(April 19, 2019) Although the Performing Arts Center on 40th Street may not levitate on Saturday when world-renowned magicians, Josh Knotts and Lea, present the “largest touring illusion and escape artist show in the United States,” one lucky audience member will be brought on stage to elude gravity, while another adventurous soul will be sawed in half.
Knotts and his wife are the creators of Extreme Illusions & Escapes. The duo has performed 300-plus shows annually since 2009 and will present a 90-minute, family-friendly, music-drenched Las Vegas-style show at the Performing Arts Center inside the convention center, this Saturday at 4 p.m.
“My show is very improvisational when it comes to the audience participation aspect,” Knotts said. “I’d say 80 percent of the show the audience is truly the star on stage with the trick.”
The couple connected while attending West Virginia University to study theatre and teamed up after graduating to create a stage show that blends mind-boggling illusions and death-defying escapes with a hands-on audience experience.
“I take a teenager from the audience, saw them in half and remove their legs,” he said. “I’m going to float a young lady from the audience in the air.”
After being exposed to the magic of Extreme Illusions & Escapes, Todd Ferrante, owner of Park Place Jewelers, helped facilitate the Ocean City visit.
“It’s definitely a family affair,” he said. “Whether you’re 3 or 103, you’re going to enjoy a lot of what the illusionist Josh Knotts does.”
Ferrante said over the last decade the Knotts have assembled nearly half a million dollars worth of large-scale illusions and escapes.
“He is going to do extraordinary things people don’t normally see that will keep people guessing, ‘how did they do that?’” he said. “I’m really hoping people in Ocean City and the surrounding areas will be entertained by what Josh has to offer.”
In 2016, in addition to the couple having a second daughter, Josh Knotts received the Merlin Award from the International Magicians Society, which has more than 40,000 members and is ranked as the largest of its type by the Guinness Book of World Records.
“It’s kind of like the Oscars of magic,” he said.
Past honorees include Siegfried and Roy, Penn and Teller, Criss Angel and Knott’s childhood idol, David Copperfield.
“I’m one of the first entertainers they gave it to that is primarily an outdoor entertainer,” he said. “I do a lot of huge festivals and fairs [but] I do performing arts centers as well.”
Knotts was humbled when Tony Hassini, founder and president of the International Magicians Society, shared a rave review after viewing a performance.
“He said, ‘I can’t believe what you pull off considering … you use so many people from the audience on stage in the show,” he said. “It’s not like any illusionist I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Knotts estimates about half of the 300-plus shows the duo put on annually are at large state fairs, which sometimes lure in big crowds.
“We might have 5,000-10,000 people watch our show in a day,” he said.
Knotts said repeat bookings are the norm, but keeping the show fresh with a few new illusions becomes financially challenging as each can cost between $15,000-$20,000.
“It’s a volume business for me [as] I’ve got to book a lot of shows in order to keep buying the equipment so that people are still excited,” he said. “As soon as your show does the same thing year after year the phone stops ringing.”
Those challenges are not an issue this weekend, Knotts said.
“Since this is my first time [in Ocean City], I’m bringing all the stuff I’ve performed hundreds of times so that it’s the most solid material,” he said. “I have the largest collection of these big illusions and escapes in the country.”
Tickets, which range in cost from $35-$45, can be purchased at the Performing Arts Center or by visiting Ticketmaster.com.