Anna Marie Lux
Illusionist Tristan Crist shows viewers how to remove the ends from a rope.

Prepare to enjoy: Magician connects with your inner child

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Anna Marie Lux
November 29, 2015

LAKE GENEVA—He's only 32 but has done things most people never attempt.

Tristan Crist makes motorcycles appear instantly out of thin air, cuts his assistant into pieces and makes another levitate.

Or so it appears.

Crist calls himself a magician, not an illusionist, so people understand what he does.

But don't think children's birthday parties. Think high tech and polish.

“We do an illusion show like you would see in Las Vegas or Branson,” Crist said. “We put on a show to entertain adults.”

Crist spent a decade expanding and perfecting a show at Circus World Museum in Baraboo. Recently, the footlights went out on one stage and are almost ready to light up a new one.

In December, Crist will open a 50-seat theater in downtown Lake Geneva with weekend performances.

“Magic is meant to be seen in an intimate setting,” Crist said. “I don't know of any other theaters designed to show large-scale illusions in a close-up venue.”

Working so close to the audience is a challenge.

“But we are embracing it,” Crist explained. “We are not hiding anything.”

He thrives on personal interaction.

“When I see the children in people again, it makes it all worthwhile,” Crist said. “I have always done a meet-and-greet after the show. Now I can have an intimate conversation with the audience during the show.”

Earlier this fall, Crist traded his wand for a drill. He and his team work 14-hour days to be ready for opening night, Thursday, Dec. 10.

Vintage posters featuring masters of the Golden Age of Magic welcome visitors in the lobby at 609 W. Main St. The faces of Harry Kellar and Howard Thurston are synonymous with stage magic more than a century ago.

“They were the biggest entertainment before TV,” Crist said.

But prepare for a modern experience in the theater, where Crist has installed state-of-the-art lighting and sound.

“I'm young, but I've done lighting for the Pendragons,” he said, referring to the husband-wife team of American illusionists.

Crist has performed for 20 years ever since he staged his first magic show for Girl Scouts as a boy.

Over the years, his wizardry has taken on sophistication, and he has added new twists to old tricks.

Crist will walk through a solid mirror. He also will instantly change places with his assistant on the ground while he is in a Plexiglas box lifted off the floor.

He promises a 75-minute extravaganza that will keep people wondering how he did it.

“There are only a handful of methods to create an illusion,” Crist said. “Everything you see us do is an adaptation of a principle people saw 100 years ago. For example, we took a (Harry) Houdini trick and gave it a modern approach.”

Like so many magicians, Crist will not reveal his secrets.

He said that even his assistants, Shannon McGuire and Nancy Troia, do not know how he does many of the illusions.

“They only know what they need to know,” he explained. “If you know how everything is done, then it is no longer fun. The mystique is gone.”

Troia worked for another magician in Las Vegas before signing on with Crist.

“We perform the illusions we want,” she said. “We get to be creative on a daily basis. That's exciting.”

McGuire is a professional water skier with a zeal for magic.

“I am living out my dream,” she said. “Performing for people is not your 9-to-5 job.”

Crist firmly believes in the new theater.

“I'm confident because I have to be,” he said. “Any performer wants fame, but I'm not looking for it. I just want to share the magic every night with people who will go home and talk about it.”

He hopes to calm harried lives.

“People don't slow down and experience life anymore,” Crist said. “I am forcing you to sit down and have a personal interaction with an entertainer.”

He promises to kindle the wonder in anyone.

“I've been working on this my whole life,” Crist said. “Even if you think you don't like magic, give it a shot.”

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