Left to right, Jeff Evason, Max Bloom and Josh Bowen listen as… (Kim Hairston, Baltimore…)
A recent afternoon was windowpane-clear, the sun bright and direct. The environment could not have seemed less conducive for communing with the spirit world.
And yet, Jeff and Tessa Evason walked up and down a stretch of Annapolis waterfront known as Ego Alley, telling strangers intimate details of their lives that it was seemingly impossible for the couple to have known in advance.
The Evasons, who describe themselves on their website as "a mind-reading duo," wished a visibly startled Christine Mae Jones of Hebron a happy 47th birthday as she ate lunch with her husband at a sidewalk café.
"You're good, you're good," Raymond I. Jones said, shaking his head slightly in amazement.
The Evasons correctly guessed the number (83) that plumber Josh Bowen of Severn was envisioning in his head. They told a photographer the uncommon name (Tab) of the first boy she'd ever kissed. And they reproduced for another man the random doodle that he'd just drawn behind his back.
Afterward, Jeff Evason asked Bowen for his business card. "We never know when we'll need a good plumber," he said.
If the Annapolis-based couple can do all of this in the clear light of day — and still have enough energy left over to secure the services of a reliable repairman — who knows what they'll accomplish on one of the spookiest nights of the year? Their show, "The Evasons Read Haunted Minds," comes to the Creative Alliance the night before Halloween.
Jeff Evason, 54, and Tessa Evason, 51, are very good at what they do, though that is not necessarily reading minds.
The couple walks a fine line between both maintaining and denying that Tessa is gifted with telepathy, providing fodder both for those who believe in the paranormal and for those who recoil from such assertions. (Jeff, who has a background in television and radio, hosts the show but professes no extrasensory powers on his own behalf.)
"We make no claims," Jeff says. "Is what we're doing real or an illusion? You be the judge."
The couple says they use "extrasensory deception" to put on entertaining shows — whether they're performing on college campuses, cruise ships, at corporate events or in public halls such as the Creative Alliance.
"Tessa is not a fortuneteller," her husband says. "She never has claimed to be and never will be. Our alarm bells go off when we hear someone say they can read your future and will take money in return for telling you what's going to happen."
But as soon as Jeff or Tessa has drawn a line with admirably sharp edges, one or the other begins to smudge it.
Tessa says that about 90 percent of the couple's act involves a kind of sleight of mind based on psychology and intuition, in which the audience is subconsciously prompted to provide the responses desired by the mentalists. But the remaining 10 percent, she says, not even she entirely understands how she does what she does.
"I can't explain it all," she says. "Sometimes the impressions that come to me are so clear and strong that I can't contain them."
Statements such as that cause paranormal investigator Joe Nickell to scoff.
"I've been a magician myself, I've been a mentalist and I've gone undercover," says Nickell, a columnist for Skeptical Inquiry magazine. "In 40 years, I've never found anyone who I believe has psychic abilities.
"They're all playing games, and you're always at a disadvantage because the other person is setting up the rules. If people had these powers, it would be wonderful. We all wish they did."
And that brings up an interesting point. Which one of us has never had a flash of intuition on a matter large or small that has seemed to predict the future?
Some people driving on a crowded street have a gut hunch that they're about to find an open parking space. Others flip a coin, flash on to a mental image of "tails" and discover seconds later that they've guessed correctly. A select few hear a phone ring and know the caller's identity before picking up the receiver. Still others take an instinctive like or dislike to a stranger before even saying hello.
Rational explanations exist for all these mental leaps, from the laws of probability (the coin toss) to the role played by subconscious projections in selecting friends.
But does that make these "predictions" even a smidgen less extraordinary? Isn't it possible that a few people like Tessa Evason have developed a heightened capacity for jumping to uncannily accurate conclusions? If she arrives at the correct destination, does it really matter how she got there?
"We all emanate energy," she says, "and I get a strong sense of whether people are on the right paths in their lives."
Most people think of analysis and intuition as being contradictory, but that's not really true. Both are forms of learning. Both follow the same steps, though one or more of the stages of intuition may occur below the level of conscious awareness.
In the same way, a performer can trick the audience while still possessing genuine insight.