Stage hypnotists make up a pretty small community. While there are thousands of people who have received training in stage hypnotism, there are only a few hundred that are actively performing as stage hypnotists worldwide. Those numbers could decrease significantly in the next five to ten years if stage hypnotists fail to address a critical issue within the profession: the declining availability of liability insurance.
I've been a practicing stage hypnotist since 2004. In two decades of practice, I always had liability insurance, and I never had to pay more than $150 for a million dollars worth of coverage. It's always been a minor expense. This spring, when my insurance renewal came due, I noticed that the premium had nearly doubled.
I called my insurance agent, and asked why there had been such a rise in the premium. She explained that they had been forced to switch to a new underwriter, as the previous provider didn't want to write policies for stage hypnotists anymore. They were getting too many claims and it was costing them money. The new underwriter they were using said that if they were going to write policies, it would have to be at a greater rate, because clearly the risk of writing policies for stage hypnotists was greater.
We had the same issue about a decade ago. Nearly all stage hypnotists were insured by one company, a company that insured magicians, jugglers, and other kinds of performers. I had a policy with that company. One year, seemingly out of the blue, the company announced that if we wanted to be insured through them, we would have to complete a safety course. The course fee was about the same as the policy itself, so it effectively doubled the cost of getting insured.
I called the company and spoke with a representative, who rather rudely explained to me that the bulk of the claims they were processing each year were against stage hypnotists. In fact, she said that stage hypnotists were responsible for more claims than all other performer types combined. She explained that the creation of the safety course was an effort to get us in line, and if I didn't like it, I could go get insured somewhere else. So I did.
So did a whole bunch of other stage hypnotists.
There was a mass migration from that company to a new company, and now, after about a decade, it appears that we're in danger of wearing out our welcome with this company as well. They have done us the courtesy of finding us one new underwriter, but what if that underwriter gets tired of dealing with claims against stage hypnotists and decides that they, too, will no longer underwrite us?
We can't just keep burning bridges and expect to find another bridge to cross. There are very few speciality insurance companies left. If stage hypnotists continue to have problems with claims, there are really only two possible outcomes: premiums will skyrocket, or we won't even be able to get liability insurance.
If you're working full-time as a stage hypnotist, you can probably afford taking a hit from higher premiums, but if you're a part-timer or hobbyist, higher premiums could push you out of practice. I recently spoke with my agent about this issue, and he told me he's had similar issues over the 30 years he's been in business. One policy that he used to pay $500 a year for is now $5,000. Another policy he used to occasionally get for special events was recently quoted at $25,000. He couldn't book the event, as he would have lost money on it.
But what if you don't even have the choice? What if stage hypnotists become an excluded performer for these specialty insurance agencies and you just can't get a policy? Colleges, corporate events, fairs, campgrounds, and nearly every other venue you could possibly work at require that you prove you have liability insurance with at least a million dollars of coverage, and some are now requiring as much as three million in coverage. If we can't get coverage, we're out of business.
This is an easy issue to have fall off the radar. For most of us, we pay our bill each year and then don't think about it until the next year when it's time to renew again. Add to that the typical human tendency to think "it will never happen to me" and I think it's fair to say that we're in a situation, now, where this could be a terrible surprise that springs up on all of us in the next five to ten years if we don't make an effort as a professional community to be proactive.
What does that proactivity look like? For one thing, it means policing each other. Stage hypnotists must do a better job of reaching out to each other and politely and compassionately challenging each other when they see something in a colleague's show that puts volunteers at risk. There is no governing body. There is no regulatory commission. Stage hypnotists must hold each other accountable for what they do on stage.
It also means being open to receiving that challenge and criticism from a peer. We all have blind spots, and when you've worked hard to develop your show, it's natural to feel defensive when somebody gives you challenging feedback about your show, but our highest priority must be to keep our volunteers safe. If a colleague reaches out to point out something we're doing that could be unsafe, we must give that feedback full consideration, detach our ego from the situation, and be willing to change our content or procedures if there's any truth to what the colleague has communicated.
Each stage hypnotist has some duty to protect the art form, to protect the profession itself. If we don't hold rigorously to that duty, in a modern culture where litigation is so common, we may find ourselves not being able to practice the thing we love so much.