That sense of wonder

Hypnotism, magic, escapist illusions part of the fun at the North Idaho Fair and Rodeo

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Volunteers hold onto the stranger next to them, hypnotized to think they are holding on to a pillow, as hypnotist Richard Barker, left, laughs during a performance Friday at the North Idaho Fair and Rodeo at the Kootenai County Fairground.

COEUR d'ALENE - Two rows of chairs sat atop the main stage, filled with complete strangers who bravely volunteered to be part of the show.

Their eyelids became very heavy and they were overcome with sleepiness, despite the music and noise of the south midway where brightly illuminated carnival rides of the North Idaho Fair and Rodeo circled, soared and swooped in the background.

The volunteers could hear nothing but the mesmerizing voice coming through the speakers, and before long, they snapped out of their hypnotic states. Little did they know that while they were under the spell, Incredible Hypnotist Richard Barker triggered them to behave rather oddly - petting and smooching imaginary birds, delivering a baby from one of the male volunteers, swimming like goldfish and, in 15-year-old Adi Ceriello's case, grabbing the mic and performing to "Shake It Off" by Taylor Swift, all the while believing she actually was Taylor Swift.

"The last thing I remember was him telling me to breathe in. I still kind of feel weird," Adi said with a laugh shortly after the show Thursday night. "I'm embarrassed now. That's not something I would do if I wasn't hypnotized."

Adi, of Post Falls, was a willing pawn in Barker's hypnosis game, which combines the mystery and magic of hypnosis with the uproarious antics of unpredictable human behavior. She said she had been hypnotized once before and it worked on her so she thought it would be fun to give it another try.

"I just think it's fun," she said. "It works, you should try it."

Alex Sheets, 14, of Athol, was a volunteer in the same show as Adi. She remembers getting on and off the stage, but that's about it.

"Before the show I remember stuff," she said. "Then it's like I got on stage and I can't remember at all."

Her little sister, Riley, 10, watched the whole thing from the audience and was bursting with excitement to talk about it.

"I started crying because she was so funny," Riley said.

"Perfect strangers dribble on each other, they use each other as pillows and more," Barker said during the introduction. "Weird stuff happens in this show."

Barker's interactive show is at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. this evening and will take place at 11 a.m. Sunday with the final show at 5 p.m. It is one of many entertaining and mystifying acts at the fair this year.

Cecil the Magician (Cecil Lewis) and Lady Houdini (Kristen Johnson) have also been causing jaws to drop, eyes to widen and minds to meander this week as they wowed their audiences with their whimsical, magical, comical and death-defying acts.

"I really think it's like making the impossible possible," Lewis said after his afternoon show Friday. "My job is to make people forget reality and go into that childlike mode, and it's all about the entertainment. It's not really about the magic, it's about entertaining people and getting them to that sense of wonder." Lewis, of Post Falls, has been practicing magic for 25 years. His show is infused with comedy, colorful props and young audience volunteers who delight in running on stage to hold an umbrella or wear a magician's tophat.

"Magic can fit in anywhere, but at the county fair, especially," he said. "I think people need to know the sense of wonder, I really think that's what it's all about."

Cecil the Magician will be performing at 11:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. today on the Community Stage and at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on the Jacklin Stage. He will return to the Jacklin Stage at 2 p.m. Sunday, with a final performance at 5 p.m.

The escape artist and stuntwoman Lady Houdini will perform at noon, 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. today at north midway with a 10 a.m., a 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. show in the same location Sunday.


Incredible Hypnotist Richard Barker speaks to the audience before hypnotizing a group of volunteers Friday at the North Idaho Fair and Rodeo at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds. Barker started his career 20 years ago, and was inspired by his work interviewing suspects as a police officer in the United Kingdom.


Hypnotist Richard Barker, left, works his magic on a group of hypnotized volunteers during a performance Friday at the North Idaho Fair and Rodeo at the Kootenai County Fairground.

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