“What fascinated me were books on Harry Houdini. Reading about him is what inspired me to do magic as a career.”
Now at age 32, Crist has brought his magical talents to Lake Geneva. Crist recently established the Tristan Crist Magic Theatre at 609 W. Main St. Crist said the 43-seat venue provides an intimate setting for him to perform his magic tricks in front of a captivated audience.
“There’s really not a bad seat in the house,” Crist said. “Wherever you’re at, you can see (the act) and interact with me.”
Some of the tricks that Crist performs during his shows include sleight-of-hand magic, cutting a women into eight pieces, having a women levitate to the ceiling and a Houdini metamorphosis-type trick.
“We try to appeal to everyone, so we have all different elements of magic,” Crist said. “Really, there’s something for everyone. Most of our audiences, right now, are adults. As we move toward the summer and during our matinee shows on Sunday, we see more children in the audience. Sometimes we will put in different tricks or take out things depending on what type of crowd we have coming.”
Crist said his favorite trick to perform is having a motorcycle appear out of the thin air. He said that’s usually the trick he uses to close out his performances.
“I’m only one of two people in the United States with this illusion. The other guy invented it, so we worked with him to get a second (motorcycle) made, and I made some changes ... “ Crist said. “The box is completely empty, and within two seconds, a motorcycle appears. It’s fun because it’s something that blows people away.”
Crist said he is always thinking of new tricks to change up his show.
“There’s really only seven tricks or concepts in the world of magic,” Crist said. “So, it’s really taking those seven main tricks and doing variations on them. We’re always looking for different ways to take an old trick and make it new.
“For example, the metamorphosis trick, Houdini started doing it a hundred years ago, and now we’re doing it differently than Houdini did it, but the concept is really the same.”
New town, new opportunities
Before opening the theater in Lake Geneva, Crist performed at Circus World in Baraboo for about 10 years.
“It was a great opportunity because every year we changed the show up. Now, I come here with tons of material and change this show up, too, for the repeat customers,” Crist said. “I went from 400 seats (at Circus World) to 43 seats here, so people ask me what’s that like. We weren’t sure what it was going to be like at first, but the cool thing is everyone has embraced the whole element of being so close, and I started doing research and this is the only magic theater in the world where you can see large-scale illusions up close.”
Crist said he decided to open a theater in Lake Geneva because of its reputation as a tourist community.
“We felt it has a really huge booming tourist industry in the summer, but there’s absolutely nothing to do but to go out to eat at night,” Crist said. “We got positive feedback from tourists and the community, and everyone said this would be great for the area. This was exactly what this area needed, exactly what was missing -- a live performance in the evening. It’s kind of cool to be able to present a Vegas-style show in Lake Geneva.”
Crist has performed throughout the Midwest. He also performs for corporate outings and private shows. He said the most rewarding part of performing is seeing the audience’s reaction.
“For me, it’s looking out in the audience and seeing adults taken aback,” Crist said. “The best part ... is being able to share that sense of wonder and experiencing the unknown. There’s a lot of humor in the show. I talk to the audience, and there’s a lot of interaction.”
Crist acknowledges that his acts would not be a success without his two assistants, Nancy Toria and Shannon McGuire. Toria has worked with Crist for about eight years, and McGuire has worked as one of his assistants for about 2 1/2 years.
“I think during my career, I’ve worked with 20 different assistants. Magician assistant isn’t a job where people say, ‘I want to be a magician assistant when I grow up.’ There’s a lot of turnover and people move on to different things,” Crist said. “So, I’ve been lucky to have one of the girls for eight years and another one for 2 1/2”
Even though there are some risks involved with each act, Crist said he always makes sure safety measures are in place. He has not had any major mishaps during performances, he said.
“Whenever we do something dangerous, we have safety built in. We usually have a way out,” Crist said. “The underwater act, I did it for two years and decided I no longer wanted to risk my life with that one. There’s a reason why you don’t see a lot of people doing it.
“That’s the joy of a live show, we don’t know what’s going to happen. We enjoy that aspect of it. You don’t know how the audience is going to react with you, so we’ve certainly have had fun with that.”
Crist earned a theater degree from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and uses that theater knowledge to enhance his acts, but said that most of his magic skills are self taught.
“It’s something you can’t go to school for. I started out as a young kid. I started out doing Cub Scout shows and party shows. I was probably really bad,” Crist said. “Over the years, you keep performing and practicing and you finally get to a point where you think, ‘Maybe I can make a living doing this because I’m not that bad anymore.’ Then, you get to a point where people will actually pay to see you, then you know you’ve made it.”
Even when he is not performing, Crist is constantly thinking about magic and ways to improve his shows.
“My life is magic. We’re always working on the business side of it -- marketing, selling the tickets and updating the website. When we’re not working on that, we’re working on new tricks to go into the show. There’s always the next project,” Crist said. “I work seven days a week and for me it’s fun, it’s my passion. It’s what I enjoy, so I don’t mind working seven days a week.”