Rory Raven
Gig Seeker Pro

Rory Raven

Band Comedy

Calendar

This band hasn't logged any future gigs

This band hasn't logged any past gigs

This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos

Music

The best kept secret in music

Press


PROVIDENCE PHOENIX
OCTOBER 2004
By Alexander Provan

I ASK RORY Raven to show me what he does. He and I are sitting outside the Coffee Exchange on Providence’s Wickenden Street on a welcome clement day. His long, dark hair is pulled into a ponytail and creeps down his back. A black bowler hat is perched on his head. He wears spectacles, a gray bow tie with black dots, and a jacket with a white handkerchief in the breast pocket. A silver, hourglass-shaped pin a little smaller than his hand hangs from his lapel. He says it’s a replica of a grave rubbing he bought at a going-out-of-business sale at a local occult shop. An auburn goatee tinged with gray hairs covers the bottom of his face.

When he is preparing to perform, he seems to become slightly more serious, his features more focused.

"Think of a number," he says, "any number between one and 100."

Skeptical, I quickly pick a number, waiting for a protracted or circuitous attempt to guess it or find out what that number says about me. Raven asks me to look him in the eye and he scratches down a number on a piece of paper. "What number did you pick?"

I tell him I picked the number nine, and he asks why. "Because it was the first number that I thought of," I respond.

"Well," he says, suppressing a smile, "that’s the first number I thought of, also." He shows me the piece of paper, which has the number nine written on it.

Pleasantly stupefied, the only thing I can do is grin and utter, "Whoa."

Next, Raven suggests I think of someone’s name, someone whose face I can imagine, whose voice I can hear in my mind. I think of my sister, who I talked to an hour before, and look into Raven’s eyes. He asks me to go through the alphabet, explaining that he should be able to know when I say the first letter of that person’s name. I get to ‘O’ before he asks me to stop. "Now your eyes did this little twitching thing when you said ‘O’, so I’m guessing that’s the first letter." It was. I go through the alphabet again and Raven stops me after a few seconds and tells me the second letter is ‘L.’ It is. Then he recites the alphabet. "The third letter," he tells me, "is ‘I.’ " He recites the alphabet backward, stopping shortly after ‘V.’ "Olivia," he says. For the first time in a few minutes I look away from his bespectacled eyes and silently wonder how he’s doing this, and then wonder if he knows what I’m wondering.

RAVEN IS NOT a magician. He is a mentalist, which he defines as "a theatrical performer who does things that appear to be psychic."

He doesn’t like to call what
does ‘tricks’. He prefers to say that he reads minds. Or, to be more precise, he employs a variety of skills to produce an effect that seems like it could only be the result of psychic ability.

Raven is so skilled that, at his performances in Providence, audience members sometimes refuse to believe he is not actually psychic, or have a hard time disassociating what he does from what magicians do. Regardless of their belief that he is, indeed, reading their minds, Raven explains to audiences that any of his supernatural-seeming abilities are a result of years of practice, human observation, and psychological research. But, Raven acknowledges, this supernatural explanation is not as sexy, which "makes it hard to sell." If people are going to be mystified, they want to believe it’s the real thing — the inexplicable, the paranormal. In this sense, Raven is not the real thing.

In another sense, he definitely is the real deal. The gray area between ‘magician’ and ‘performer’ certainly resists definitions, and Raven, 34, is the first to admit that this causes some difficulties. "Either you’re not interesting enough or you’re too interesting," he laments, describing the tenuous middle ground between two stereotypes in his profession: the mundane performer and the off-the-wall, slightly demented psychic. But while Raven is no bona fide psychic and lacks the grandeur and intrigue associated with such characters, he is undoubtedly talented. In a profession dominated by jesters with magic cards and flamboyant illusionists, his matter-of-fact attitude toward his work is refreshing. He is not a trickster or an entertainer, not another "asshole in a tuxedo making bad jokes."

A LONGTIME PROVIDENCE-AREA resident, Raven has lived in and around the capital city for most of his life, spending his childhood in Rumford, Seekonk, and Barrington, where he attended St. Andrews High School. He now lives in Providence’s Armory District. He began experimenting with the psychic arts after receiving a magic set as a child. While sipping some coffee, he recalls one of the events that might have led him to the world of mentalism.

As a child, Rory had an ailment of some sort — he doesn’t remember exactly what. He recounts that, in his family, "The cure for this sort of ailment was to keep the child in a dark room for a few days." So young Rory was thrown in the basement. During that time, he remembers, "My sister sat in the room with me reading Poe with a flashlight. I think that’s what psychologists call a formative experience." He says this almost in passing, seemingly not struck by the inauspicious connotations of being locked by your parents in a dark basement with Edgar Allan Poe as your only solace. Besides this incident, his childhood was "pretty normal . . . nothing remarkable."

After graduating from high school, Raven attended Bard for a year, floated in and out of some Rhode Island colleges, eventually deciding not to finish school. In retrospect, he says he realized, "I don’t learn best in a classroom environment; I just wish I had figured that out before age 30 or so." Raven claims to be an autodidact, having acquired his skills as a mentalist by studying various elements of psychology, magic, human behavior, performance, and theater -- he was a theater kid in high school and college, which perhaps explains his persistence in acting a part and his enigmatic refusal to reveal his real name. He is also interested in parapsychology, a discipline that aims to investigate alleged paranormal activity in a scientific and unbiased way. The best known group in the field, the Society for Psychical Research, was started by a group of distinguished scholars in Cambridge in the late 19th century. Still existing in the margins of the scientific world, the group focuses on psychical research concerning exchanges between minds, or, according to its Web site, "between minds and environments which are not dealt with by current, orthodox science."
In his performances, which juxtapose demonstrations of mentalism with personal and professional history, Raven often tells the story of Washington Irving Bishop (1856-1889), a progenitor of mentalism. In a particularly impressive piece, Bishop told a person to hide a pin anywhere in New York City, promising to find it. When the person returned from hiding the pin, Bishop took him in a carriage and rode through the city, studying his reactions as they passed through various neighborhoods and buildings. When the carriage reached a certain hotel, Bishop jumped out, ran into the lobby, pulled up the carpet, and found the pin.

Raven gives other examples of the genealogy of his profession. In the 1930s, Joseph Banks Rhine coined the phrase "extrasensory perception" to replace the Victorian "psychical research," which, he felt, sounded a little too unscientific. He demonstrated how certain individuals could, in a preponderance of cases, predict or control the outcome when rolling a pair of dice; Raven notes that, as this was before Las Vegas, the experiment had tangible results.

He goes on to mention that Benjamin Franklin spent two years studying Dr. Franz Mesmer, from whom the term "mesmerize" is derived. The inventor concluded that what patients did under the hypnosis performed by Dr. Mesmer had more to do with their own imaginations than with the doctor’s abilities to manipulate them. Raven also recalls how, in the 1970s, it became popular for magicians to perform a trick in which they appeared to bend a spoon with their minds. In the course of a performance, Raven performs variations of all these "tricks," apparently reading thoughts, controlling or predicting the outcome of supposedly random events, manipulating hypnotized audience members, and even bending spoons.

He provides a brief history of mentalism to grant his own performance credibility since audience members used to goofy magicians or dramatic illusionists are often unsure of how to react to Raven. Though his performance comes from an intriguing, if obscure, tradition, the lack of actively performing mentalists these days makes it necessary, at every performance, to convince those audience members who initially roll their eyes and raise their eyebrows when faced with a bow-tied man named Raven who takes reading minds seriously. He has read minds across New England. But like most artists, Raven must supplement his income with a series of mundane day jobs.
I ask him how he responds when people contend that he is psychic, despite his protests to the contrary. "It is creepy," he says, "because there are folks who walk out of a performance thinking they’ve seen a genuine psychic." This response seems to almost offend Raven. It’s understandable that, after spending so much time studying, practicing, and cultivating his art, he would be upset when people refuse to believe that his skills are anything but intuitive.

Raven explains, modestly, "It’s just something I’ve done for a long time." Though he won’t reveal his secrets, he will say that observation plays a large role, as does attention to suggestion and non-verbal communication. Much of his seemingly psychic ability revolves around "knowing people react in certain ways," he says. "People are the same, but different." He was able to tell a great deal from the way I moved my eyes at certain moments, or the way the tone of my voice fluctuated when I said certain things.

The crowds for which Raven performs are, he says, all variations of the same human psychological composite, though he doesn’t believe that all people raise their eyes slightly when they are lying. Knowing that everyone is basically the same allows him to cater his routine to the various minds in attendance while maintaining the same basic methods of insight, observation, and perception. During these shows, Raven demonstrates what seem to be instances of telepathy, clairvoyance, and precognition by revealing the thoughts — usually names, dates, and places — of audience members. The audience can also expect a variety of other mind games and a "recreation of a classic Victorian séance piece," which I could not convince Raven to perform on the porch of the Coffee Exchange.

During a performance a few months back at AS220, before a sparse crowd of about 15 skeptics sitting at circular tables in front of the stage, Raven repeats the bit about being locked in a basement with Poe, emphasizing his connection with the fantastic, or, phantasmic, history of Providence literature (which also includes the horror writer H.P. Lovecraft): "From a strange childhood, I grew into a somewhat strange adult, too."

After performing a few perfunctory but impressive pieces for the dubious crowd, Raven approaches the audience member with the most persistent smirk, a man in his early 20s with slicked back hair and a thin gold necklace. The mentalist brushes his bowtie and introduces a deck of cards. Two minutes later, his concentration is visible in the form of beads of sweat trickling over his arched brow and slowly down his face. The man’s smirk turns into a slight smile as Raven presses his hands together and, one after another, identifies the nine cards the man had taken from the deck.

The man has one card left. "Another ace," Raven suggests, rubbing his hands against his temples. "Ace of spades?" The man holds up the ace of spades and, for the first time, the entire audience claps without reservation.

WHEN NOT PERFORMING, Raven acts as an amateur historian. Every weekend in October, for the past four years, Raven has led anxious believers, skeptics, tourists, and interested locals on a tour called "Providence Ghost Walks." After a few years of research, Raven has harvested a collection of ghost stories from the fertile city of Poe and Lovecraft, and he recounts past and present hauntings and paranormal events around Benefit Street (More information can be found at www.roryraven.com). One of the most memorable tales for Raven involves numerous sightings of two phantom women mourning their own deaths from the porch of the Benefit Street house where, more than a century ago, they were consumed by fire.

So does Raven believe in the paranormal, after all? He says he finds ghosts "interesting as a social phenomenon more than a psychic phenomenon . . . I believe in haunted people more than haunted houses."

He says a woman pulled him aside after a tour and claimed that she had once seen the same specter of a horse and carriage Raven had described as floating down Benefit Street on foggy nights. And though this sort of connection with audience members resonates with Raven, he still treats the matter of the paranormal ironically. Asked if he’s ever seen one of the ghosts described in his stories, he answers in an offhanded manner, "I never have. And that’s just fine with me. I don’t need to see a ghost . . . if you’re dead, please leave me alone."

As we finish our coffee, Raven recalls some memorable performances. He recounts the time he performed for students at MIT. "There’s something kind of fun," he says humbly, "about being a college dropout and fooling people at MIT." I wonder what the students at MIT thought of Raven, what he means by "fooling," and how to understand what Raven has just tried to explain. As if on cue, Raven reads my mind again. "My goal," he says, "if I have one, is to have people walking out of a performance wondering, ‘What the hell did I just see?’ "


- Providence Phoenix


"We here at MIT would like to thank you for your performance of Hallowe'en weekend. The audience had a wonderful time and thoroughly enjoyed your performance. I have heard nothing but good comments about the event."
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

"Spend two hours with Rory Raven, and you'll have a mind-reading, spoon-bending good time."
The Newport Daily News

"Being the mentalist extrodinaire that you are, you probably already knew that this great big thank you was coming your way ... Your commitment and dedication to Trinity and the entire evening helped create a truly fabulous party. We couldn't have done it without you."
Trinity Repertory Company

"Highly entertaining, funny, and clever. I kept asking myself how he did it. Penn and Teller, Kreskin, and Uri Geller all rolled into one. Just don't have soup with him -- it's tough to enjoy chicken and rice with a bent spoon."
Charlie Hall, The Ocean State Follies

"Just wanted to send a note to say 'thank you' for superb performance yesterday! The students really enjoyed the show and were still talking about it hours later. We look forward to having you entertain here again!"
Middlesex Community College

"I just wanted to pass on kudos from many of our guests for your work ... Everyone was blown away! I was also very impressed by your professionalism and ability to work the crowd—it was a fun evening and I’m so glad you could be a part of it!"
Saint Andrew's School

"Thank you for a great show! People are still talking about it."
The Griffen Theatre

"A great show"
The Narrows Center for the Arts

"Thank you for your wonderful performance at Norwalk Community College's Leadership Weekend ... Your performance was fantastic and a lot of fun. The students were truly amazed and had a great time trying to analyze how you might be doing the illusions. I heard them talk about your performance for days after the conference ... It was great meeting you and I look forward to working with you on future events."
Norwalk Community College
- Various


Discography

Not a discography, but a list of clients and venues:

The Blackstone River Theatre, Cumberland, RI
Bright Night, Providence, RI
Bristol Community College, Fall River, MA
Catch A Rising Star, Lincoln, RI
Cazenovia College, Cazenovia, NY
Emerson College, Boston, MA
Firehouse Theater, Newport, RI
First Night Providence , RI
Griffen Theatre, Salem, MA
Guilford College, Greensboro, NC
Hawthorne Hotel, Salem, MA
Husson College, Bangor, ME
Johnson and Wales University, Providence, RI
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA
Merrimack College, North Andover, MA
Middlesex Community College, Middletown, CT
The Narrows Center for the Arts, Fall River, MA
New Hampshire Community Technical College, Manchester, NH
Nightmare Productions, Newport, RI
Norwalk Community College, Norwalk, CT
Paul Smith's College, Paul Smiths, NY
Perishable Theatre, Providence, RI
Potomac State College, Keyser, WV
Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI
Rhode Island Committee of the Humanities, Providence, RI
Saint Joseph College, East Hartford, CT
Salem Haunted Happenings, Salem, MA
Sphinx Club, Brown University, Providence, RI
Stitches Komedy Kafe, Providence, RI
Trinity Repertory Company, Providence, RI
University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH
University of Southern Maine, Gorham, ME
WaterFire, Providence, RI
The Westerly Armory, Westerly, RI
Western New England College, Springfield, MA
Wheaton College, Norton, MA
The Winnipesaukee Playhouse, Laconia, NH
Yeshiva University, New York, NY

"We here at MIT would like to thank you for your performance of Hallowe'en weekend. The audience had a wonderful time and thoroughly enjoyed your performance. I have heard nothing but good comments about the event."
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

"Spend two hours with Rory Raven, and you'll have a mind-reading, spoon-bending good time."
The Newport Daily News

"Being the mentalist extrodinaire that you are, you probably already knew that this great big thank you was coming your way ... Your commitment and dedication to Trinity and the entire evening helped create a truly fabulous party. We couldn't have done it without you."
Trinity Repertory Company

"Highly entertaining, funny, and clever. I kept asking myself how he did it. Penn and Teller, Kreskin, and Uri Geller all rolled into one. Just don't have soup with him -- it's tough to enjoy chicken and rice with a bent spoon."
Charlie Hall, The Ocean State Follies

"Just wanted to send a note to say 'thank you' for superb performance yesterday! The students really enjoyed the show and were still talking about it hours later. We look forward to having you entertain here again!"
Middlesex Community College

"I just wanted to pass on kudos from many of our guests for your work ... Everyone was blown away! I was also very impressed by your professionalism and ability to work the crowd—it was a fun evening and I’m so glad you could be a part of it!"
Saint Andrew's School

"Thank you for a great show! People are still talking about it."
The Griffen Theatre

"A great show"
The Narrows Center for the Arts

"Thank you for your wonderful performance at Norwalk Community College's Leadership Weekend ... Your performance was fantastic and a lot of fun. The students were truly amazed and had a great time trying to analyze how you might be doing the illusions. I heard them talk about your performance for days after the conference ... It was great meeting you and I look forward to working with you on future events."
Norwalk Community College

Photos

Bio

When I was a child, sick in bed, my sister read me Edgar Allan Poe by flashlight. It's no wonder I ended up being a bit ... different.

A lifelong interest in the Strange led me to create a show based on theater, psychology, showmanship, and parapsychology.

Neither a psychic nor a magician, I will read your mind, I will bend your spoon, describe your prized posessions while blindfolded, and leave you talking about it for the rest of your life.

A clip of me in action may be found on youtube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qe9O7Tzvf1w

Get in touch with me and we'll talk about bending your audience's minds!