— From the pages of FLL Issue #21 • Photography by Ben Reeder
The Curtain Rises
Two entertainers share the stage: a medieval juggler from a shadowy dungeon and a cool-hand magician who just sidled out of the saloon. These magic men of Lancaster are not your average performers—they are character juggler Chris Ivey and country conjurer Erick Hershey.
What makes these local heroes really special—besides the acclaimed shows that have taken them across the country and around the world—is the way they balance it all with everyday life.
When you picture a juggler, you probably imagine multicolored rubber balls, goofy hair, and a costume from a clown thrift shop. Chris Ivey possesses none of these. The color palette he draws from is black, white, and red—but mostly black. His wardrobe is a combination of Renaissance Faire and Hot Topic, with spikes, leather, and chain mail making appearances. Hair—well, it just isn’t there.
“I’m not the typical Goth,” he assured me, “I don’t like horror movies, I’ve got no obsession with death.” Ivey, a towering individual who routinely tempts fate with a battle-ax, flaming torches, and assorted swords, was terrified of everything as a child. His own show would have frightened him then. But instead of being shackled by fear, “I became the darkness that I was afraid of,” he said. Between routines, Ivey shares messages of overcoming obstacles and pursuing the dreams that seem out of reach. “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me,” he quotes prior to one impossibility.
By day, Ivey sheds his Gothic garb to teach everything but juggling at an elementary school in Millersville.”There has to be a line in the sand,” he said of the split. It would be too easy to fall into the role of entertainer all the time, and lose focus on the education. To engage students without his usual arsenal of jaw-droppers is a challenging prospect, but it is rewarding. It’s also been effective; in 2011 he was recognized as Educator of the Year.
As we spoke, the lights dimmed and flickered eerily. Ivey’s two year-old son, Lucien, had discovered light switches. The boy flashed us a mischievous grin before galloping back to the sofa to watch “Daddy’s D-D-D” (DVD) for the hundredth time. It’s hard to say which of them adores the other more. “You hear all the clichés, how children will change your life…and they’re all 100% true.”
Artists and showmen often tout the creative freedom of being a lone wolf, but Ivey wasn’t prepared to make that sacrifice. “I need someone to share my success with; I need someone to share my failures with. I’ve gotta have that.” That’s where his wife, Julie, comes in. As his lovely assistant, she’s done it all; from sound board to drawing board, she’s been the perfect editor of his show. “What I do would be so absurd, such a debauchery of ego, without her,” Ivey reflected.
Becoming a family man came at a price. Ivey used to spend 6-8 hours a day rehearsing. A serious relationship and full-time work cut that down to two hours a day and, lately, he’s lucky to get four hours a week. Limitations like that have taught him to “work smarter” and practice more effectively in the time he does have. “The greatest challenge…is that you never do anything completely whole.”
Cart Tricks, Cartoons and Car Seats
Erick Hershey is a peddler of “honest deceptions.” Some illusionists cultivate an aura of mystique, encouraging the idea that they channel unnatural powers beyond our own, but Hershey is one magician with no illusions of grandeur. He doesn’t want you to believe that he actually has magical powers. Rather, he delights in creating perplexities of perception and drawing attention to the ways that our eyes fool our brains. “It’s all about how neat the trickery of our own minds is.”
It was high noon at the Chestnut Hill Cafe when we met. By all rights, Hershey’s entrance should have been marked by a haphazard tumbleweed and the clatter of batwing doors, instead of a mere jingle-jingle. Dressed for the West, his wardrobe is not just for shows anymore; it’s become a part of his persona. The idea came to him while performing at an art walk in Portland, in a store that “looked like a Roy Rogers lunchbox had exploded.” After some experimenting, he settled on an ensemble that’s more saloon-pianist than gunslinger.
Erick’s foray into magic got real when he was just twelve. His parents discovered a magician who was discarding his old tricks and bought them as a gift. They weren’t imbued with special powers or wizardry, but they sparked in him a lifelong passion for sleight of hand. He began to follow in the footsteps of legendary illusionist Andre Kole who, when he isn’t crafting tricks for David Copperfield, travels the world debunking mystics. Kole shares Hershey’s philosophy that magicians shouldn’t try to pass themselves off as messiahs.
When he isn’t creating the illusion of magic, Erick Hershey has worked at creating the illusion of motion. He has taught both traditional and digital 2D animation at the Art Institute of York, plus classes in “all the really fun design stuff.” While Chris Ivey uses teaching and performing to counterbalance each other, Hershey takes the opposite approach: He allows them to fuel each other. “Special effects, animation, magic…it’s all one and the same,” he said, and shared how a fellow magician commissioned him to design the animated segment of an X-ray illusion.
It’s not unusual for Hershey to collaborate with other artists. He’s worked on big-budget movie sets and everything’s-made-of-cardboard student films. He’s a member of a three-act magic variety show and an “entertainers’ mastermind group” called Tangent. But the most important partnership that he’s forged began sixteen years ago, when he met his wife, Maria. Art majors both, she in Ceramics and he in Animation, they contributed to each others’ work and discovered unexpected overlaps, like Claymation. The harmony of their artistic pursuits opened new avenues for both of them; one avenue led to Prague, where Erick proposed.
Now, the Hersheys have “two bright, sweet, little, wonderful parts of us,” (referring to their two children). Asked how he handles it all, Erick replied, “Less sleep and…well, mostly less sleep.” He still finds plenty of energy, though, and I don’t think he’s pulling it out of a hat. The man just loves to entertain. And Shawn (the Hershey’s eldest child), who is at an age when everything is fascinating and magical, could not be a better audience. “If I had to choose between being an artist and an entertainer… Entertainer, no question.”
Erick’s growing family has impacted what he can do—tricks might take longer to design, projects might have to be tabled—but, like Chris, he never regrets time spent with the ones he loves. There’s definitely something magical about that.