By Barbara Trainin Blank
Ronnie Baras can’t make an elephant disappear or wriggle his way out of handcuffs. But the Kemp Mill magician-illusionist, known professionally as “Ronnie the Great,” can hypnotize audiences into thinking he’s George Clooney or create the illusion that he can read minds.
A typical Baras audience consists of high school and college students. He hypnotizes volunteers and puts them into situations that are “funny, clean and not embarrassing.”
He includes the president in those categories.
”Whether you love him or hate him, having someone hypnotized to truly believe they are Donald Trump is hilarious to watch,” said Baras, 59.
Nowadays Baras has moved to virtual shows. While that poses some limitations, “I can still do my most popular skit — to make audience members think they see their favorite celebrity,” he said. “The skit is hysterical live, but just can’t be done the same way virtually, so I have them look at me and think I’m the celebrity.”
Baras’ interest in sleight of hand and sleight of mind is nearly lifelong.
“I got interested in magic in eighth grade, when I saw a show at a carnival at the Hebrew Academy,” Baras said.
He went on to buy tricks at a magic shop and perform impromptu for his classmates. His act became more elaborate after Baras attended a hypnosis demonstration at a weekend youth retreat.
He found hypnosis medicinal as well as entertaining. “It was at 19 that I read books to learn how to do self-hypnosis, so that I could learn how to relax and manage the pain of Crohn’s Disease, which I had suffered from since age 13,” he said.
It wasn’t until the early 1990s that Baras studied hypnosis formally. In contrast to making people think they see Beyoncé, Baras’ hypnotherapy work is serious business. He said people come to him to deal with are smoking, weight loss, fear of flying, fear of dogs, nail biting and pain management.
Baras said he got a lifelong stutterer to stop stuttering. Hypnotherapy would be more popular if it weren’t for a couple of things, he said.
“Some people are afraid of it, and it’s generally not covered by by insurance. Plus, many hypnotherapists are not well trained,” said Baras.
Then there is the misconception, thanks to TV and the movies, that under hypnosis they will lose total control. “In reality, people will not do what is against their morals — so a person can’t be hypnotized to kill someone or rob a bank.”
Once after a show, an elderly man approached Baras. The man told him that he was 100 years old and had seen illusionist Harry Houdini perform back in 1922.
”He then told me that I was even better than Houdini,” Baras said. “So I said, ‘Are you willing to say that again on video?’ He did.”
That story may end up in his upcoming book, “Anecdotes of a Kosher Hypnotist.”
Offstage and in the hypnotherapy office, a couple came to him after two years of marriage counseling.
“Their rabbi told them they should divorce,” Baras said.“I hypnotized both to recall the incident that led to their constant fighting. The husband had actually forgotten the incident, but remembered it under hypnosis. He apologized to his wife, and they remain married to this day.”
Barbara Trainin-Blank is a Washington-area writer.