For his weekday-afternoon interview with New Times, mentalist Alan Chamo, AKA the M1ND H4CK3R, arrives at a restaurant in casual clothes: a T-shirt, shorts, and sandals. But Chamo is far busier than his attire indicates, for he immediately must take a business call. It’s clear he has a lot on his mind as he prepares to amaze and manipulate the minds of South Floridians.
By the end of this conversation, he will have wowed at least one skeptical reporter without the use of any smoke and mirrors, only with a Sharpie and Wikipedia.
A mentalist, according to Chamo, is “a magician that deals with things of the mind.” The Argentine-born Miami resident who was raised in Israel began performing at birthday parties as a teenager. His career spans the better part of 30 years; in that time, he has performed everywhere from cruise ships to in front of the Israeli army. In fact, it was the latter that prepared him for anything in the civilian world. The two years he spent doing magic during his mandatory service were some of the best of his life, he says, but it also wasn’t easy.
“Soldiers are a very tough crowd. They are not forgiving. They judge you the moment you come onstage. If they love you, they love you. But if not, they will bring you down.”
Hacking, at least in the computer world, is often associated with breaking into a restricted digital location. In the case of Chamo’s show, M1ND H4CK3R, it’s more entertaining if the audience invites him into their brains.
The bilingual performance combines comedy, hypnotism, and magic. Though there are no rabbits or lovely assistants being sawn in half, there are still plenty of awe-inspiring elements. With a runtime of 75 minutes, M1ND H4CK3R is truly a unique experience.
Hosted by the historic Colony Theatre in Miami Beach, the limited-run engagement is the definition of intimate, with only 150 seats set up directly onstage, placing the small audience only feet from Chamo. He says he wanted the setting to be in tight quarters so crowds could “see the action up close and participate if they want to.”
In other words, there is nowhere to hide — for either Chamo or his audience. That alone heightens not only the intrigue and the difficulty of what he’s attempting to accomplish but also drops any barriers between performer and viewer.
Though the framing of each night is the same, shows can be very different from one another due to ad-libbing and the mostly unscripted nature of the program. The “outcome is different,” Chamo explains. To say that M1ND H4CK3R is interactive undersells it; participation is a vital component.
Plus, Chamo has plenty of additional tricks up his sleeve — a few of them not ideal for his health.
“I do a very dangerous, life-threatening Russian roulette during the show,” he says, “that has nothing to do with hypnosis.” Instead of employing a gun, the traditional weapon of choice for this game of chance, Chamo will bring out “a huge spike, and I will use my head. Guns were too many permits,” he continues with a laugh. At a later point in the show, Chamo spends a full 12 minutes blindfolded by duct tape, just another ordinary hazard for a man who spends his evenings dazzling ordinary folks.
During the final few minutes of our chat, Chamo asks me to pull out my cell phone. It’s time for one of two tricks, which are one of the reasons we met in person as opposed to over the phone. This is a performance art, after all, and Chamo is happy to oblige.
“Go to Wikicount.net,” he says. I do. The front page tells us that as of this writing, there are more than 5 million articles on Wikipedia. Chamo is setting me up for a guessing game.
“Search for any word you want. Anything a normal person would know,” he continues. I look up "dragons."
Chamo's next command: “Find any word in the article that has six or seven letters.” I locate the word "effectively" after rejecting the word "numerous."
“Put the phone against your chest or close it.” I do. Then I accidentally give away that I had something on my mind about Sunday night.
“You were watching Game of Thrones,” he guesses correctly. “Something to do with dragons.” Well, damn.
Then, after staring at me for about 30 seconds and after first guessing a word starting with "n" — he’s in my head! — he says, “effectively.”
To be fair, Chamo uses a lot of the same techniques as a palm reader or a psychic. The main difference is that he will readily admit that fact and deny he has any so-called magical powers. His second trick, though? That’s the one that really baffles me.
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Chamo uses a Sharpie to draw an "x" on his left hand. Somehow he transfers that mark to my own left hand without my realizing it. In the process, the "x" completely disappears from his palm. Despite several washings, the mark remained on my hand through the following day.
Ultimately, there are two ways to react: insist on learning how he pulled these tricks off, or sit back and enjoy the rush of bewilderment and mystery. It’s the second attitude that will make M1ND H4CK3R all the more fun for audiences.
“That is the best approach. Just enjoy it,” he says. “Knowing just ruins it.”