Though he'd never met me before, Nat Lawson knew who I was the moment I walked through the door of the school cafeteria. Coincidence? Maybe not.
Nat is a professional mentalist, something people often confuse with a magician. According to the dictionary, a mentalist is someone who reads minds for entertainment, a psychic and a fortune tell. It is a person who believes that “the mind and its functions are a legitimate area of psychological research.” Nat doesn't use mind games and he doesn't use tricks, but instead, combines intuition, psychology and hypnosis to draw information from people in his audience, and manipulate their minds.
At 16, he is a senior at Camden Hills Regional High School. Because of a late summer birthday, he skipped fourth-grade and entered middle school at nearly two years younger than most of his peers. At 6-feet-tall, he has an easy smile and exudes the confidence of an older student. I soon realized that the last few years he has spent mastering a stage presence probably has a lot to do with it.
At age 8, his parents gave him a book on magic. But Nat didn't have the typical top hat and cape. Instead, he used household items like salt shakers to improve his skills and amaze people.
At 10, he found a book on mentalism and began the first steps in training his mind and intuition.
"Over the next two years I gradually switched my focus from sleight of hand to psychology, and from misdirection to hypnotic influence," Nat said. "By 14, I was focused solely on mentalism."
While he was still learning, his family moved from the Midcoast to Austin, Texas, for one year. While in Austin, Nat began to busk on the streets in his free time, honing his mentalism skills on audiences of strangers. One passerby happened to be the executive event planner for Mary Kay Cosmetics. She enjoyed his performance so much that she asked him to perform in front of the top 250 saleswomen for Mary Kay Cosmetics in Austin that following month.
"I couldn't believe how many pink Cadillacs were in the parking lot," he said. "My dad drove me there and just sat in the car and read while I performed."
It was the first time he performed mentalism professionally in front of a large crowd.
"Were you scared out of your mind?" I asked.
"No, I absolutely loved it," he said. "I've never had an aversion to performing in public."
The performance went without a hitch. Vicki Jo Auth, national sales director at Mary Kay Cosmetics, gave a glowing testimonial: "Everyone loved Nat's performance. He is so entertaining and everyone wondered...How did he do that? He is a true professional and I know he loves what he does, because it shows as he works the room."
For the past two-and-a-half years, Nat has performed more than 25 professional shows, performed in five countries, 11 states and 18 cities, which is a mind-blowing accomplishment for a 16-year-old. When he's not in school, he also manages a small web design company called TriColor Designs.
In his show, he "chooses" an audience member by throwing out a paper airplane. Whomever catches it becomes part of the show. None of it is scripted and there are no audience "plants." Because of the nature of mentalism, not everything goes the way he expects—something he chalks up to a learning curve.
"In one show this past summer, I brought this big burly man onto my stage, whom I later found out was a lieutenant in the Army." Nat said. "I could immediately tell he didn't want to be up there and this was going to be difficult. I asked him to write down a particular time on a piece of paper. But I said, 'Don't make it an easy one like 7:00 or 12:30. Make it specific like 9:27 or 3:04.' Once he wrote it down, I looked at him and I just knew. I said, 'I get the impression that you did the one thing I just asked you not to do. You wrote down 7:00.' And sure enough, he held up the paper sheepishly and it was 7:00."
Nat has big plans for an already big future ahead of him. He's applied to several universities and colleges, intending to study psychology as a way to augment his innate skills.
"You probably have an advantage when doing interviews, don't you?" I asked.
"I am aware of quite a lot, but I try not to show it," he said with a smile.
Nat will be performing his first full-length, one-man show called Perceptions at the Rockport Opera House on Friday, Jan. 22 at 7 p.m. The audience can expect mind reading, hypnotic influence and other inexplicable feats of the mind, live. All proceeds will be donated to Midcoast Interact's Service Trip to Safe Passage, Guatemala.
Hail To The Rad Kids is an ongoing feature highlighting teens with artistic or musical talent.
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org