Nat Lawson performs feats of mentalism

—Courtesy Nat Lawson

“We’re going to play a game over the phone,” 16-year-old Nat Lawson of Rockport, Maine, said as he prepared to read my mind. And without giving anything away: He did just that. Using a series of psychological techniques and voice analysis, from 300 miles away, the young entertainer carried out a feat of mentalism.

Mentalism is defined as the use of psychological, hypnotic, and intuitive principles to read minds and influence decisions. Mr. Lawson will bring his newest show, “Perceptions,” to the Grange Hall in West Tisbury on Tuesday, July 5, at 7:30 pm, presented by the West Tisbury Library Foundation.

This won’t be his first time on the Vineyard. The grandson of David McCullough has enjoyed a number of visits; he recalls some of his fondest memories at his family’s house on Music Street. Aside from a show or two in “Pop’s” office, this will be his first time performing professionally on-Island.

But this is far from his first professional performance. Ever since picking up a magic book at age 8, Mr. Lawson has spent years developing his craft. “Like any other art, there’s an innate component,” Mr. Lawson said. “But a lot of it comes from hard work and just keeping at it.”

By studying the work of other mentalists, reading literature dating back to the 1940s and taking hundreds of pages of notes, by age 14 Mr. Lawson was stage-ready. He’s since performed in six countries, 11 states, and 18 cities. Last summer, he put together his first full-length show, “Thinking Out Loud.” “Perceptions” is his second full-length show, and by the time he gets to the Vineyard, it will be his fifth time performing it. “The show is really in its infancy,” Mr. Lawson said. “But that’s the fun part.”

Mr. Lawson spends hours analyzing footage after every show and making necessary changes before his next act. No two performances are the same, and each show involves 30 to 40 audience members.

“Perceptions” uses a series of effects broken up into two acts. The first is “demonstrations by influence,” where Mr. Lawson persuades audience members to make seemingly free decisions that aren’t actually free. The second is psychology-based, or “mind readings,” which include some hypnotic principles. Mr. Lawson is also a certified hypnotist, and can induce anything from a light trance to local anesthesia, to Johnny Depp hallucinations.

Some of Mr. Lawson’s most memorable moments occurred offstage. One afternoon, as he was bored and awaiting a ride from his dad, he approached a woman and decided to test his “read a name” act. He asked her to think of the name of someone significant, then, using psychological principles, he is able to extract the name. His accuracy evoked a particularly emotional response from the individual, who praised his dad upon arrival.

“That’s just Nat,” is the common response from those close to the 16-year-old mentalist. “I’m that kid that does mentalism,” Mr. Lawson said.

Other audiences, particularly outside the U.S., are somewhat put off and equate his performances to “black magic” or paranormal entertainment. Rest assured, Mr. Lawson does not believe in ghosts.

Mentalism is a concept similar to psychic entertainment, fortunetelling, and hypnotism, but the term is less commonly used. In fact, Mr. Lawson hadn’t met another mentalist until a few weeks ago. “It was a very novel experience for me,” he said. “Most of my contact with the mentalist community came through books and unanswered emails.”

Mr. Lawson has also launched a web series called “Connections,” where he performs mentalism on the street.

Ready to tap into the conscious and subconscious layers of Vineyard minds, Mr. Lawson is excited to return to the Island he loves.

“Perceptions” by Nat Lawson, July 5, Grange Hall, West Tisbury. Doors open at 7 pm. Tickets may be purchased in advance at the library or at the door. $15 for adults, half-price for kids 12 and under. Smoak will serve dinner from 6 to 8. For more information, visit