Corinda's '13 Steps'
By Bobby Warren
After Richard Osterlind completed 15 DVDs of effects in four projects, he thought that was probably enough. Having performed and explained more than 100 effects, and adding insights that come from more than three decades of performing, there were no plans for any more DVDs.
That is, until he took a call from longtime friend and business partner, Jim Sisti in the latter part of 2008.
Louis Falanga, owner of L & L Publishing, contacted Sisti about he and Osterlind working on a video supplement to “Corinda's 13 Steps to Mentalism.”
The DVD version of Hugard and Braue’s “The Royal Road to Card Magic” featuring R. Paul Wilson had been an enormous success, and when Falanga decided to look into the possibility of doing something similar with Corinda’s book, Osterlind was the natural choice, Sisti said.
“I say that because Richard is a classicist; he has a profound fondness for the traditional theories and approaches to both magic and mentalism and has applied these to great success in his own work,” Sisti said, noting Osterlind's repeated praise for the Tarbell course in his earlier DVD projects and in his writings.
Sisti knew Osterlind had pretty much decided that he was done with DVD projects for a while, but he had to call his friend and ask anyway.
“When I called him to first discuss Louis’ proposal concerning '13 Steps,' I was fully expecting him to turn down the project,” Sisti said. “However, much to my surprise, he immediately embraced the idea, all the while fully aware of the tremendous responsibility he was taking on.”
When approached with the idea, Osterlind thought it would be like a legacy project. “It was something I just couldn't pass by. It was one project I could not really ignore,” Osterlind said.
While it might become a once-in-a-lifetime project for one of the country's preeminent mentalists, it was not without its challenges.
“There was a tremendous sense of awe,” Osterlind said. “Right after I agreed to do it, then the whole weight of project came down on me.”
For a time, Osterlind, who already performed and taught the classics from such masters as Al Koran, Theo Annemann, Al Mann, and even some effects from Tony Corinda's comprehensive tome, on the “Easy to Master Mental Miracles” series, was almost sorry agreed to do the new project.
“This is considered the Bible of mentalism,” Osterlind said. “If it was not done properly, a lot of people would have been mad. A lot of people know the book.”
“While (Richard) knew that a lot of people who were fans of the book would expect great things, I think he felt the most pressure from himself because of the high esteem in which he himself held this book,” Sisti said.
Given the enormity of the project, along with its historical significance, Osterlind said he went back and forth for months. He went from being elated he was doing it to being concerned he might not be able to pull it off.
Corinda's 13 chapters explore the swami gimmick; pencil, lip, sound, and muscle reading; mnemonics and mental systems; predictions; blindfolds and X-rays; billets; book tests and supplement; two-person telepathy; mediumistic stunts; card tricks; question and answer effects; publicity stunts; and patter and presentation. Osterlind had utilized and studied many of the techniques, but there were some parts of the book he did delve into too deeply.
For instance, Osterlind never performed a two-person telepathy routine. Mediumistic stunts were never part of his repertoire. He also did not dabble in sound, pencil, and lip reading, quick math, finding squared and cubed roots, or magic squares.
Though such effects, routines, and techniques were not part of Osterlind's performance arsenal, they had to be included on the DVDs because they were in the book.
“We wanted to touch on everything, but we could not perform everything,” Osterlind said. By his count, Corinda's book includes about 200 effects, and nearly 50 of them will appear on the DVDs – six of them that run about 12 hours. An effort was made to select the material that would be the most accessible, while including a little bit of everything.
Osterlind's copy of “13 Steps” dates to 1968, but the booklets that eventually were collected into what became the 13 chapters date earlier. Throughout the project there was an effort to stay true to the text, while updating some of it for today's performers and audiences. He also wanted to be careful not to turn the effort into “Osterlind's 13 Steps,” he said.
While Corinda dealt with quick calculations, pocket calculators did not exist when he was writing, Osterlind said. To demonstrate an ability to square a number, they had to write the number down and work out the square the old-fashioned way. The whole atmosphere of how mathematics applies has changed, Osterlind said. As for mediumistic stunts, Osterlind said the effects dealt only with physical manifestations. Demonstrations of telekinesis, objects floating, and bending metal were not as abundant when Corinda was writing, he added. Not looking to substitute, he tried to demonstrate a few of the stunts in a séance setting and then discuss the changes.
The format for each lesson has Osterlind and Sisti talking about the step. Their discussion is followed by Osterlind's performances. Then the two return to explore how the principle applies.
For more than six months Osterlind prepared for the recording. He studied the book, figured out different ways to do what he needed to, and created a list of the effects he wanted to do. That list turned out to be “twice as large as was practical.”
“The first task was to whittle down the contents to what we felt were the most performable items and the effects we felt most closely and accurately illustrated each individual step,” Sisti said. “We knew going in that because we couldn’t possibly do every trick in the book, some of these choices would, of course, disappoint some viewers whose own personal favorites were omitted. That’s why it’s important for me to point out that these choices were not arbitrary and that we tried to pick the effects that would work best for the overall goals of the project.”
During those days of preparation, Osterlind talked with Harry Lorayne to see if he could use some of the veteran performer's ideas. He visited Ken Klosterman in the Greater Cincinnati area to research some of the old props in Klosterman's collection. Klosterman also agreed to let Osterlind use some of his props in the shoot. Osterlind said spending time with props from the era when Corinda was putting together his booklets was “pretty enlightening.”
Osterlind also was afforded the opportunity to talk to the reclusive Tony Corinda about the project. “I never met him; it was OK,” he said of his telephone conversation. ”I did not know what to expect. I read he is kind of a recluse and lives a quiet life in England. You can tell he is a down-to-earth businessman. The conversation went well; hopefully when it is finished and he sees it, he will think it went well.”
When all was said and done, Osterlind spent more time recording the Corinda project than he had on any other one in which he was involved, which included the discussions, set ups, narratives and live shows. “The show went great. I was really happy with it,” Osterlind said. But he did run into some obstacles. For instance, Osterlind performed a number of swami gimmick effects in a row and several book tests back-to-back. Normally, shows are not built in this fashion, he said, so it took extra effort to make sure the audience was entertained.
During these shoots, Osterlind said he does not like to do retakes, though he said he had to do one during the “13 Steps” recording. One of the reasons for this is he wants authentic audience reactions. If he were to shoot a lot of retakes, it would be difficult for the audience to react in a way that did not look canned. Because he worked in front of a live group, he had to engage in audience management. One of the women attending the shows was acting real skeptical, Osterlind said. She was not heckling him or causing trouble, but Osterlind had to deal with her a number of times.
Osterlind was more than pleased with how the two-person code act turned out. His wife, Lisa, is not an entertainer and had no aspirations to perform in front of a camera. Osterlind said Lisa is very helpful and supportive of him, but she prefers to work behind the scenes. However, Sisti's wife, Sandy, is a performer in her own right and stepped in to help out Osterlind. “They (Jim and Sandy Sisti) live in Connecticut, and I live in Kentucky. So, we worked it out over the phone. We never really rehearsed it until we did it on the camera,” Osterlind said. “It should be a real eye opener. People assume a whole act can be done in codes. But, there are a lot of other things you can do that do not rely on a complicated code. We used some other methods, and it really came out looking good. It was exceptional. It's not something we had ever done before. It was pretty amazing to see.”
Since the shoot in July, Osterlind said hardly a week goes by when he is not working on the project in some manner. Osterlind and Sisti reviewed the DVDs to see if they thought it might be better to show an effect from a different camera angle in order to better demonstrate an effect. “It is an incredibly time-consuming process,” Osterlind said. “This is basically my last chance to fix it and make it the best product.”
Sisti understands Osterlind considers this to be his “legacy” project, but “I have a slight disagreement with him here,” he said. Sisti believes Osterlind's Breakthrough Card System, along with his Perfected Center Tear and other creations, will be utilized by mystery performers “far beyond our lifetimes,” he said. “I know that he poured his heart and soul into the Corinda set; '13 Steps to Mentalism' is a book that means quite a bit to Richard and above all, he really wanted this set of DVDs to inspire others to dig deeper into the book and begin their own journey of discovery. The final result reflects a lifelong love affair with this book – and with mentalism and magic in general.”
As Osterlind reflected on the project, he said he wants it to be something mentalists everywhere will consider necessary. While the effects are from Corinda, he did try to pack a whole lot of practical advice into the steps. “Living exclusively for six months with one book, it gets you to think differently and look at things differently. It really has been quite a project.”
So, what is next for Osterlind? He wants to relax.
“This might be it for me; I really did not expect to do any more DVDs,” he said. He will concentrate on performing and what he is doing professionally.
To read a review of an Osterlind show and watch video of an inclusive interview with the I.B.M., click here.
Photos courtesy of Sandra Sisti and Tom Cutts. All rights reserved.