Get the best training possible — Find mentors that are willing to share their wisdom and knowledge with you. In my acting days one of the most influential experiences I had was taking an “Actor as Director” class from the legendary George C. Scott. Mr. Scott was so knowledgeable and an inspiring teacher. The class was in a venue with a movie theater screen and so Mr. Scott showed scenes from his own films as illustrations of what he was teaching. Although he was a larger than life persona, George was a kind and humble man who was passionate about sharing his craft and passing it on to the next generation.
As a part of our series about creating a successful career in theatre, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Michael Mezmer.
Named a “Top Professional” by the entertainment director of Universal Studios Hollywood, and “One of the World’s Top Hypnotists” by NBC TV, Michael is a highly respected professional in the entertainment industry. He has presented his “TranceNosis” Comedy Hypnosis and “DangerMagik” shows before standing room only audiences in 24 countries worldwide, including major amusement parks, casinos, cruise lines, and on national television, in addition to having been honored to present command performances for princesses, presidents, and superstars of entertainment including the legendary Michael Jackson. Michael has received numerous awards including special awards from the Rocky Mountain Fairs Association and from the Society of American Magicians. In addition, Michael is an award winning author whose articles have been seen in national publications, and this year marks the release of Michael’s first book, Ghost Trancer: A Hypnotist Among the Spirits, published by Fayetteville Mafia Press which is all about Michael’s adventures as a ghost hunter.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in southern California during the silver age of entertainment. The 1960’s and 1970’s were a transitional time where the golden age stars were still working and the next generation were making their mark on the industry. Although my mom and dad were not in the entertainment industry, they both really loved shows and entertainers. We lived just a short four-hour drive from Las Vegas and a brief hour from Hollywood. Dad was the top Chevy salesman west of the Mississippi for many years, and he sold cars to many entertainment industry people, both in Hollywood and Vegas. Because of my dad’s business connections, as a youth I was able to go to tapings of TV shows that starred some of the greats in the business. In regards to Vegas, I watched performances of the giants of entertainment. Another aspect from the show business perspective of my upbringing was that my oldest brother Laverne, who is 20 years older than me, was a professional drummer who played for acts like Chubby Checker and Little Richard. He also had his own band that had a number one hit and played in Vegas. My second older brother Walter, who is ten years my senior, became a Broadway star. He was nominated for a Tony Award and is a Theater World Award Winner. So, although I was not born in a trunk in a theater, I did grow up in a magical theater and show business environment.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Growing up around the business led me, at a very early age, to the realization that it was what I wanted to do with my life. With my brother Walter’s help I started out at age five in a community theater production of Gypsy. After performing several community theater musicals I landed my first professional paid show in a production of Wizard of Oz. The show starred the lovely and talented Connie Stevens. I was just seven years old, and was cast as a member of the Lollipop Guild. An interesting point is that the production was staged at the Carousel Theater in Covina, California. It was a theater in the round, and for me, as a seven year old, the blocking was a little confusing and led to some funny moments. A highlight of the experience was that every night after the performances, Connie gave out a Best Performer award to one of the Munchkin kids in the cast. One night I won the award, she had me sit in her lap, and take a photo. She also gave me a soap-on- a-rope and a Beatles single of “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Even at my young age I realized how beautiful Connie was, and performing with her and the other pros on the big stage was an incredible experience. I really think that was the start of my dream of becoming an entertainer. Beyond that experience, the dream continued to be cultivated through being part of my brothers’ lives in show business and the inspiration of meeting, and watching the great stars. One of my most impactful and life changing moments of meeting stars was at age five when my brother Walter and I met the legendary Judy Garland. Later that night we watched her performance where she dedicated a song to my brother. Judy was arguably the greatest live performer of all time and was very kind to two young kids that day, inspiring us both to become show business professionals.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are truly so many people both in and out of the entertainment industry who have contributed to my successful career. Having the opportunity to watch my brother Walter rehearse and work with legends like Bob Fosse, Leonard Bernstein, and Richard Rodgers was, without a doubt, a singularly unique and priceless education in the business. I will always be thankful to my brother for being kind enough to include his kid brother in his world. On the personal side, the women in my life have all been so important: my mom Freda, my first wife Kay, my current wonderful wife Susie, and my amazing daughter Ilia have all been critical in making me believe that there is nothing I can’t achieve. From another standpoint there are two words in “show business” and it is the second word “business” that is critical in many ways to my success. My dad “Willie” taught me everything I know about business and being a good salesperson. I like to call his method the “The Art of Selling Without Selling,” it has been a powerful tool.
You probably have a lot of fascinating experiences. Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I have been blessed with a multi-decades career and, as you may imagine, have had so many fascinating experiences that are indelibly etched in my memories: from performing for Princess Grace and Michael Jackson to hypnotizing a four star general; from starring on major cruise lines to appearing in Las Vegas casinos; from entertaining at Disneyland to presenting magic on the Great Wall of China; from meeting John Lennon to working with Robert DeNiro. But actually some of my most fascinating times have happened off stage while on the road, as I’ve toured to 25 countries around the world. I have experienced not only incredible and exotic live performances of all kinds that westerners rarely see, but also met the people of the various countries and learned about their lives and cultures. Being a “stranger in a strange land” was not only fascinating, but also truly broadened my ability to communicate through my live performances with a wide range of audiences, and do it in a way that would not be possible to have learned any other way. In the past few years I have started ghost hunting. It has been a fascinating journey into the unknown and a very interesting thing to do while on tour and late at night after performances. Along with my wife Susie I have experienced almost unbelievable communication with the spirit realm that would seem a work of fiction to most. I can tell you as William Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
An interesting question. First, for me, I have grown to believe that we do not make “mistakes,” and that everything that we do is a learning experience. “Mistakes” are essentially a lack of experience expressing itself at an inopportune moment in time. If you are honest with yourself and critically analyze those moments, you will more rapidly learn how to perfect your performance skills and abilities. In regards to a funny mistake, I can’t recall one, as none were particularly funny to me, but I do remember a “mistake” that was funny to the audience. I was a very young 16 year old performer and was appearing in a Purim show for a Jewish Temple. The show was during the day, but the theater windows were covered and the venue was blacked out as if it were night time. My show was going well and the audience was amazed at my illusions. Near the end of my show I was presenting the classic “Blackstone floating light bulb.” While I will not expose the secret of the magic directly, I will tell you it requires the stage and venue to be blacked out with only the bulb itself lighting the act. There was a Rabbi in the back of the audience who was not remotely interested in my show, and had been in fairly loud talks with people throughout the performance. Right in the middle of the “floating light bulb” the Rabbi decided to leave the venue — whether it was out of ignorance or on purpose I will never know — but he opened the door and the bright daylight permeated the room and stage. I was floating the bulb directly in front of me and the daylight totally exposed the methodology to the entire audience. At first the audience filled mostly with children and young people were silent, but then they quickly erupted in laughter. The bulb was not my finale and so I simply had to ignore the moment and move on to the rest of the show. It was more than just an embarrassing moment, it was the moment when I instantly went, in the eyes of the audience, from being a real life wizard to being just a trickster. Of course I didn’t actually make a mistake, the Rabbi created one for me. The lesson I learned that day was to always lock the theater doors. Of course I say that jokingly, but I swore to myself I would never let a situation like that happen again, so to this day I only do material that is bullet proof in any situation.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Currently I have an incredible tour schedule for the coming year. I will be performing over 300 performances in multiple states of my award winning “TranceNosis” comedy hypnosis show and “DangerMagik” magic phenomena show. This year I will also be celebrating 30 year anniversaries at three different venues, and at one of them I will reach my 300th performance. I think though, I am most excited about the release of my new book. Entitled Ghost Trancer: A Hypnotist Among the Spirits, the book is all about my real life experiences encountering the supernatural as a ghost hunter. The book is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other major book outlets.
You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of rejection, lack of support, or failure?
First and most importantly there is only one person you have to compete with and that is yourself. To keep my skills sharp I often enter in performance competitions. I do it as a way to not become complacent and to keep the “Eye of the Tiger.” Always comparing yourself to other entertainers is a useless endeavor as your strengths will always be as unique to you as will theirs be to them. As a performer you must always strive to be the best that you can be and that will ultimately be enough. I will always remember a story I heard from Clint Eastwood that he told about the fact that both he and Burt Reynolds were fired off the Universal lot on the same day and they were both told they had no future in the film industry. It was not too long after that day that they both became the biggest film stars in the world. The thing to remember is, as long as you don’t give up, your dream lives on. Others cannot make you feel negative about you and your work unless you allow them to. A saying that has always been a constant inspiration in my career comes from the Rocky films, where Rocky Balboa says: “One step at a time, one punch at a time, one round at a time, that’s how winning is done.”
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in the live performance industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
As much as we may have a burning passion and a love for our art as performers, it is critical to place importance on equally spending time developing our private lives. Although being a performer is deeply fulfilling on many levels it can be a “demanding lover,” but in the end it does not love you in return. Succeeding in our business is much like these lyrics sung by the character Maria from the brilliant Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Sound of Music, “A dream that will need all the love you can give, every day of your life for as long as you live.” Having said that, living a full life with good personal relationships, hobbies, and caring for others’ needs beyond our own — all these aspects will give you a solid base to stand on and something to cling to during the challenging times in our business. A career in show business is much like walking on a tightrope in that you must find your life’s balance to reach a successful finale.
Thank you for all that. This is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career in Broadway, Theater or Live Performances” and why? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
1. Get the best training possible
Find mentors that are willing to share their wisdom and knowledge with you. In my acting days one of the most influential experiences I had was taking an “Actor as Director” class from the legendary George C. Scott. Mr. Scott was so knowledgeable and an inspiring teacher. The class was in a venue with a movie theater screen and so Mr. Scott showed scenes from his own films as illustrations of what he was teaching. Although he was a larger than life persona, George was a kind and humble man who was passionate about sharing his craft and passing it on to the next generation.
2. Learn how to be a good business person
Take some courses in sales, marketing, and business etiquette. Ultimately you are selling you, you are the product that you want others to desire. Knowing how to market and sell will help you have an edge on the competition. My father was the best at what he did, he literally sold 300 automobiles a month. He did it because he was naturally skilled in the art of selling, and he was my mentor and teacher in how to sell. That skill has been invaluable in my career. You need to understand that it is not always the best performer who gets the gig, but rather the person who knows how to excite the buyer, producer, or director’s mind during an interview or business meeting.
3. Build bridges to success
The entertainment business is full of all kinds of people, many of whom are sadly focused only on themselves and their own needs. Often entertainers do not see the bigger picture that their actions affect so many others in a production or show. If you want to create longevity with what you do and have a decades’ long career, it is a given that you must be the best at what you do. Beyond that, keeping your word, being on time for rehearsals and call times, and being focused and prepared is critical. Producers and creatives like to work with professionals, and you must always remember it is not just about today, but also it is about the longevity of your career and what the director or producer may be doing 10 or 20 years from today, and then remembering you as a professional and wanting to work with you again. A great example of this is that recently I was contacted by a major booking agency, now owned by the son of an agent I had worked with decades ago. His father Michael had passed away many years back — in fact the son Michael Jr. was just a teenager at the time. Michael, Jr. continued his father’s business, but I had not worked with him since his father’s passing. Recently Michael, Jr. contacted me and booked me for a major event. After all these decades, he remembered the quality of my show and wanted to work with me. Never burn bridges, build them.
4. Develop a unique and memorable image
One thing in common with all the great stars in show business is they are visually iconic. Creating an image does not happen by mistake, it takes planning and much creative work and is a key factor in selling you as the product. Elvis, Marilyn, and Liza, and all the rest have had extraordinary natural talent, but to a great extent their iconic visual image separated them from the other performers of their time. Creating your image doesn’t stop with the visual, but also includes everything from how you talk, to how you walk. John Wayne spent many days and hours working with his friend and fellow actor Paul Fix to develop his character’s famous speech pattern and way of walking. Once you do find your image, always remember to embrace re-inventing yourself every few years, making a new version of your image to keep the buyers and fans engaged in you.
5. Believe in yourself and others will believe in you too
One of my skill sets, in addition to my performing background, is that I am a clinical hypnotherapist and hold a degree in psychology. I am currently a hypnotherapy consultant to the Unger Concierge Medical Group in Rancho Cucamonga, California, and I help people with confidence issues and stress management. Perhaps the most powerful tool we have in life, and in particular as a performer or entertainer, is creating an unbeatable mindset. We control our minds and the thoughts we choose to focus on. Positive thinking can sometimes be a complex process if we don’t focus on a single mantra. No matter what others say about you, only you can define how you feel about yourself, and that will ultimately create success or failure in your life and career. Here is a million dollar secret. If you believe in yourself others will believe in you. I am not talking about an ego driven false sense of oneself, but rather the simple thought that regardless of any outside influence, you always in all situations, unfalteringly believe in yourself. It is your right and no one can take it away. We are all human and make mistakes, nevertheless that should never change your belief in yourself. The truth is, as you absolutely believe in yourself, you will act with confidence in all situations. Others will gain confidence in you, and believe as strongly in you as you believe in yourself. This has worked for me and it will work for you too.
For the benefit of our readers, could you describe how the skill-sets you need in a theater performance are different than the skill-sets you need for TV or Film?
I have worked in live performance, television, and film. Each situation requires a uniquely different approach. When it comes to film, you must pull back your theatricality. Working with a film camera can be a very intimate experience. With film work, most times you ignore the camera and let it find your performance. Ultimately, you must trust the script, the director, and the professionals on the set. You can not play off of the emotion of a live audience, but rather you must find the emotion within and from those of the other actors. In addition, most times films are not shot in linear fashion and so it takes focus and trusting the director to keep your performance consistent. There are some similarities between film and television, but for a performance artist like myself, a TV performance is linear and much more like a live performance. In addition you are usually performing directly to the viewing audience and must embrace the camera directly. One of the first variety performers to really understand how to project through the TV screen was the great Liberace. Lee brilliantly broke with the conventional thinking of his era and looked directly into the camera. It was as if he was looking right into the home audience’s eyes and making a personal connection with them, and because of that, he had much success on television. When it comes to live shows it is all about reaching the back row of the theater or venue and utilizing all the tools available including theatricality, energy, and performance dynamics.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I have always been a major fan of the legendary Johnny Cash, and through watching and listening to his performances at Folsom and San Quentin prisons, I became aware of an important need. I have a dream of one day creating a live performance outreach for prisons and sharing the arts with the prisoners. To a great extent our prison populations are a forgotten group of people. I know the power of the performing arts and how it can make a change in people’s lives. It would be wonderful to bring some light into the darkness of the prisoners’ lives.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My Mom had a saying, “Live everyday like it is your last.” One day when she was at the sunset of her life, we went out to my dad’s grave. They were building a new mausoleum at the cemetery, and as we looked at it being constructed, I said to Mom in a spontaneous Poe-like quote “There is always room for more in the coffin of time.” Mom found that comment to be amusing as she and I were always comfortable with and never repulsed by the afterlife. My mom has been gone many years now, but more recently I have combined our two sayings: “Live every day like it is your last, because there is always room for more in the coffin of time.” It is not meant to be a negative or morose statement, but rather quite the opposite. It means never to waste a valuable moment of time in your life because it will never come again. By living in the moment we can gain so much more from life than we ever could imagine. Enjoy the people around you and the days that you succeed beyond your expectations. Never take for granted those special moments, and don’t sweat the little things.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Dolly Parton would be at the top of my wish list to have a meal with. Dolly is absolutely one of the last true Superstars we have left in the industry. Superstar is a word that is used loosely these days in the entertainment industry, but what it used to mean was a performer who was equally accomplished in film, recording, television, and live entertainment. Dolly is the epitome of the term. I would love to talk to her about so many things, but just to have the opportunity to spend a brief time with a living legend of the entertainment industry would be truly inspirational.
How can our readers continue to follow your work online?
They can follow me on my Facebook page at michael.mezmer, on Instagram at michaelmezmer, and for information on my Ghost Trancer book, www.fayettevillemafiapress.com/product/ghosttrancer/
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!