When Cindy Kaza is on stage, she isn't just in touch with her audience, she is also in touch with their departed loved ones.
"There's a woman, she passes of cancer, in her 30s," Kaza, a medium, told the audience during a recent show at the Irvine Improv as she walked back and forth, microphone in hand. Two people in the audience acknowledged that it was their friend, who died recently.
"She was so afraid to talk about her diagnosis because she didn't want it to be real," Kaza told them. "But she also didn't want people to worry about her or to be upset. She's showing me that some people were upset that she didn't tell them right away. Do you understand that?"
"We were upset," admitted one friend.
"She said, 'Listen, I'm really sorry that I didn't tell you sooner, but I was trying to deal with it myself. And I didn't want to believe it was real,'" Kaza said. "She never meant to hurt you by not telling you."
Kaza, 34, is on a national tour and will be at Tommy T's Comedy Club on Hopyard Road in Pleasanton on May 31. Watching the video of her performance, it appears that her talent can be a burden, but she doesn't see it that way.
"For me, it's not difficult when I'm on stage because I know I have to hold the strength for the audience and it's something that I've trained to do," Kaza said.
Her goal is to give audience members much needed closure that most can only receive in dreams.
"I hope to show people it is possible to communicate with our loved ones who have died," Kaza said. "A great thing about a public setting is that you can reach a lot of people in a short period of time. Even people who don't get a message can see it is possible to communicate with people who have passed away."
Kaza is an evidential medium, which means she brings specific evidence that she connects with the departed at her live shows. The evidence may be names, personality traits, physical ailments, or favorite pastimes or phrases.
"If I am doing my job correctly and getting good evidence, I hope to crack the door a little bit and help people heal," she said. "I don't have all the answers. I don't know what happens when we cross over, I only know from experiences in my work that we can't experience it with our finite minds, we can't fully explain it."
Kaza said she has had psychic abilities her whole life.
"My first memorable experience was when I was 10 years old," she recalled. "A girl in my elementary school had passed away in a car accident, and I woke up and she was standing by my bed. That scared me. But all through my childhood and into my teenage years I was very psychic, able to pick up on past, present and future."
Mediums speak to people who have died, she explained; all mediums are psychic but not all psychics are mediums.
Kaza tried other professions, such as hairdressing, and she sang with a band for six years and went back to school for a degree in biology and chemistry. She also took up painting.
"I love many different things, but the mediumship was not going away," she said. "It came back at me stronger. Finally I wasn't afraid of it."
Eight years ago, she embraced it, and she went to England to study at the Arthur Findlay College, which specializes in the advancement of spiritualism and psychic sciences.
"The teachers are really amazing -- they push you to become the best medium you can be," Kaza said. "They show you how information comes through."
"There are lots of misconceptions," she added. "On TV you see paranormal shows where people think it has to be a dead person looking like a real person, but it's more subtle than that."
She said mediums got a bad name around the time of Houdini, who died in 1926, when seances were popular and charlatans would rig rooms for special effects and take advantage of people's grief.
"Physical mediumship is very real but they are few and far between," Kaza said. "A physical medium goes deep into a trance, and things can actually move ... the medium can fluently speak a language, it happens."
She noted that everybody is psychic, it's part of being human.
"When you dream about someone, it's not a dream, it's a visitation," she said. "If you wake up and remember everything you said, that's because it was an experience."
Departed loved ones come when we are asleep because then we are not using our analytical minds, Kaza explained. She said often a woman will come to an event and say her husband died and she doesn't know why she can't feel him around her.
"When you have expectations as to how you're supposed to have an experience, you are actually narrowing yourself from having other experiences," Kaza said. "You may get into your car and it's your wedding song playing, or you may smell cologne and it's your husband's. It's important to be open to the experience. Loved ones are a thought away."
At her shows, Kaza feels the personality of the departed loved one.
"I don't want people to think I'm trying to make them believe me," she said. "All I can do is show them what I do and give them the best experience I can give them. They can believe it or not."
She likes comedy clubs such as Tommy T's because all sorts of people will attend, some who are grieving and others who have never heard of a medium.
"They are out to have lunch or dinner with friends, maybe a couple of drinks. It's a lighter environment," Kaza said.
Some remain skeptics even after seeing her work. In Orlando, someone accused her of getting a list of all the people who bought tickets and Googling them, she said with a laugh.
Kaza delivers the loved ones' messages gently and tactfully.
"I want people to have a positive experience," she said. "Death is a difficult subject, and I try to keep it uplifting and positive. Laughter is great medicine -- and crying is great medicine. I hope people walk away feeling uplifted and empowered."
Kaza will be at Tommy T's on May 31, June 21, July 19, Aug. 30 and Oct. 25. Tickets, $20-$30 plus a two-item minimum purchase, are available at tommyts.com.