Susan Wilcox, Craig High School graduate, performing in Janesville magic show fundraiser
WISCONSIN DELLS--Never mind the blood dripping from her cheek.
Susan Wilcox knew the magic show must go on.
When it was time for her to pop out of a box, she appeared on time and smiling.
“Someone brought me a Kleenex,” Susan said, explaining that she had cut herself a few years ago while performing on stage.
Later, she needed six stitches.
Since the mid-1990s, Susan has shared the spotlight with her magician husband as an amusing sidekick, elegant assistant and audience charmer.
The 1986 Craig High School graduate never planned any of it. She started out as a teacher and then a real estate agent. Then, she met Rick Wilcox, who needed a new house with a huge garage to store all his magic props.
They started dating and married.
Eventually, Rick invited Susan to be part of his magic show, which today is a highly-rated tourist attraction in Wisconsin Dells. In their first public performance in Janesville, they will appear at Craig High School on Friday, April 4. The fundraiser for the Janesville Professional Police Association will benefit local nonprofit groups.
During the show, Rick likely will levitate on stage, make doves disappear and cut someone from the audience in half. A few nights ago, he sliced Susan into eight pieces.
No wonder she declined Rick's first invitation to go on stage, but Rick is a persistent guy.
Susan saw how important performing was to him. After much practice, she perfected her first illusion, called metamorphosis, which they still do today. During the trick, Susan is handcuffed, tied in a bag and locked inside a crate, secured with six padlocks.
Then, abracadabra. Whoosh!
Somehow, she changes places with Rick, who is now handcuffed inside the padlocked box, while Susan stands on stage.
Drop-jawed, the audience can't believe what it is seeing.
Susan and Rick performed together for the first time at a trade show in Arizona in 1996.
“From that point on, I decided to help him,” Susan said. “I enjoyed the looks in people's eyes when they saw something happen which they believed to be impossible. There's something addictive about it.”
Eighteen years later, Rick and Susan have perfected enough illusions to put on a show that could last at least seven hours without repeating anything. That doesn't include Rick's slight-of-hand tricks.
And, yes, things go wrong more often than you think.
“As long as we laugh and keep going, the audience is fine with it,” Susan said. “Some of our skits have happened because of mistakes or something that a kid does on stage that is unexpected. We really look forward to those moments because we cannot script them.”
Wriggling in and out of small spaces gets harder as they age, but Susan says they are still doing some of the same tricks and have added many new and difficult ones since they became a team.
Most of the time, Susan is the one squeezing in and out of small spaces. But not always.
“Yesterday, I beat myself up getting in and out of an illusion,” 50-year-old Rick said. “The work is physically demanding. We have a person come in to do deep-tissue work on our bodies once a week.”
Since 1999, Rick and Susan have performed year-round from their own 550-seat theater in the Dells. Among the props they use during their 90-minute show are a helicopter and a Lamborghini. In 2012, they took their show on the road to China, where they did 27 performances in two months. They had a translator on stage, but some things don't need explaining.
“Magic transcends the language barrier,” Susan said.
She calls performing with Rick a joy.
“He really loves his work,” she said. “He's always learning something new, and he is fun to be around. To live with a person like that is a blessing.”
Even now, after hundreds of performances, he looks forward to mesmerizing his audience.
“Sometimes, I say to myself that I am glad I don't have a job,” Rick said. “But I do have a job. I work every day. It just doesn't feel like it.”
As a child, Susan never imagined she would become a magician's assistant.
“Not in my wildest dreams,” she said. “We give the audience such a feeling of wonder. For a minute, we send adults back to childhood. It's so much fun.”
Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.