Death-defying stunts, breathtaking feats of magic and tiger tricks are all in a day’s work for Jay Owenhouse.
The award-winning illusionist and legendary escape artist will thrill Rapid City with his live show on Friday, Sept. 15, at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.
Owenhouse, who lives in and maintains a tiger sanctuary in Montana, performs internationally and has been featured on television shows including “Masters of Illusion.” His 2017 “Family Magic” tour celebrates his passions for the art of illusion, animals, family and inspiration.
“This show is my favorite things in magic over the last 20-plus years,” Owenhouse said. “It’s an evening of intimate storytelling and grand illusions. … It will be an evening you’ll never forget.”
The family-friendly show promises to be an awe-inspiring mix of entertainment.
“One of my favorite things is go into the audience and do impromptu magic. I’ll borrow something and do magic with it,” Owenhouse said. “It’s usually unplanned and completely random and often one of the most intriguing moments in the show.”
Then he adds some spine-tingling chills. “I’ve spent my life studying Houdini and recreating his escapes. This year, I’m doing the iconic upside-down Houdini straight jacket escape that launched his career,” Owenhouse said.
His tribute to Houdini comes with a twist Owenhouse spent years perfecting. “I’ve added an element of danger called the jaws of death. There’s these 300-pound steel jaws, and I have someone put me in a straight jacket and I’m lifted above the audience.”
“It’s one of the most exciting moments in the show for sure,” he said. “We get a fair amount of kids at the shows. I don’t want to give kids nightmares but surprisingly, it’s their favorite thing in the show.”
Then there are tigers — two Bengal twin sisters, Sheena and Shekinah — who Owenhouse has raised since they were three months old. For the first six months they were with Owenhouse, the tigers lived with him and his four children.
“You can double tigers’ lifespan if you have them in a good environment and on a good, healthy diet. … At (a few months old), you want to socialize tigers as much as possible and have them around people as much as possible,” Owenhouse said.
Owenhouse has been raising tigers for about 20 years. The process of letting his children help socialize and care for young Sheena and Shekinah was a boon for the whole family, he said.
“If you socialize tigers with people, it increases their lifespan,” Owenhouse said. “When tigers are small, it’s a lot of fun. … It’s about spending endless amounts of time with them. You’re pouring in a lot of love and a lot of attention and building that relationship. … That six months was creating a relationship and trust.”
“They’re amazing animals. Tigers are very physical, very affectionate, but they have their claws and they have their teeth. Sometimes they forget and they kind of treat you like they treat each other. You have to gently remind them they have to be a little more gentle,” Owenhouse said.
When the tigers reached 100 pounds, Owenhouse moved them to his tiger sanctuary. Now the sisters each weigh 300 pounds and genuinely enjoy their roles in Owenhouse’s show.
“The tigers aren’t props on stage. They’re there because that’s part of our life. Our life as a family has been committed to tiger preservation, and we feel privileged we can share that with our audience,” he said.
“We’re committed to only take the tigers on the road 10 or 12 days a month, so they get at least 18 to 20 days a month in the sanctuary,” Owenhouse said. “We make it fun for them so they want to go. … We go out for a long weekend, we come home and they get their rest time and they get to play.”
“My belief is I’m committed to them for long haul so I want them to be happy. As long as they want to do the show, we’ll do the show,” he said.
Owenhouse weaves his own family’s story throughout his show. Owenhouse’s wife died in 2009 from a rare autoimmune disease, leaving him to raise four children on his own. His children, now in their teens and 20s, travel with Owenhouse and assist him with his performances.
“I feel honored my family works with me,” he said. “In the show, I talk about (my wife’s death) and share that mainly in the sense of trying to encourage people who are going through something difficult. (“Family Magic”) is a very authentic experience wrapped up in an illusion show which is really designed to inspire people to believe that anything is possible.”