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Mind-Blowing Magic: A Q&A with ‘Paranormal’ Mentalist Frederic Da Silva

Category General

|by Heather Turk |

Vegas’s top mentalist talks mind magic

There may be several mind-blowing magic shows in Las Vegas, but Frederic Da Silva puts on one of the Strip’s best magic shows using nothing more than his jaw-dropping talent and a few people’s minds.

A staple at Bally’s Las Vegas for the past six years, the French-born mentalist’s hit afternoon show Paranormal – Mind Reading Magic is guaranteed to leave audiences in awe. During the mesmerizing production, Da Silva reads the minds of several volunteers, successfully guessing everything from the time they’re thinking of to the random word they’ve chosen on a page of a book. While people are picked at random by catching objects tossed into the air, for those who question Da Silva’s mind-reading abilities and somehow still think his volunteers are plants, he will tell each audience member who comes to his free post-show meet and greet the number they’re thinking of between 1 and 100 to prove he’s the real deal.

Frederic Da Silva wows guests with his mentalism magic Friday-Tuesday at Bally’s (Photo: Paranomal Mind Reading Magic)

Frederic Da Silva wows guests with his mentalism magic Friday-Tuesday at Bally’s (Photo: Paranomal Mind Reading Magic)

Since not everyone can read minds, however, caught up with the mystifying mentalist after one of his shows to talk about Paranormal’s success, his mind-boggling talent and his quest to leave the “small, small city” he grew up in outside of Lyon to perform in the Entertainment Capital of the World.

I know you’re from France, but I read online that you had your heart set on performing in Las Vegas for a long time. How old were you when Las Vegas entered your radar, and what was it about the city that made you want to perform here?
Frederic Da Silva:
When I was 18, my family put some money together to give me a trip. They offered me a trip to Vegas, and I remember when I came here, I was just amazed. I knew that this would be something that would stay in my mind forever. That simple idea, that this is the place that I wanted to live and perform, stayed (with me) for the next 15 years almost, ’cause I got my first show in Vegas when I was 30. So, it took me 12 years to be able to find a way to actually open my show here.

You see a lot of magic shows in Las Vegas, but not as many mentalism productions. It seems to me people are more open to seeing a magician than a mentalist. Why do you think people are so hesitant to see a mentalism show?
Frederic Da Silva:
I think that there are still a lot of mysteries about the world that we are unsure of. There are still a lot of things that people don’t know (whether) they want to believe in them or not. Sometimes people say seeing is believing, so they want to see what the show will be about. That’s why I take incredible effort in choosing people the most random way I can find. We throw frisbees in the audience. We have books and people pass the books and then someone will stay stop and the person who has the book will come onstage. We throw balloons in the audience. We throw the (stuffed) elephant like four times, then we have people scream for the volunteer they want to come see onstage. I had to be able to create a show that could be done with anybody to prove that that person is not a stooge. The way I select people randomly throughout the show is something very, very important and that gives the credibility that there’s something impossible to understand happening, (and) it’s not about who is coming onstage.

One thing I really like about ‘Paranormal – Mind Reading Magic’ is that you have the word ‘magic’ in the show’s title. Was that intentional to kind of put people’s minds at ease and remind them that mentalism is just another form of magic and not some sort of voodoo?
Frederic Da Silva:
Yes, absolutely. First of all, the word mentalism, it’s basically mental magic. It is a kind of magic. Nothing appears or disappears, I don’t do sleight of hand, there (are) no birds coming from my sleeves, I don’t cut assistants in half, I don’t disappear to reappear, so I couldn’t just say it was a magic show because it’s obviously not what people expect. Mentalism is kind of obscure, people don’t really know what it is, so I came up with the three words – ‘mind reading magic’ – (so that) people really understand exactly what the show is about. Also, people aren’t looking for a mentalist, but they’re used to seeing magic shows in Las Vegas. So, I want to tell them this is a completely different kind of magic.

What was it that first got you interested in magic? Or were you interested in reading people’s minds first?
Frederic Da Silva:
Well, I didn’t know what mentalism was when I started. I was 5 and basically was given a magic box for Christmas. I believed a lot in Santa Claus – (here) was this guy that we don’t know if he exists or not, but he could listen to you. He knows what’s in your mind, so he would know better than myself what the best gift would be (for me). So, when I opened that magic box, I believed as a child that that guy that I loved so much, that I had so much passion for, was somehow watching me and choosing me to become special and different than other children. That belief was strong enough to help me to go through difficulties, and work hard to make it work. So I kind of learned magic, but mental magic was always what I loved – to be able to do predictions and be able to do tricks without props. I was not good at sleight of hand, I didn’t like big props because I thought if maybe another magician comes with the same prop they’d be able to do the same thing, so I wanted to do something that really takes time, and that I know is not that easy to do, so the act can’t be stolen.

You perform a lot of amazing tricks during your show. Is there one trick in particular that’s a favorite that you always try to work into a performance?
Frederic Da Silva:
The first act that I do with the envelopes, (where) I guess the name and (do) the watch routine and (use) the dictionary, is a very important routine for me because I made a lot of competitions with that routine. That was the first time that I won a prize in Europe for Best European Mentalist – the Golden Nostradamus Award (at Nostradamus d’Or in 2010). I started to go to competitions during the French Championships of Magic and Mental Magic, then Europe (which Da Silva won in 2011) and then I came to the World Championships of Magic with this act. I had the title (of Best European Mentalist at Nostradamus d’Or) for two years, and after two years if I wanted to keep the title I had to go back to (the) competition and (in 2012) I won again. I came up with the routine, which is the finale of the show – that prediction, the dream of the gentleman (where) we create a story with the audience. So these two routines are kind of routines that made my reputation in the professional environment. I think the invisible touch routine, where I touch someone and the other person feels the touch, is still something so different than the rest of the show, that it’s a very special routine, too. So, I like that one.

At this point in your career, I’m sure you’re used to everyone always being amazed by your talents, but has there ever been a volunteer reaction that caught you off guard? 
Frederic Da Silva:
I was doing more hypnotism at the time, when you ask people to sleep and they immediately go back to a kind of trance. One day, for the finale of the show, I had someone pass out onstage. But I didn’t ask him to sleep. I could tell that there was an emergency right there, but no one in the show was reacting. I had to say, ‘This is not a part of the show, this is an emergency.’ It was shocking for me because I understood people were not reacting ’cause they thought I was just putting him to sleep and I knew that that guy was in trouble, so we had to stop the show and call for emergency. Then the guy was smiling and we could end the show, but we had to stop for maybe 30 minutes.

Do you ever put your skills to work offstage, outside of the post-show meet and greet?
Frederic Da Silva:
No. I’m very shy. I don’t show off. When I leave the theater, I have a cap on and I’m short, so if I look at my phone people don’t even see my face. I don’t want to be recognized. I don’t go to the red carpets. I don’t go to events. I’m not interested in that side of the business.

I know what you do obviously involves some sort of magic, but it seems to me that at least the ability you have to read other people’s body language so well could be used by others to help them in their respective career fields. Could your skills be used to help others, like police officers or judges, find out if someone is telling the truth or not?
Frederic Da Silva:
Well, it’s what the TV series The Mentalist actually shows. I don’t have TV at home, but I’ve watched it once or twice. I do not want to do that because it’s not a responsibility I want to take. Also, I don’t give people advice for their life because I don’t want to tell you you should break up with your boyfriend. Things can go wrong. It’s not an exact science. So I would not say, ‘I think this guy is guilty.’ First of all, if he knows the techniques that I know, he can probably fool me. When you have to make an important decision like that, I would not do that. I’ve been asked to help politicians convince people (of certain things) and I’m not comfortable with the idea.

That’s why I do a show: so it’s fun, and it’s like I’m honest with my dishonesty. It’s a game. People play along, but they know what I’m doing so everybody is comfortable with this. But you can’t destroy the magic too much. It will be like saying to children that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. When you watch a movie, there’s not something that constantly says, ‘Remember, this isn’t true. This story is not true. We’re just making this up.’ You understand that this is Vegas, people clap, there’s music, there’s sounds. I mean, it’s a performer onstage. He’s doing a show. I’m not selling anything afterwards. My goal is to make it as believable as it can be because that’s my job. My job is to make it look real. When David Copperfield flies, he’s not saying, ‘By the way, remember, this might be strings or magnets or whatever.’

Las Vegas is obviously a very competitive market for shows, and not only is your show in the afternoon, but it’s also kind of hidden upstairs. What do you credit its success to?
Frederic Da Silva:
It’s word of mouth and it’s customer service. I’m fascinated with the idea to find out what people love and created this for them. I almost do the same act every time, but I like to perfect things. It’s obviously not the first time that I’ve seen the show, but I’m as excited every day as I was the day before because I believe that at some point it becomes second nature and you’re just doing this the best way that you’ve never done before. The fact that I meet with people at the end of the show and I tell them I can guess almost anything you want – if it’s too complicated, wait until I’m finished taking pictures with everybody and I’ll try. I’m capable to do off of the stage what I do onstage, and that’s something that surprises people because they think that when you leave the theater, you’re not in your environment. You’re not capable (of doing it) anymore. It has nothing to do with the show. There’s no hidden cameras, there’s no earpiece, there’s no electronics, there’s no screens I’m looking at. So I’m comfortable in doing almost anything any time after the show. I want to take advantage of this for these people who still believe the people are stooges in the show – to show them one by one, if needed. I’ll do the same effect 200 times every day and I ask people to spread the word to their friends if they like the show. We’ve been here for six years. It’s the longest show at Bally’s, so I guess we’re doing well.

I know you’re not the only mentalist in town. How would you say ‘Paranormal’ compares to the other mentalism productions in Las Vegas?
Frederic Da Silva:
I think there’s two other mentalists. I know Gerry (McCambridge) because he was performing here before me. The production is definitely different, and I believe it’s not the same acts, either. Gerry does a blindfold routine (as does Da Silva), but he asks people to write down information before the show so then he can’t select people randomly. He just calls them. So you can’t prove that these people are not part of the show. Also, I do not want to do any kind of pre-show, so I wouldn’t ask people to fill information out and then tell them what they’ve been asked to write down before the show. He has his act and I have my act. He does a dangerous act, actually – it’s a game or something like that that I would never do; I’m not brave enough. I think we have completely different personalities. I mean, Céline Dion doesn’t put Britney Spears in trouble.

I hope that after six years, people that come see Paranormal come to see me and not because they chose a random show. Because when I started the show I was not selling tickets at all. I remember the first week I sold, I don’t know if it was four or six tickets the entire week. It’s very, very hard. And today we’re the number one afternoon selling show in Las Vegas with an average of 180, 200, 250 tickets. I don’t do (any) more marketing than I was, I think it’s just people now know what Paranormal is and they don’t come here by accident. And when you think about it, when was the last time that you went to a restaurant because you saw a billboard? You just go to a restaurant because someone (brought) you (there) once maybe, or you went by accident and you love it.

It’s a struggle at the beginning for every show. That’s why I think more than 90 percent of the shows that open end up closing after one month, three months or six months. But you have to do something that people love. I don’t want to do my favorite act or the one that I’m the most proud about, I want to do what is the favorite for the audience. So, you have to figure out what people love. Sometimes just spending millions of dollars on the scenery, people don’t care. You have to entertain them. It can be beautiful and boring. When you see a dancer or an acrobat, people don’t really realize if it takes 20 years of work or if it’s something your little daughter can do if she takes classes or gymnastics after two months or two years. It’s tough to do something that people are definitely impressed (by), that’s why I came up with something that you don’t know how it’s possible to do it, so you don’t know if it’s easy for the guy. Did he work more than everybody else? Is it a trick? But in that case, it’s the most amazing trick ever because you don’t even know what to start with to have the beginning of an explanation. So I guess we find out a different way to make people go ‘Wow!’ and not just ‘Okay.’ It looks like it’s something you cannot learn and that’s what the beauty of the show is about. It looks extremely easy, which it is – it is the easiest thing for me to do. I promise that dedicate every minute of my life perfecting this until it looks like there’s no technique, there’s no trick, there’s just nothing. You just know everything.

We talked earlier about you wanting to have your own show in Las Vegas, but can you talk more about how long it took you to realize that dream?
Frederic Da Silva:
For 12 years I was coming here every month. I was doing shows in France, getting enough money to book a flight to come to Vegas, knock on people’s doors at the theaters. For 12 years people told me “No,” but I knew that this would happen. I never gave up, and I thought it was strange that these people didn’t know that one day I (would) have my show here. So I spent all the money that I had buying flights to come over here. I remember at that time at Caesars Palace there was grass in front of the building, and sometimes I’d arrive late and I’d just sleep on the grass so I could save one night. I’d wake up the next day with my luggage and say, ‘Well, this time I’ll have seven days instead of six.’ But it’s so hard. People (would) tell me, “You need millions of dollars to have a show in Las Vegas.” It was at the beginning of Cirque du Soleil and David Copperfield, these multi-million-dollar productions. That’s why I wanted to do a show with no props, ’cause I knew that if I was doing regular magic, one guy with millions of dollars would just buy the biggest (prop). I mean, you make one elephant appear and the other guys makes two of them (appear). Then you make a car appear and maybe a guy makes a helicopter appear. It never ends, and at some point the show is not profitable anymore. Even if you’re sold out, the production is just ridiculous.

I saw another interview you did online with the Las Vegas Review-Journal talking about your Las Vegas penthouse and all of the cool Vegas-themed items you have in it. Clearly you still really love the city.
Frederic Da Silva:
All my life. I can’t really understand why, but I had two emotional shocks (in my life). When I was five, it was the magic box. I knew that I would spend the rest of my life doing this. I knew. I can’t explain how, but I knew. And the second was when I came to Vegas. I knew that that was it and I would not (stop) until I would have my show in Vegas. It’s like an obsession. Then you’re putting so much effort that you realize if this is not going to happen, I would have wasted my entire life hoping for a pipe dream, something that will never happen. I feel very blessed that today I am able to live my dream. So that penthouse I decorated with a lot of passion, with drapes that are not for sale because they were in some casino at some time and chairs that you can’t find for sale because they were at some point in a casino at some time. I like beautiful things that have a history, and that you can’t find. I think I like the hard way to do things. I love things. I love objects, I love fabrics, I love decorations, I love my audience, I love to do (my show) every day and I love the idea to make it better every day. I still rehearse four hours every single week, 51 weeks a year, for six years. We’re still doing the same show, we’re just improving tiny things.

There’s no doubt you’ve worked hard to debut this show in the entertainment capital of the world. But with so many other shows for our readers to choose from, if they only have the time or money to see one show during their Las Vegas vacation, why should they see Paranormal – Mind Reading Magic at Bally’s Las Vegas?
Frederic Da Silva:
It is, from what I read from the reviews and I encourage people to read reviews, it’s not just an hour-and-a-half of entertainment. It’s the memory. It’s the thing that (people) will talk about weeks and weeks and years after that. “One day, I went to Vegas and I saw a guy who asked me, ‘Think of a number from 1 and 100.’ I thought of 32 and he wrote down 32 on a piece of paper. I will never, never forget that. We’ve seen a lot of stuff, a lot of big shows, big productions, but this is something that I will remember for the rest of my life. I have no idea how in the world he did that.” It’s a very beautiful memory, and it opens the world to so many possibilities or whatever you want to believe. If this (mind reading) is true – and it looks true – it changes the perception of everything.

Paranormal – Mind Reading Magic performs inside the Windows Showroom at Bally’s Las Vegas Friday through Tuesday at 4pm (dark Aug. 17-21). Buy your tickets on and save $29 on VIP seating, $26 on premium seating and $22 on general reserved seating!

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