during summers, he put on shows for guests. He later worked in clinical hypnosis until he discovered the college niche.
I just picked up some shows on the side for extra money, not realizing there was a huge campus market, he said.
Winters, named 2006 Campus Entertainer of the Year by Campus Activities Magazine, also does shows for corporations. Yet he said he finds college students to be the most enthusiastic participants. Their willingness just guides them into this fantasy world, he said.
After 25 years in the business, Winters said he still doesn't know what to expect from show to show. Every show people say things I've never heard in my life and I wonder where they come up with these things, he said. In past shows, Winters has been slapped and spit on by hypnotized participants. At the Pause event, someone doused Winters with a bit of his own bottled water.
A question plaguing every hypnotist show is whether or not participants are actually hypnotized or are simply playing along for laughs. Of course, no Oles confessed any pretending, at least not to this writer. Was Stephen Anderson '09 really hypnotized? Completely, completely, he said. Anderson said he remembered certain points in the show like when his leg got stuck in a chair but he didn't recall why those incidents happened.
Jonathon Mahnke '10 said he couldn't believe he was onstage for two hours. I knew what I was doing but I didn't care, he said.
After the show, audience members had the opportunity to purchase hynosis-inducing CDs. Created by Winters, they tackled issues ranging from learing better study habits to losing weight and building confidence.
Even after many years in the business, Winters remains excited about his profession. Im one of the old dogs now, he said. But I love it.