July 02--Ben Blaque figured X would mark his spot in Myrtle Beach.
The crossbow master, who performed four times last summer on NBC-TV's "America's Got Talent," continues flashing his targeting and magical talents in "Illusions of Magic" through Sept. 28 in the Palace Theatre, at Broadway at the Beach.
Speaking last week, unchanged from his costume on, fresh off a matinee show, Blaque voiced his joy in spending a summer on the Grand Strand, "going to the beach a lot," feeding off his surfing and bodyboarding pastimes he built when living in California. A runner who enjoys fitness workouts, he said he also "loves going to the theme parks and water parks" to unwind, and that he has wanted to come to the Grand Strand "for a long time."
Video: Blaque as seen on "AGT"
Beginning as a protege in his home state, working among the crew for Kirby VanBurch's show in Branson, Mo., Blaque he found his career gateway, despite his family lacking the fortunes to buy him the many magic props he would need. Blaque said VanBurch had a void to fill in his act, and for two years the invitation was reiterated to pick up a crossbow, and that by perfecting that dexterity, he would gain feature play and bookings.
"Next thing you know, I kind of liked it," Blaque said, recalling how in even what he deemed a "bad show, people would say, 'That was amazing. I love it.'"
Question -- Since your tenure on the seventh season of "America's Got Talent," where have new roads led you?
Answer -- At the time, I was still performing in Harrah's New Orleans Hotel and Casino, which is where I met Jay Lodge [chief executive of the Palace Theatre] and had conversations about the show here. I also did a show in Bogota, Colombia, in South America. ... I have been doing this since about 2006, and have performed on TV shows in Paris, France; Jakarta, Indonesia; and in Germany. I have been getting lots of offers, but I'm grateful now to have a lengthier contract.
Q. -- How easily and naturally does exhibiting your crossbow precision work with "Illusions of Magic"?
A. -- Magic has excitement factor. ... Also, with what I do in relation to magic, there's no specific language. Anybody of any nationality or in any country can enjoy it as much as anybody anyplace else. ... It's entertaining. Just like someone who juggles or does magic with hula-hoops, it's still cool, because it's a variety act, and it breaks it up a little bit, and adds more elements to an already awesome show.
Q. -- Just how much of exhibiting your crossbow skills is visual vs. body position and set up?
A. -- It took years to master. I had years of messing up on the job before doing that. That's the best way you learn, though. There's only a few people in the world who do what I do. Just like someone who wants to juggle ... like I do, there's no one to teach you; you have to figure it out, and I had to learn from my mistakes on stage.
My first year doing this on stage, sometimes I would have problems with my balloons, such as if they were not aired up enough. ... Or working with bent arrows. ... Then there's placement and learning how to sight the targets. It's a lot of work, and trail and error. I had a notebook ... and every time something would go wrong, I would write "If this happened, try this" and do a checklist. ... Also, if I do a show somewhere, and I have a fresh, never-before-used assistant I would give that to her.
Q. -- Having shown this art of aiming on TV several times, how has that exposure altered or bolstered your approach to performing on stage for such shows as "Illusions of Magic"?
A. -- The very first TV show I did was the one in Indonesia. ... In those southeast Asian countries, the people are really into magic. ... I was told, "One million people are watching this live." It really made me nervous; it's different to try to perform knowing that. Someone might think, "Oh, you just shoot a balloon; that's easy." It might look that way, but try adding to that ... the choreography, with lights and an audience of million people. ... Doing TV shows definitely helped me to have more confidence in the live shows. ...
TV shows can be a really stressful situation or atmosphere, but it's also really rewarding ... . Now you have archived footage that will be around forever.
Q. -- Do thoughts pop up for new stunts or other things to shoot off one's head, for use in the next chapter in your career?
A. -- I'm also a prop builder. You do that because going into this, I was a Midwestern boy, a farm boy. We work on our cars ourselves, we fix our own plumbing and whatever. So I had to fabricate things, and I taught myself to fabricate and weld all kinds of things. ...
I have a new stunt I'm working on. ... There's probably no one in the world who does it, shooting a crossbow while hanging upside-down by their ankles. ... I hopes it's something that makes the audiences squirm in their seats.
Contact STEVE PALISINat 444-1764.
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