Not everything in a magic show is an illusion. Sometimes the stunts, and the risks, are dangerously real.
Strait-jacket escapes, for example, are no illusion, said Reed Masterson, co-star of “Impossible Magic” with his wife, Ashton Nicole Masterson.
There are dozens of magicians that feature the escape. The Mastersons keep the stunt fresh for their audience by attaching a small timer with an incendiary device to Reed’s back.
When the timer goes off — there will be flames, Reed promises.
He’s performed the escape numerous times and in nearly every performance, he has removed the jacket in time to contain the fireball in a metal container. But at a dress rehearsal for a Rohs Opera House show, he forgot a critical step in the stunt.
“I got stuck in a bad position and I couldn’t get out. I was down to the last 30 seconds and my arm was still trapped in the sleeve,” Reed said.
The guest audience, familiar with the trick, knew something was wrong.
“I got the thing off with about a second to go, threw it up and turned away just as it went off,” Reed said. “I felt the heat across the side of my body.”
A picture tells the story. A glowing cloud of fire partially singed Reed’s body. Had he been slower, that rehearsal may have been the “Impossible Magic” farewell show, Reed said.
Fortunately, it was not.
That distinction goes to Reed and Ashton Nicole’s upcoming Halloween show on Friday and Saturday night, Oct. 24 and 25, at the opera house.
They are calling it their “Farewell to Cynthiana Show” and it will feature Reed, for the first time, without his trademark mask.
Fans are guaranteed a memorable evening, Reed said, because Cynthiana is more than just a venue for the Mastersons’ show. It’s where Impossible Magic got its start.
“I’ve worked backstage at this theater since before I ever started a show,” Reed said. “It really is where I learned the craft.”
Before becoming a stage performer, Reed worked backstage for Roger and Lee Ann Despard’s Grand Illusions show, another touring magic show with roots in Harrison County, Reed said.
He and Ashton had put together a basic show for fun. In 2008, they asked owners of the opera house for use of its space for a 45-minute show.
“I was surprised when they said ‘yeah,’ mainly because I had no track record. We didn’t know if we could get an audience and Ashton had never been on stage,” Reed said.
The night of the performance, Oct. 23, 2008, Reed was happy to have just sold 60 tickets. It was better than what an out-of-town magic act had sold a few months earlier, he said.
Then the best and scariest thing happened an hour before the show, he said. He had gone home to dress and when he returned, there was a line of people from the opera house box office to the corner of Main Street coming to see the show.
“We sold out,” Reed said. “Ashton and I were scared to death.”
Since its debut, Impossible Magic has had a continuous history of sell outs in Cynthiana. The show, which is almost two hours long now, has evolved to where it takes a crew of 11 people to put it on.
“Our local show is always bigger than the one we take on the road,” Reed said.
Their growing fan base is aware of that as well, which is one reason Reed believes that they sell out and also why a second night was added to the October Halloween show this year.
“We turned away about 150 people last year. That’s enough to justify adding a second show,” Reed said.
A big reason for Impossible Magic’s increasing popularity is that the Mastersons change anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of the show each year.
The husband and wife team continue to challenge each other with new illusions, stunts and enhancements to their signature performances.
The show next month is going to feature their popular dove act, but it will also introduce some new animal friends, including a beautiful German Shepherd-Huskey mix.
There will also be some additional segments featuring Ashton in the spotlight.
It took Reed some effort to get Ashton to add her skills as a mentalist to the show.
“She is shy and content for awhile to be the silent support to my magic. But since we put a spotlight on her, Ashton’s acts are among our more popular segments,” Reed said.
But even though their Cynthiana show is consistent, demand for the Impossible Magic show has grown throughout the region and it is becoming a dominant feature of the Mastersons’ professional life.
They have 70 shows already scheduled through August 2015 with bookings in Tennessee, Indiana, Illinois and Virginia among others.
Among those bookings are shows in Pigeon Forge and other larger tourist venues. The increased demand for the show has enticed the Mastersons to take Impossible Magic to the next level as a larger touring act.
In order to accomplish this task, it will be necessary to pick up stakes and take a break from their regular stops.
“We have a goal of scheduling 100 shows for the next year. I think we’ll be able to do it,” Reed said. “Our show this October won’t be the last we ever have in Cynthiana. But we’re getting requests to perform at venues farther away from home and we want to see where a larger tour will take us.”