Theatre-maker and entertainer Christopher Green was the British Library’s first Artist in Residence.
From January to October 2012, Christopher investigated the history of hypnosis in the Library’s collections. An accredited hypnotherapist himself, he explored the connections between stage hypnosis and hypnotherapy or, in other words, the point at which showbiz meets self-help and sleight-of-hand meets the scholarly.
Hypnotism has fascinated and inspired the British since the mid 1800s, when entertainers and medical professionals enthusiastically took up this Far Eastern practice. Christopher’s Leverhulme-funded investigation saw him delving into the Library’s rare books, newspapers and archives – not to mention the papers of the great Victorian conjuror, Evanion - to discover the stories of the early hypnotists. From Professors of Mesmerism to Princes of Necromancy, Chris explored the different guises of hypnotism as portrayed by pseudo-scientists and showmen alike.
Christopher Green writes...
"You are feeling sleepy. Well, it’s a library isn’t it? Doesn’t everyone fancy a snooze around 4pm when you’re supposed to be researching the influence of muslin underclothes on the prose works of Virginia Woolf? Well this phrase might come to mean something different during the time I’m in Residence. I was delighted to be asked to be the Inaugural Artist in Residence and I think it’s great that it’s going to be a Live Artist. The British Library has such a rich history across all disciplines but it’s often forgotten how strong it’s links with the stage and performance of all types. I will be searching through these collections plundering and plucking shiny meretricious objects that grab my attention. I am going to be examining Hypnotists through the ages, both in Showbiz and Self-help and seeing where the research takes me. I will be asking for volunteers from time to time. The British Library is a vibrant, exciting place to be these days. It’s always packed with interesting people doing interesting things, banging away excitedly at their laptops. I’m going to be slowing them down, putting them under and freeing them from everyday constraints. Am I snake oil salesman or saviour? Count down slowly from ten, and find out…"
See Christopher’s blog for his Residency diary.
Show and tell, 30 May 2012
In his first showing of work-in-progress, Christopher told of his search through the Library’s collections for evidence of singing hypnotists. He uncovered many curiosities – from the patents for electric devices used by Victorian mesmerists, to the merchandise they sold after their shows – but no mesmerists of a musical persuasion. So he decided to invent one…
Below are video clips of two songs performed on 30 May - an original song by Green’s Singing Hypnotist, 'This Song Will Hypnotise You', and a song about mesmerism found in the sheet music collection, 'It Must Have Been Svengali in Disguise' (performed in true music hall sing-along fashion):
- This Song Will Hypnotise You, written and performed by Christopher Green, recorded at the British Library, 30 May 2012
- It Must Have Been Svengali in Disguise, performed by Christopher Green at the British Library, 30 May 2012. Words by Vincent Bryan, music by Harry von Tilzer, 1902.
Show and tell, 11 September 2012
The second show-and-tell of the residency on 11 September explored past-life regression and presented designs for hypnotic machines found in the Library’s patent collection. Thanks to the investigations of Curator Margaret Makepeace there were further revelations about the mesmerist Annie de Montford, who was denounced as a charlatan in the American press.
Christopher Green performed several new songs, including an updated version of ‘Annie de Montford’ which, together with a sketch on the subject of past-life regression, can be watched by clicking on the links below:
- The Hypnotist’s Hymn, written and performed by Christopher Green, recorded at the British Library, 11 September 2012
- Annie de Montford, written and performed by Christopher Green, recorded at the British Library, 11 September 2012
- They Refuse to Heal (dedicated to Henry Blythe), written and performed by Christopher Green, recorded at the British Library, 11 September 2012
- Past-Life Regression Sketch, written and performed by Christopher Green, recorded at the British Library, 11 September 2012.
The Singing Hypnotist, 29 November 2012 and 25 January 2013
Part performance and part presentation, the concluding event of Christopher Green’s residency brought together his research with a song cycle of original material in the persona of the Singing Hypnotist who both heals and mesmerises. See below for a video recording of the full show.
- The Singing Hypnotist, recorded at the British Library, 25 January 2013.
Over the course of his residency, Christopher Green consulted hundreds of items including rare books and pamphlets, sheet music, sound recordings, patents and ephemera. He has compiled a ‘reading list’ of his favourite collection items for anyone interested in researching stage hypnotism and hypnotherapy at the British Library:
- Stage hypnotism, mesmerism, hypnotherapy and past life regression in the British Library collections (PDF format, 105 KB)
About Christopher Green
Christopher Green is an award-winning theatre maker and entertainer. His solo work includes comic creations such as US Country Music Singer Tina C., and pensioner rap star Ida Barr both of whom have had their own BBC Radio 4 comedy series, and Cultural Critic Jedd O’Sullivan and Motivational Speaker Hugo Furst. Chris’ experiential work include the interactive phenomenon Office Party, and the fake backstage show VIP which is scheduled to be rolled out in 2012 for the launches of Time Out Paris and Time Out Berlin. He writes regularly for BBC Radio 4. He is trained in both hypnosis and hypnotherapy.