How To Use Playing Cards (And All Props) Correctly In Mentalism

Ken DyneBlog, Mentalism, Playing Cards8 Comments

Props in mentalism are something of a contrary subject aren’t they?

There’s that old quote that everyone seems to attribute to either Dunninger or Fogle about your fee decreasing every time you pick up a prop.

But is there anything in it?

First of all what is a prop and what is not a prop?

Most people agree that there’s no place for brightly coloured silks or coloured boxes in a mentalism act (there are always exceptions), yes in true theatrical terms props are any ‘properties’ that are used by a performer on his ‘stage’.

To reveal a drawing, a mentalist must use a pad and a pen. They are both props.

Now we know what a prop is we can get in to a way of introducing props in to our performances that completely changes the audience’s perception of them.

To make this example clear we will use the prop: a deck of cards.


How do we get an audience to accept playing cards as something a mentalist can use?

If you enter the stage holding a deck of cards then you are allowing the deck of cards to be part of your costume, something that the audience will naturally project their own thoughts and beliefs on to you.

Without any framing you are allowing an audience to make the decisions for themselves. Sometimes we use this to our advantage, and other times this is a terrible idea.

In order to ensure that the audience makes an assumption about us that we want, we must take a look at what their assumptions might be.

You’re a smartly dressed person, you’re on stage and you’re holding a deck of cards.

Most people have heard of magicians, far fewer people have heard of mentalists.

It is not too much of a jump for a regular audience to think ‘man in suit on stage with playing cards = magician’.


playing cards in mentalism Ken Dyne

How Do We Change Their Framing Of The Cards?

We have to beat them to it.

To prevent anyone from jumping to ‘card trick’ we will introduce our premise and context before showing the deck of cards.

The cards might start off in your pocket, or in your case, on your table or elsewhere while you set the stage for the context that you want to create.

If we begin with empty hands and talk about how our Father was a hustler and got in to great trouble in those back street gambling games and had to leave London and move to New York – then the context is now set.

The routine is about a card hustler, a back street gambler – not about a magician holding a deck of cards.

In one of my performance pieces I talk about a television show I saw when I was young where a guy memorised a deck of cards.

It’s only after mentioning this television show that I introduce the playing cards.


For just over 5 years I’ve opened my show with a version of Tossed Out Deck that I created (I call it Passed Out Deck) and over the thousand or more performances I’ve given of this I’ve developed a script in which I stand empty-handed talking about how a great use for my skills is in winning in a casino.

Only after appealing to people’s natural greed and painting the picture of the casino environment, only then do I produce a deck of cards and have people think of one.

The key to introducing any prop at all is to not only motivate it’s use, but to build the context before you display it. That way you are in control of the context, you direct it’s use, and the audience members do not.

If it would help you to understand exactly how to apply this to a routine I’ve put together my script for how I introduce the deck of cards for my version of Tossed Out Deck. You can download it here:


8 Comments on “How To Use Playing Cards (And All Props) Correctly In Mentalism”

  1. Buzz Collins

    Great points Ken! After an ice-breaker opener, I use T.O.D. in my show as well. I explain how “…some of you will be telling your friends about this great magician you saw last night…well, you’re wrong! – because I am not a magician – I am a mentalist. What’s the difference you may ask?….” Then I go into a quick explanation how magicians do card tricks, whereas I use a deck of cards to demonstrate a phenomena some might call mind reeading. I then introduce the deck of cards – and then proceed into the trick.

    1. Ken Dyne

      Interesting approach. I am not sure I am brave enough to say to my audience that ‘you are wrong’ as that’s a little confronting. I personally prefer not to being that up at all and instead build a frame that they can go along with, rather than trying to take them away from an existing frame – which psychologists will generally say is much tougher.

      Interesting thinking though Buzz buddy!

  2. Alonso Vega

    Totally agree with this article.
    In my years performing i have learned that props lose power if they are just brought out without a previews intruduction.
    On my mental act, i use a calculator. I bring it out after talking about some math problems and how i had a hard time back when i eas a kid with math.

  3. Daniel Lubell

    Ken this is Daniel Lubell. I am the guy that purchased the last passed out deck last night at your Southern Florida lecture. Great lecture, by the way. In any event, I realized I forgot to get the address for the instructional download. My email is [email protected]

    Thanks my friend!


    Thank you sir!

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