Genii Cover Story May 2020
Carisa Hendrix and the Foundation of Lucy Darling
By Dustin Stinett
While it might always start with a single step forward, the road to success is unmarked. There are no signposts that guide your way. Starts, stops, and restarts are common, as are the many side trips that seem to interrupt the journey. Carisa Hendrix experienced many detours during her diverse career. The difference is that she didn’t know that she was on such an odyssey; that is until Lucy Darling burst into her life. And it was then that Carisa realized that those side trips didn’t interfere after all.
A Canadian, she was born in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan in 1987, the family later moving to Calgary. Her parents, Vernon and Annette, were young, and their existence modest. “Mom was 18, dad was 20. It was a case of babies raising babies.”
Carisa did well in school—a straight A student. “I was this close to being valedictorian,” she says, pinching her thumb and first finger close together. “This close! But I’m not bitter about it. Not at all.”
Before her teens she began volunteering and taking part in the many community activities available. “After school programs, leadership groups, things like that. All through school, I was a volunteer super star.” This networking would, in just a few years, become important to her.
Magic arrived on her radar at a young age. “I would sit with my dad and watch David Copperfield, Max Maven’s show, and other TV magic specials. He’d ask, ‘How do you think he did that?’ I’d come up with some outrageous—and wrong—method and he’d say, ‘Yeah, I think you’re right.’ By the time I was seven I had ‘invented’ the Classic Force. At the time I didn’t know there was such a thing, and mine was bad. But I was seven!”
She was volunteering in the school library and was performing what many will recognize at a Max Malini-esque effect. “In popular books I would hide a playing card inside those pockets that held the checkout cards. They were big, so the playing card was well hidden. People would come up with a book and I would ‘force’ a card on them. I made it ‘disappear’ (I tossed it behind my back—hey, I was seven!). And then the card would be inside the book they were checking out. Not bad for a little girl.”
Young Carisa had no connection to magic other than what she would see on television. Even working in the library didn’t matter in that regard. “For the most part it was a French language library. If there were any magic books, I would have seen them. I read the Harry Potter books, and the Lord of the Rings. I knew Neil Gaiman, but not Mark Wilson or Tarbell. So, since I didn’t see any of that, and the works in that library were, to me, the entire world of books, there simply was no such thing as a magic book. If one of those had walked across my desk, that might have changed everything.”
Instead of having her trajectory altered, though, Carisa continued believing that creating one’s own magic was what all magicians had to do. “My assumption was that all magicians started from scratch. There were no books, videos, magic shops, and certainly no clubs. Everyone must have to come up with stuff on their own, so that’s what I did. Since, as a kid, I was pretty much invisible, I could go up to people and secretly put a card in their purse and then do my trick. People would lose it. Here was this little kid doing magic.”
A serious case of impetigo and the resulting skin damage kept her mostly isolated for a year when she was in junior high school. “I had these ulcers on my face, so I was like the elephant man. I didn’t have any friends, and it took a long time to heal, so that’s when magic really escalated. But I still didn’t have any books or other resources.”
Around the age of 15, Carisa landed in a summer program for disadvantaged teens called Art of Youth. “I met a lot of people. I learned how to juggle. There was also dance and other theater and visual arts. We worked on shows for Stage Left Productions, a performing arts company. I met this guy who taught me some magic tricks.”
A sideshow performance turned Carisa onto a different path. “I’d never seen anything like that before. I started studying sideshow and circus obsessively. I found some books on that.” She begged one of the performers to teach her some sideshow tricks. He did, including pushing a pin through her hand. “When you’re 15 you think, ‘This is what people do’,” she says. She learned to walk on broken glass and eat fire. “These skills came to me easily, especially fire eating.”
The following September, tension was building between her and her parents. “It was my fault,” she says. “I’m this straight A student, a volunteer star, and I have all these people telling me, ‘You’re going to make it,’ and I’m a teenager and I was full of ‘I know better than you’ hormones. I was a little bitch. One day they had enough and my dad told me to get out.”
She went to school and told her best friend that she didn’t have a place to stay. “Juliette and I had had this army of people to call—all from the volunteer programs. They called their parents and several of them went to my house after school to help pick up my stuff. They all looked at my parents like they were pieces of shit. ‘How could you do this to this sweet girl who volunteers for everything?’ Well, they didn’t know what a horrible person I was—they had no idea.”
Survival was her first priority. She landed two jobs. “Every weekday from 5 o’clock to 8 in the morning I stocked shelves at London Drugs. Then I’d go to the bakery and get some day-old bread, and then go to class. After school I worked at a juice bar—they also fed me. And on weekends I did gigs.”
She used her new skills and worked parties. Balloon animals had become part of her skillset. “But it wasn’t like I was thinking, ‘This is for me. I have a gift as a performer. This my calling.’ Not for one second. It was work. It was about making money and surviving. I could stock shelves for $8 an hour and do balloon animals for $50 an hour.”
For the first year she lived with a friend, but at age 17 she got her own apartment. “So there I was, a 17 year old with an apartment, two jobs, sideshow gigs on weekends, and I was still in high school.”
As a Christmas gift, someone gave her a copy of Mark Wilson’s Course in Magic. “I lost it. I was mad; genuinely mad. I’m thinking ‘Anyone can learn magic?’ Honestly, I wasn’t trying to be remarkable. I just didn’t know better. I didn’t know what I was doing was a ridiculous way of coming up with magic.”
A connection made during her period of volunteering, Marsha Meidow, offered Carisa her first long-term engagement. “She ran rockabilly shows and haunted houses. Marsha says she has this haunted house gig for me. It’s the crappiest possible job. It’s in the carnival tent outside the haunted house. It’s where people would buy the tickets and popcorn as well as play games. It’s big and noisy. It’s poorly lit, the sound system is bad, and the stage is too high so there’s all this distance between you and the already indifferent crowd. Everything is bad, but it was my first long-term gig. 22 nights in a row, three to five sets a night, and 15 minutes per set. I walked on glass, ate fire. I did a couple of bad card tricks and a sponge ball routine with flaming cotton balls. So, I’m thinking, ‘this is show business.’ My set point is, show business is supposed to be torture.”
However, the notion of it being fulltime was still not in her mind. “Right out of high-school I got this great job at the Boys and Girls Club of Canada. It was wonderful, and after about a year, they started letting me create my own programs and teach whatever I wanted, within reason, of course. I wrote and directed little plays with the kids, and I taught them enough circus skills during their after-school programs to put together a couple fairly decent shows. I really felt like I was making a difference.
“On the weekends I would still keep up with performing. The money was good and the gigs kept coming in, but it never felt like a career. I had started performing to pay the bills, and it had just evolved into this fun little side-hustle.”
Her bookings were growing and it got to the point where the Boys and Girls Club asked her to make a choice and focus on teaching or performing. “I enjoyed working with those kids so much and performing didn’t even feel like a real job. I mean, who succeeds in show business anyway?” Carisa asked herself.
“I walked in the next day ready to quit performing for good, and dedicate myself to working with children and being this amazing teacher. I was so sure, and my boss could not have been more thrilled.” But then her supervisor asked Carisa one simple question: “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
“That question hit me like a punch to the gut so I took a moment and responded very professionally by immediately bursting into tears and quitting right on the spot. It was at that moment that I realized I could not leave the stage for five years. I didn’t want to be without it for one week. I realized showbusiness was not just my side-hustle, it was my passion and somehow I hadn’t even noticed.”
She put together a 30-minute show. “I started booking myself out to any event that would take me. I was willing to work everywhere and I did. From dive bars to mansions, birthday parties to music festivals, burlesque shows to museums; there was no gig I wouldn’t take.”
It was a new reality for her, though. “I was 21 and this was the first time I didn’t have some kind of regular job since I was 11. I really wasn’t sure what to do. I remember it vividly. I woke up on Monday, had a cup of coffee, and updated my website. I got some business cards ordered, and I emailed some past clients. On Tuesday I woke up, had a cup of coffee, and made a business plan for the rest of the week. On Wednesday I woke up and lost my head. I had nothing to do! How do you ‘performer’? I really had no idea.”
She took a job at a coffeeshop called Serendipity. “The owner, Karen, is really cool. I said just needed something a day or two a week so I know what day it is. It wasn’t about the money. I just needed that anchor.”
Traveling through the Canadian provinces became a way of life for the young woman. fringe festivals were a staple. She started working with a magician, James Jordan, and they created the Garden Variety Show, which they mounted in Calgary as well as touring a little for a year or so. That is where she was finally exposed to the wider community of performance artists.
It was during the Garden Variety Show that Carisa discovered her voice. “I was always joking with other performers backstage, but I rarely spoke at all on stage, let alone tell jokes. I mostly worked to music and I was pretty serious. But every once in a while, I would do some funny little aside. At one point, James said that I either needed to wear a mic or shut up completely; it had become distracting. I said I’d shut up. He said I should wear a mic.”
Then something special happened: Carisa got laughs. “Laughs are like drugs,” she says. “I wanted more. Comedy became a new obsession. I read every book and took classes.” She discovered the power of comedy. “You can direct focus and it endears people to you in a way nothing else can.
“And it’s not just those first laughs you get,” she continues. “There are times where there are no laughs; you get nothing, and you have this flop sweat thing happening. Your whole body just breaks out in sweat. Not being funny is horrible, but dying is an essential part of the process.”
The following season, she started working with a hula hoop dancer. “We called ourselves The Nimble Twins. The concept was that we were actually triplets, but we lost our sister, the knife juggler.”
After one show her partner abandoned Carisa on the side of the road. “Literally on the side of the road. I was sitting there on my cases. I had to text someone to come and get me. It was the result of a breakdown in communication, and, in her defense, she left me with all the money we made in the show we did. I don’t blame her. Touring was not for her and I bullied her into going in the first place.”
There were more dates scheduled, but she had just half a show. “I was sitting in a bar with a couple of friends, both street performers, and one asked me, ‘What are you going to do now?’ I didn’t know. He said, ‘You do know. You’re going to do a show.’ I explained I only had half a show, and he told me to write the other half.
“Together we came up with a concept for a street show. It wasn’t great but it made me money. She left me on Monday and the act went live on Thursday. I sat on my case and said, ‘Some of you might remember that I had a duo show that was a trio show. Well now it’s just me.’ It went well, and the other street performers each put $5 in my hat. I toured with that show another season, but I really didn’t like being a street performer. It’s tough, working these planned street pitches outside the indoor shows at fringe festivals. It’s two weeks in a city, and you’re on the street begging for a crowd. I am grateful for the skill I gained, but good God.”
Being a magician’s assistant also became a skillset in her repertoire of abilities, and she worked with several illusionists. “It was good money and I loved it. At one point, one of them wanted to do a costume change. “He asked me to do about five minutes. I did the ping pong ball juggler comedy bit, then I started doing a billiard ball thing. I ended up with a lot more magic material.”
Carisa was doing some teaching of circus skills on the side, and decided to put together some video to supplement the class work. “I had enough fire eating material that I could put together a full-length teaching DVD of just that,” she explains. “I took all the money I had and had 500 copies printed. Murphy’s Magic Supplies bought 300 of them. I sold some myself and to other small shops, then Murphy’s ordered another 50. I had a second print run done. It sold. Ultimately, I sold about 1,200 of those DVDs. They paid for art school.”
During all this, touring, working as a barista, and teaching on the side, she started carrying a full slate of classes at Alberta College of Art and Design. “I applied on a whim and was accepted,” says Carisa.
“I was thinking that maybe I could be on a graphic designer track since I was doing the posters for my shows and designing my website and some for other performers. It could be a good side-hustle. But what I really wanted were classes on things I didn’t know, like woodworking, metalwork, sculpture, drawing, and anything that taught me how to make molds. I focused on building things, and I use it today. Almost everything in my show I either built or designed and had built. The only thing I didn’t is my Roger Nicot Chop Cup. It’s perfect; I cannot improve on that. But even my Multiplying Bottles were designed by me and custom built. I made all the labels. John Reid is always joking that I went to art school to learn magic.”
Always in training, Carisa took circus classes often. From New York, Montreal, and to the Dominican Republic, she has traveled far to learn new skills. In 2012, while in Montreal, she was contacted by the producers of Los Show De Record, a Guinness World Record themed television program in Italy. She was booked and after some failed rehearsals, she did break the world record for the “Longest Fire Torch Teething” in front of a studio audience, holding the flaming torch to her teeth for an astounding two minutes and one second. (Her record was subsequently broken, and it now sits at a mind-numbing five minutes and 1.68 seconds.)
That world record opened even more opportunities. “World records are good for marketing,” says Carisa. But things were about to change for her yet again.
“When the record became official, I was really happy for about a day,” she explains. “After the record, I could say I was one of the best fire eaters in the world. That made it feel like the space between where I was and how far I could go in sideshow was not as long as I wanted to run. I was feeling trapped.” Then there was a moment of inner turmoil after completing a booking in Saskatoon during another tour. “It was the fourth stop on this run, and the woman who ran the venue came up to me to hand me my check. Just as I reached for it, she snatched it from my hand. She said, ‘Before I give this to you, can I just tell you one thing?’ Of course! I accept all notes all the time. I wasn’t expecting what she said. ‘We had a magician here last week. If we had known you were a magician, we would have booked you further down the road. We want each week to be different. We thought we were booking a sideshow and circus act. Even if it’s not in your marketing, and only for your clients, it would be valuable.’
“I said no problem, took the check and walked away thinking, ‘What the hell just happened? I do sideshow; what’s she talking about? I ate fire, walked on glass. Then I did the razor blade swallow, and then I do the card tricks, and… . Wait; am I a magician? When did all this magic get into my show?’
“It was never a conscious decision. It was evolution. But I wasn’t thinking about the crossover material because I wasn’t thinking that there was magic in my show. I do sideshow. It’s easy to get reactions in sideshow and it couples well with comedy. It was everything I wanted. Later I was sitting in a bar and I’m having this existential crisis—this crisis of identity.”
She decided to take the money she received from the Italian television show and apply for a specialized program in Calgary. “It’s One Yellow Rabbit’s ‘Summer Lab Intensive.’ It’s a three-week master class for performance artists. It’s 11 hours a day. I decided I needed this. I sent in my application and a video, which was all sideshow. They denied my application. But rather than just deny it, Denise Clarke from the program called me. She asked me why I wanted to do this, because they don’t take in variety artists. I told her my story, and a week later I received an approval email. I cried like a baby.”
She flew back to Calgary and arranged an apartment. “I wasn’t thinking about the magic in my show. I wasn’t thinking I am supposed to be a magician. At that point, I didn’t even know who I was.”
One of the morning rituals each day in the classes is the instructor asking each student, “Who are you now?” On her first day, Carisa answered, “I’m a magician.” But then the doubt set in. “I’m thinking that it was a stupid thing to say. I’m supposed to say I’m a student, or a scholar, or an explorer; that’s what they mean. But then the next day when they asked, I said, ‘I’m a magician.’
“I promised myself that the next time I would answer ‘artist,’ but didn’t. I slip up and say I was a magician. This goes on for all three weeks. In my head, I’m asking myself what’s going on. Then graduation came. We had to do a piece. I created a routine called Three Letters. It was a comedy piece. The first is a letter from an assistant to a magician. The second letter was from a dove to his magician. (I produced a dove first. This was when I bought my first dove; just for this piece.) The third letter was from me about an actual thing that happened to me. I couldn’t make it through without weeping. It was when I realized I was going to start over. I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God! I’m going to start over! I just got a world record in a sideshow art. I could do sideshow for the rest of my life. Am I really going to quit and start all over? Yes, I’m going to quit and start all over.’ So I did just that. I set aside the sideshow stuff and focused on magic.”
Her reinvention was not particularly smooth. “I didn’t put the old act on ice right away,” Carisa explains. “I had to pay rent. But everything I worked on was magic and I would remove a sideshow piece and put in the new magic. The first couple of years were so bad. Doing comedy in sideshow and doing comedy in magic have absolutely nothing in common.”
An opportunity to do a show in Las Vegas presented itself, and Carisa dove in head first. “It was an hour-long magical musical show. Including me, there were 11 people in it. Three dancers; the director; my now ex-wife, Jamie, was my primary assistant; my regular assistant; a musician; a tech; a video guy; a hair and makeup lady; and me. We all stayed in a mansion that I rented.” Titled Temporala, the show was imagined, written by, and starred Carisa. Its premise was that it was a quick-change act revolving around time travel.
A documentary crew followed the team around and chronicled everything from preproduction to opening. A short film, Girl on Fire, was the result. Unfortunately, the show did not do well. “It was bad,” says Carisa. “It had some clever ideas. It had original music, original magic, custom props and illusions; a lot of great ideas. I learned a lot. I learned how to run a business. And I especially learned that having many clever ideas doesn’t mean that they’ll coalesce into a good show. A good show needs a through-line, empathy, comedy, interest, and range. That show was a lot of good ideas poorly executed.
“I was still lost at the time. I was still thinking that I had wasted so much time and money. I can see the turmoil in the movie. I look at that and say, ‘Oh honey, if you only knew, you’d be so much calmer.’ What I didn’t know at the time was that I was building a foundation. All the things I worked on and trained in, now I know that I use it all.”
Some acting opportunities crept into Carisa’s life. Among the work she has done, she portrayed “The Damsel” in a short film titled Pick, and appeared in two different roles in an anthology documentary series called The Shocking Truth. “That was about the real stories behind horror movies, thrillers, true crime, stuff like that. In one I played Bathsheba, the evil witch from the movie The Conjuring. Funny story—to me anyway. A couple hours before I went into hair and makeup to play this witch who kills and eats babies, I was performing at a kids’ party.”
Portraying characters had always been a part of Carisa’s sideshow work. And “Darling” became her catchphrase. “First I was the Sideshow Darling,” she explains, “and then every name I came up with had the last name Darling. But when I started doing magic, for some reason I stopped doing characters. I was doing magic as myself, and I realized that I’d be more comfortable if I developed a character. I originally thought that all the best magicians I’d seen were authentic. But it dawned on me that it was not true. Some of the best magicians I knew of included Harry Anderson, Pop Haydn, and Rob Zabrecky; all character driven performers. So who would I be?” Carisa began thinking about it in earnest.
“I knew she would do real magic and just pretend to be a performance magician. Witches were all played out. What do I love? I love Star Trek. Okay, maybe she’s an alien. Who’s the coolest alien that I can have do magic. John de Lancie’s Q from Next Generation! The name came next. At first I thought she might be a little evil. Lucifer. Lucy! But then I decided she would be good, but chaotic.” Carisa had a starting place, she was, however, far from finished.
“I started with that background, and then thought about the fearless, bombshell women I love. Audrey Hepburn, Eartha Kitt, and Zsa Zsa Gabor. And then I tossed in Buster Keaton. And everyone I told thought it was a terrible idea. So I kept talking to people—I work things out by talking them through—and I was waiting for someone to finally say yes.”
It’s 2014 and Carisa is about to do something she had never done: go to some magic conventions. She attended three in a row. The first one was AbraCORNdabra in Des Moines, Iowa. Her entrance was memorable, but not in a good way. “I had no idea what magic conventions were like. I just figured they were like sideshow and circus conferences. At those you show up in costume and go to work. I didn’t now magicians wore jeans and sweats and sat and listened to other people talk. So, I showed up in my magic costume: a corset and a miniskirt. It was a moment like in a western movie where the bad guy comes into the saloon and everything goes quiet. I came through the front doors of the hotel and there was instant silence. I wore my sweats the rest of the time.” She met several people, including Stan Allen, as well as the first woman magician she had ever seen perform there, Kayla Drescher (to whom she would grow close, and they now have a popular podcast called SheZam).
“Stan performed there. I was in the front row, and he tripped on the steps going up to the stage. He recovered, but it was kind of funny.
Her next convention was KIDabra in Atlanta. “I was doing a lot of kid shows, so that was an easy decision. I met David Kaye who is now a great friend. I noticed that there were a lot of the same people attending that were at AbraCORNdabra. Stan Allen was there, too. He did this talk and the interviewer asks him to describe a time when things went wrong. Stan says, ‘Well, just last week I almost killed myself going up to the stage. Ask Carisa, she was there.’ In that moment, with that sentence, Stan Allen took me from total obscurity in magic to me being someone. It was huge for me. I knew he did MAGIC Live, so I told him I had helped run circus conventions, and if there was anything I could ever do at his convention, just let me know. He said great, send me your resume.” (She did, and she has worked as a backstage manager for the convention since 2015. “That’s a whole other story,” says Carisa. “When I said to Stan that I’d help out, I kind of meant that I would tear tickets or something.”)
The Atlanta Harvest of Magic, run by Ken Scott, was next for her, and as important as it was for her to connect with Stan Allen, it was here that she finally heard “yes.” “Harry Anderson was there lecturing, and so was Zabrecky. During his performance, I was selected to help him. I did my best to be a good volunteer, but I was analyzing him because, I’m thinking, this is really good!
“After the conference he held a private workshop that eight people could attend. I spent my last $100 on it. I mentioned my alien idea to him. He was the first person to say it was a great idea. I took that little thing he said and stuck it in my pocket. It was there when I did my bad Las Vegas show. It wasn’t Lucy yet. It was Q, and Eartha, Audrey, Zsa Zsa, and Buster. But what was it? I still didn’t know. There might be people reading this who have never seen Lucy and cannot imagine what this character might be like: neither could I! Lucy was an idea, sitting in my pocket.”
What came next was what would be the title of her first show with the new character. The Lady’s Guide to Deceit and Debauchery. “It just came to me. The rhythm was right; it sounded cool. But again, what would that be? Then Zsa Zsa Gabor died, and for some reason I felt like an aunt died. Why was I so upset? Other celebrity deaths didn’t bother me, why her? Because she was the last of those beautiful, clever, smart women. It was over, and that was unacceptable. It was a call to action. I saw this empire crumbling down, so I reached over, picked it up and said, ‘I’ll take from here, ladies.”
She watched every movie those women were in. “Everything they ever touched. I let it wash over me. I’d go to sleep hearing their rhythms and thinking about their intentions. I tried to get it into my bones. I tried an accent, but it sucked! So, I hired a dialect coach, David Lerigny, who worked on the Fargo TV series. He privately coached me and he was really great. He helped me get the subtleties of the various regional accents. We started with Trans-Atlantic, but I didn’t want just that, because she’s also an alien. How would an alien pretend to be human? They wouldn’t notice the differences between countries, between languages, and accents. So every vowel sound is from a different country; Scottish, Australian, and the regional American accents like New York. Actually, we didn’t build an accent, we built an idiolect; the unique way one individual speaks. Think about how Jacqueline Kennedy spoke. Hers was a specific idiolect. So is Lucy’s.”
With the Lucy character set—her intentions and her singular voice—Carisa started writing a show. “I was hoping it could save my marriage.”
Carisa and Jamie Tea were never legally married, but they did go through a small ceremony, “and I bought her a ring,” says Carisa. “She left me the day after Lucy was born.
“At first things were good, but she was having less success than me and we didn’t have a lot of time for each other. So I wrote her into the new Lucy show.” The show was to be called The Lucy and Lilly Show. “Her character, Lilly, was from New York, with a thick ‘New Yawk’ accent, and she was the foil for Lucy. It was screwball comedy. She learned the part, but she was frustrated. She was frustrated when she learned the magic—Jamie’s background was in musical theater. Once again, I spent my last dollar on getting us to Australia for the Melbourne Magic Festival. I didn’t know Tim Ellis, who runs it, but I had mutual friends email him about me. He took a big chance on their word that I was good. But the fact was that since so many people thought Lucy was a bad idea, there was a chance this might suck. So, I wanted to go to a continent where nobody knew me, and if it was crap, I’d never go back there.
“We land in Australia. We’d been on a plane for 23 hours, and we were fighting much of the way. She was exhausted and in six hours we had to be at a cabaret to showcase ourselves and sell tickets to our festival show, scheduled for the next night. Jamie didn’t want to go, so I dropped her off at Tim’s house—where we were staying—and I went to the cabaret by myself.
“You have to understand that except in rehearsal, Lucy didn’t exist. She had never been on stage. She’s still just an idea in my head. I have everything I need; I think I know what I’m doing, but Lilly’s not there. I decided to bring my fire eating gear and do fire eating as Lucy.
“I’m backstage at this venue. It’s a burlesque show, and it’s amazing. It’s called Moulin Beige and it’s not your standard burlesque show. The guy before me is standing on the stage wearing nothing but a colander over his crotch. That’s it. That’s the act. And I noticed during his act that there was obviously a baby—an actual infant—in the audience. Now I have written this seven-minute fire eating bit. It’s time and I walk on stage. But I don’t walk on stage. Lucy walked on stage. And she proceeded to do over five minutes of improvised comedy material on babies in the audience and the guy with the colander on his junk. I looked at the timer and I had just a minute left, So I quickly ate some fire eating. I came off stage, and now I’m Carisa, and I think, ‘What the f**k just happened?’ Nothing like that had ever happened to me before. I, Carisa, had never not existed on stage before. Lucy just came out. In the first show! I have a picture from that night. It doesn’t look like Lucy. The makeup is wrong and the costume is wrong, but there it is, the birth of Lucy Darling.”
The next day, Carisa and Jamie tech their show, and then do the performance as scheduled that night. “It went alright,” says Carisa. “Jamie messed up her trick, but she’s otherwise brilliant. But she’s mad at me and I don’t know why. We pack up the show and go back to Tim’s. She barley says a word never touches me. No hug, nothing. We were in the same bed, but one of us was invisible.
“The next morning we go out for coffee and she says, ‘We have to do notes. I’ve got notes for you.’ Okay, great. We sit down and she rips my face off. The show is terrible. The accent is bad. The script is horrible. We had this script for three weeks by then. If it was bad, that was information I could have used back then. She went on, telling me I was a bad performer and so on. I told her I had just one note for her. That the show requires an underlying tone of comradery. She says, ‘I don’t know how I can do that. It’s not authentic. You’ve written a terrible thing.’
“I said I didn’t know where to go from there, and she suddenly stood up and yelled at me for a solid seven minutes. In the coffee shop; in public. And then she left.” Carisa was ready to go after her when the owner of the shop approached her and sat her back down. “I now refer to her as the Australian Oprah,” jokes Carisa. “She got me another cup of coffee then said, ‘I don’t know you and I don’t know what just happened, but no one deserves to be talked to that way. Whatever that it is, it’s over. So drink this coffee—it’s on me—and you cannot leave until you’re finished, however long that takes.’ So basically I sat there thinking my marriage is over. Our lives were intertwined. Finances, everything. And I’m in a foreign country. I don’t really know anybody. I had met Simon Coronel once, so I texted him. ‘We don’t know each other well, but can you please come find me?’ He did, and we walk down the street and I unload on him—this near stranger. I’m crying and screaming, and he’s letting me. I’m supposed to do a show that night. It’s a five-show run. And I had booked a small tour. We were scheduled to be in Winnipeg next. Simon asks, ‘Do you want to go get a sandwich?’
“We sit down and he asks, ‘What do you need right now?’ I have no idea. He says, ‘You need to rewrite the show. What do you need?’ I said a pen and some paper. He had some paper and a pen. ‘What else do you need?’ A couple of hours. ‘Text Tim. Tell him you have to cancel tonight. He’ll understand. They’ll refund the tickets. Tell him you’ll do the show tomorrow. Now, write a new show, because you and I both know all you ever had was a show.’ And he walks out the door like some Gandhi character. But I now know Simon is not that guy. I just think he wanted the conversation to be over. But I sat there thinking, all I ever had was a show, and for the next three hours I went into some frickin’ Zen flow state and I wrote a new hour of material. I do the show the next night and it killed. The following night is sold out, as is the night after that. I did a hold-over show. Then later I find out I won the comedy award from the Melbourne Comedy Festival, who had scouts in the audience. That award comes with a prize. It’s a big deal.”
Carisa returned to Canada and did the mini tour she had set up to excellent reviews. Jamie had moved out of their house by the time she returned home. “I didn’t hear from her again for years,” says Carisa. Though her personal life was in shambles, her professional life started on its meteoric track. “Tim Ellis sent a video to Jack Goldfinger at The Magic Castle. He recommended that Jack book me, and Tim promised Jack that he would fly in from Australia that same week to keep an eye on me. The act was six months old. Who comes to the Castle with a six-month-old act? Nobody does that! I don’t recommend that to anyone. I got very lucky. That was November of 2017, and I have not sat down since.”
To date, she has performed at the Castle another five times. She was nominated for the Academy of Magical Arts Stage Magician of the Year for 2018, and was again for 2019. She’s worked virtually every magic venue in the country, including a three-month residency at the Chicago Magic Lounge. She was a hit at the 2019 Genii Convention, where she not only performed, but acted as an MC in the closing gala show. She’s returned to the Moulin Beige and the Melbourne Magic Festival. “I can see the blood stain on the stage where Lucy was born,” quips Carisa. “Five minutes of stream of consciousness on a baby and a near naked guy. Today, Lucy is going on only three years old. It hasn’t been perfect. There’s still a lot of learning going on. I learned Lucy cannot do show-offy type things, and other such things she cannot do. And I’m learning what she can do. I originally had a lot of rules for her, but many of those have gone away. So now there are things she does and says that I never thought she would. The character is so solid that I just let her say what she wants most of the time. Maybe she shouldn’t be saying them, but when Lucy says it, it’s so cute! Just about every night I get the entire audience to say, ‘classy bitch.’ Five years ago such a thought would never have occurred to me.”
Her appearance on Penn & Teller: Fool Us was another highlight in 2019. “I’ve known Penn and Teller for years because of sideshow, but they didn’t know about Lucy and I really didn’t think Penn would recognize me as her. I had this closing line planned where I would say ‘I might not have fooled you, but Lucy fooled you.’ I walk on stage and I’m so sure, so clever—and I looked great; everything was perfect—I strike my pose and Penn looks at me, nudges Teller, and I see him say, ‘Teller, look, it’s Carisa!’ So there went my line. And of course I didn’t fool them. I didn’t expect to. But it’s a good little routine, and I introduced Lucy to the world.”
Carisa is humbled by all of the help and support she’s received on her journey thus far. “Every part of my story is really about some person who said or did the right thing at the right time. We don’t make art in a vacuum; we don’t build beautiful things alone. My gratitude is overwhelming. And there have been so many weird steps along the way, but I know now that every one of them was essential to get here. Every odd job, every new skill, every single step was one more toward where I am now.”
With Lucy’s future secured, Carisa is making plans. She’s now talking through another idea she has. Perhaps if you see her, she will talk to you about Demona Loveless.