Carisa Hendrix's magical alter-ego Lucy Darling comes full circle with show at High Performance Rodeo

Hendrix began performing magic tricks for classmates at the age of seven in Calgary; she had a history of inhabiting various personas before creating Lucy

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When Calgary magician and comedian Carisa Hendrix was hosting A Magical Cirque Christmas in cities across North America a few years back, a funny thing would happen whenever she exited the theatre.

Well, it was more about what didn’t happen. While other performers were mobbed by fans asking for photos, Hendrix was usually ignored.

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This was not a reflection of her performance. Hendrix, after all, was the star of the show. But she hosted it under the guise of her increasingly popular alter ego, Lucy Darling. Without Lucy’s elegant gown, wig and sharp tongue, Hendrix was completely unrecognizable to audience members who had just spent more than an hour watching her perform. One of her favourite things to do was offer to take a photo of families with her fellow performers outside the theatre. She is having similar experiences in Chicago these days, where she is currently performing as Lucy five nights a week in a 100-year-old Belgian spiegeltent as part of the circus/dinner theatre production, Teatro ZinZanni.

“I took pictures of families standing in front of eight-foot-tall posters of my face and they didn’t recognize me,” says Hendrix, in an interview with Postmedia from Chicago. “It’s the greatest gift. Even here with this show, I would have thought people would recognize me because in a spiegeltent it’s really close, the audience is like a foot away from me. Then they go down in the elevator with me and they still don’t recognize me. It’s a dream!”

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The fact that Hendrix relishes these moments of anonymity may be a testament to her growing fame in the competitive world of magic, but it’s also proof of how thoroughly she disappears into the role of Lucy Darling. In 2017, Hendrix created her saucy alter-ego as an experiment of sorts while attending the Melbourne Magic Festival. She wanted to inhabit a persona that was entirely different than her own, complete with a Dorothy Parker wit, old-school Hollywood gowns and hairdos and a lineup of trippy sleight-of-hand tricks. She was given the comedy award that year at the festival, which is rarely won by a non-Australian performer.

Carisa Hendrix shows off her fire-eating skills in Edmonton in 2014.
Carisa Hendrix shows off her fire-eating skills in Edmonton in 2014. Postmedia file photo

Suddenly she was in high demand, booking shows at some of magic’s most prestigious venues such as The Magic Castle in Los Angeles, the Chicago Magic Lounge and Nashville’s House of Cards. In 2019, she made her television debut on Penn and Teller: Fool Us, a magic competition series where contestants tried to fool the famous American magician duo. It gave Hendrix, who performed in the Lucy Darling persona, an international audience. In 2020, she signed with the William Morris Agency, one of the biggest and oldest talent agencies in show business, and her career has maintained an upward trajectory ever since.

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Much of this, of course, is thanks to Lucy. Hendrix, who began performing magic tricks for classmates at the age of seven in Calgary, had a history of inhabiting various personas before she created her most famous alter-ego. In Calgary, she found moderate success performing corporate gigs and at children’s festivals where she was able to show off a bewilderingly broad skillset that included fire-eating (Hendrix broke the Guinness World Record for “longest duration fire-torch teething” in 2012 and appeared in the 2014 version of the book), barefoot glass-walking, juggling, contortion, acrobatics and, of course, magic. At one point, she had created 11 personas to help showcase all of her varying talents. But these days, Lucy Darling has completely taken over.

Carisa Hendrix
Carisa Hendrix, centre, and her many personas including (from left) Circus Max, Dee Dee Darling, The Amazing Stunt Girl and Lucy Darling. Postmedia file photo

“I still love the other stuff, I really do,” says Hendrix, who will be performing Lucy Darling in Indulgence as part of the High Performance Rodeo from Jan. 17 to 20 at the Big Secret Theatre in Arts Commons. “Every once in a while I get a chance. A couple of summers ago I did my old side-show act in Saskatoon for a fundraiser. I did the fire-eating thing a little while ago as part of a little renegade variety show. But it’s so not my focus now because all everybody wants is Lucy and I’ve learned to grow her out a little bit to do more artistic, different things to satisfy all of my brain.”

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Expanding Lucy’s range was a byproduct of the pandemic. Unable to perform live just as her career was heating up, Hendrix began creating hours of online content for her fans. She wrote four to five hours of new magic tricks within the first few months.

Hendrix says she sees Lucy Darling as a mix of an “old-timey, throw-back, silver-screen starlet-style character” and the Star Trek character Q, the meddlesome, misbehaving trickster-god played by John de Lancie.

Over the years, Hendrix’s act has evolved to incorporate improvisation amid her flirty and often boozy sleight-of-hand tricks. This is certainly not novel in the world of comedy but extremely rare for magic.

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“It’s excruciatingly hard,” Hendrix says with a laugh. “I don’t think there are a lot of people doing improvised magic. I think there is maybe three of us in the genre because it’s really, really hard. . . It’s difficult because magic requires a lot of specificity, a lot of controlling of elements. As an improviser, the audience is in charge of the elements so I have to, every once in awhile, very sneakily take that control back.”

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The Calgary shows are a homecoming for Hendrix. While she still officially lives in the city, she is rarely home due to a hectic performance schedule. But becoming a featured player for theatre company One Yellow Rabbit’s High Performance Rodeo is more than a homecoming, it also has a full-circle feel for the performer. She would do pop-up fire-eating or glass-walking performances at the Rodeo dating back to her early days as a performer. After she broke the Guinness World Record for fire-torch teething in Italy back in 2012, Hendrix was awarded $2,000. Eight years ago, she decided to spend it on One Yellow Rabbit’s Summer Lab Intensive, a program that ran from 1997 to 2019. At the time, Hendrix says she was a little confused about her future as a performer. She said her experiences in the program convinced her to concentrate magic as a career.

“They weren’t even sure they were going to let me in, they were like ‘I don’t know if it’s a good fit, she’s a side-show performer,’” Hendrix says. “(One Yellow Rabbit’s) Denise Clarke called me and we discussed it. I told her ‘I’m here to remember how to make art and to remember that what I do is art and figure out where I’m supposed to go next.’ The lab is an incredible program. You do a graduation piece and the graduation piece I did was the first full-on magic routine I ever did as a magician and that’s the same room where I’m going to be doing my show.

“It’s very cool to be standing in the same spot where I decided, eight years ago, to blow up my life and start over.”

Lucy Darling in Indulgence runs Jan. 17, 18 and 19 and Jan. 20 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at the Big Secret Theatre. Apres Lucy, a VIP experience, will be held Jan. 17 and 18 at 8:15 p.m. and Jan. 20 at 3:15 p.m. at the same venue. The High Performance Rodeo runs from Jan. 15 to Feb. 4 at various venues. Visit www.oyr.org/hprodeo/

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