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Marc Salem mines his audience for mind-blowing experience

BY TRICIA DESPRES | FOR THE SUN-TIMES

As a child, Marc Salem knew what he was getting for Christmas before he opened a single gift, and knew where he was going on vacation before he buckled his seat belt. He also knew that his father shared the same gift.

The only difference is that his father didn’t know quite how to use it.

“My dad was a clergyman and died young because I think he didn’t know how to build a resistance to the suffering of others,” mentalist Marc Salem said in a recent interview. “My dad was very observant and had a powerful mind. We were very alike in that way. The mind has always fascinated me. It’s my playground and where I have the most fun and where I am the most comfortable.”

MARC SALEM’S MIND OVER CHICAGO

When: through March 27

Where; Apollo Theater Chicago, 2540 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago

Tickets: $50

Info: Apollochicago.com

It’s this “mental playground” that Salem is sharing as part of his “Mind Over Chicago” series of interactive shows currently running at Chicago’s Apollo Theater.

“It’s all about having people see something they can’t explain, while at the same time being entertained by it,” he said. “‘Mind over Chicago’ is totally different than any other show that I have done because Chicago is its central theme. Not only will that bring a fun aspect to the show, but also at the end of the show, people really get to know each other after an hour and a half. There is no pressure and no one gets called out if they don’t want to participate. It’s just a warm place to spend an afternoon.”

Having practiced his mind reading techniques on everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Donald Trump through the years, “the world’s foremost mentalist and purveyor of mind games” admits that he has no show without the participation of the crowd. And yes, each and every show is different — very different.

“I don’t know how an actor does the same show night after night and makes it seem fresh,” chuckled Salem, who will star in a new show titled “Mind Games” premiering in May on the National Geographic Channel. “I will literally stand backstage [in Chicago] and look out into the crowd and wonder what they have for me today. What they give me is as important as what I give them.”

Mixing a bit of old-fashioned magic with the ultra-current magic of the mind, Salem says that his show has evolved through the years.

“This show is much funnier than it was 20 years ago,” said Salem, who has brought his “Mind Over” series around the world. “What I like to say is I entertain people with their own thoughts. It’s a very family-friendly show with four generations sitting together.”

Indeed, in a world where everything seems to have an explanation attached to it, Salem is very intrigued by the kids he gets to work with.

“Kids can see so much in their minds, but these days, we take that away from them when we give them so many visual consumables,” he said. “Anyone who thinks there is a difference between entertainment and education is wrong. Entertainment always has a good curriculum and a good teacher always entertains. I’m not an actor. I’m an academic who loves the theater world and [is] honored to be a part of that world and witness experiences that I could have never thought up in a million years. Today, both kids and adults don’t listen to those inner voices. We ignore our intuitions.”

Heck, it even happens to Salem himself.

“Just call me the absent-minded professor,” he said laughing. “I read minds and then I leave and I can’t find my car keys.”

Tricia Despres is a local freelance writer.