Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: Jason Bishop's world-class illusions 'coming home'

Who can disappear, reappear, and float? It's Reading native Kim Hess, lead assistant for illusionist Jason Bishop who, for the first time, is bringing his original state-of-the-art magic to Miller Symphony Hall in Allentown on Saturday at 2 p.m., as part of its family series. It will be more like a homecoming for both Hess and Bishop, who met at Fleetwood Area High School and went on to perfect world-class stage shows that include double levitation and op-art and plasma illusions.

In a phone interview last week while on the road from Atlanta to Berks County, Bishop talked about his upcoming Lehigh Valley appearance with "The Jason Bishop Show" and how excited he and Hess were to be "coming home" and reuniting with family and friends, many of whom will be in the audience.

Bishop was the first illusionist to perform at the New Victory Theatre in New York City, where he held the second of two runs of his own off-Broadway productions this past December. His first show was "Jason Bishop – Straight Up Magic," and the second, "Jason Bishop – Believe in Magic."

He's been featured on NBC's "Today Show," CW Network's "Masters of Illusion," Canada's popular "Breakfast Television Toronto," and Europe's legendary "Le Plus Grand Cabaret Du Monde" filmed in Paris.

For Saturday's show, Bishop, who turned 40 on January 22, said he will be performing his signature Fog Ball illusion, which he started working on some 20 years ago. He said his act of bouncing cards off the floor took about 15 years to perfect.

"It's about a two-year process to perfect just one element," he said.

He's met illusionist David Copperfield many times, even catching his Vegas show. It's one performer he said he greatly respects.

Bishop, whose real name is Jason Castro, was born in Newark, New Jersey. He said he was a foster kid who spent much of his youth in Philadelphia, Easton, and Emmaus, Lehigh County, and attended Salisbury schools. He said he was always interested in magic and credited one of his teachers at Salisbury Middle School, who was into the circus arts, for encouraging him and even teaching him how to juggle.

"Everybody knew I was into magic at Salisbury," Bishop said. "My classmates and teachers were supportive. I'm glad I can come back now and do a really strong and solid show. It's nice to come home."

Bishop attended Salisbury High School and studied theater at Kutztown University before going on the road with a game show that included a "Blizzard of Bucks" money machine. He said he's been traveling around the world ever since performing award-winning sleight-of-hand, grand illusions and close-up magic set to special lighting and a rock and pop soundtrack. His performance abilities have led him from China to Paris and Hollywood to New York City, as well as every state in-between and more than 30 countries on six continents.

Hess, who's also 40, was no stranger to the performing arts when she met up with Bishop back in Fleetwood. Since the age of four, she was an award-winning baton twirler who spent nearly 20 years performing with the Thunderbolts Production Unit nonprofit youth twirling organization in Berks County. She also studied dance and gymnastics and was a captain of her high school cheerleading squad. She holds a business and marketing degree from Kutztown University.

The duo's road show companions include technical director Ellen Schmoyer, who hails from Bethlehem, and Yorkshire Terrier, "Gizmo," also part of the onstage magic and known to give "fist bumps," or high fives.

Bishop said he hopes Saturday's audience will just have a really good time and see magic and illusion as "a fun thing, entertaining and light. I want people to enjoy themselves."

Hess added that most people tend to think of magic being just for kids.

"We're going to show them it's a great show for adults and kids," she said.

Footnote: All shows in the family series at Miller Symphony Hall include pre-show activities for kids at 12:30 p.m., in the Rodale Community Room.

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Philadelphia-based comedian Gregg Gethard will be performing as the "Financial Guru" on Friday at 8 p.m., in the Fowler Blast Furnace Room at the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks in Bethlehem. Gethard said he parodies "self-proclaimed financial experts that offer really shady seminars at hotel banquet centers. My character has written the book, 'Cash Dad Trash Dad' that is a spoof of the popular 'Rich Dad Poor Dad' series of books. The conceit is that I am giving a financial education seminar but it offers absolutely zero financial advice whatsoever."

Gethard has performed his show in Philadelphia and New York. He's opened for Hasan Minhaj, Aparna Nancherla, Hari Kondabolu, Shane Torres, and Dave Hill. He's also appeared on "The Chris Gethard Show" and "The Best Show with Tom Scharpling." He's known for his hit, "Yelp Novel," profiled by ABC News and the Ska or Improv TMBLR game played on Comedy Central's "Midnite." Gethard has performed at a variety of venues on the East Coast, most notably the famed UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade) Theater in New York, home for live comedy, improv, sketch, and stand-up.

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The hilarious farce, "No Sex Please, We're British," runs February 9-25 at the Pennsylvania Playhouse in Bethlehem.

A young bride, who lives with her husband above a bank where he's assistant manager, innocently sends for a mail-order of Scandinavian glassware but gets more than she bargained for when the package arrives filled with Scandinavian pornography. The plot revolves around what is to be done with the veritable floods of pornography, photographs, books, films, and eventually girls that threaten to engulf the happy couple.

The cast includes Drake Nester, Margaret Wilson, Mark Nathaniel, Denise Long, Jim Vivian, Michael Hollingsworth, Bill Joachim, Julisa Trinidad, and Alexandra Racines.

The show was written by Anthony Marriott and Alistair Foot and is directed by Jan Labellarte Beatty.

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The 12th annual SnowBlast Winter Arts Festival, sponsored by the Emmaus Arts Commission, will be held Friday from 5:30 to 8 p.m., and Saturday from noon to 4 p.m., at various indoor and outdoor venues throughout the Lehigh County borough, including Triangle Park, Emmaus Public Library, and Emmaus Historical Society.

SnowBlast headquarters will be situated at Liberty Worship Center (formerly Elephant's Trunk) at 348 Main Street. Participating businesses will display a "proud participant" Art Walk Palette sign on their door or window.

There will be a SnowBlast art show and sale, SnowBlast photography competition, SnowBlast ice princess, art demonstrations, live music, community art project, Lehigh Valley Martial Arts demonstrations, children's games, fire pits, and more.

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Seven world-class choreographers will be participating in Muhlenberg College's annual "master choreographers" dance concert, February 8-10, in Allentown. Performances include a restaging of a dance by critically-acclaimed guest artist, Tiffany Mills, this season's Baker artist-in-residence at the college.

Also featured will be world-premiere works by Muhlenberg dance faculty: Heidi Cruz-Austin, alumna of the Pennsylvania Ballet; Corrie Franz Cowart, co-artistic director of co-art dance; Shelley Oliver, director of Shelley Oliver Tap Dancers; Randall Anthony Smith, former dancer with Armitage Gone!, and Karen Dearborn, founder and chair of Muhlenberg's dance program; plus a restaging of "Side by Side," choreographed by Jeffrey Peterson, former dancer with Danny Buraczeski's Jazzdance.

Connie R. Kunda, retired associate athletic director and wellness director at Muhlenberg, will receive the LVAIC's Dance Consortium Award following the February 9 performance. Kunda founded the Wellness Institute at Muhlenberg in 1982, and developed a comprehensive student wellness program.

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A temporary exhibit featuring the "impossibly real" art of Peter Maier is running through March 11 at the National Museum of Industrial History in Bethlehem. The exhibit features several massive paintings and prints by Maier, who utilizes industrial automotive paints and processes to create his works.

Maier is a graduate of Pratt Institute and as a freshman was an assistant to sculptor Robert Mallary for a work commissioned by architect Phillip Johnson for the New York State Pavilion at the 1964 New York World's Fair. In addition to fine art, Maier was involved in industrial design.

As an automobile designer, he was one of the youngest ever to be hired by GM and rose in the ranks as senior designer for Cadillac, Pontiac and Chevrolet motor divisions. He left GM in 1980 to pursue his passion as an independent fine artist.

Maier works on hi-tech fabricated aluminum panels and utilizes a state-of-the-art waterborne paint. He developed a unique technique and multi-layering process that combines industrial paint technology with traditional brush work. The process gives the work a three-dimensional effect.

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Ping Chong + Company presents documentary theater with "Beyond Sacred: Voices of Muslim Identity," on February 9 at 8 p.m., at the Williams Center for the Arts at Lafayette College, 317 Hamilton Street, Easton. The program is an interview-based theater production exploring the diverse experiences of young Muslim New Yorkers coming of age in post-9/11 America.


Daniel Radcliffe ("Harry Potter") is among the actors in the National Theatre Live Downtown presentation of "Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead" on February 11 at 7 p.m., at the Landis Cinema at Buck Hall on the newly completed downtown arts campus at Lafayette College, 219 North Third Street.

The stage production by David Leveaux is marking the 50th anniversary of the play that brought fame to Tom Stoppard. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern take center stage as they stumble through Shakespeare's iconic drama, "Hamlet," and become increasingly and hilariously out of their depth as the story unfolds through their perspectives.

Radcliffe will be joined by actors Joshua McGuire ("The Hour"), and David Haig ("Four Weddings and a Funeral," "The Witness for the Prosecution").

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The music of great American folk artists is celebrated with "Lonesome Traveler," a concert version of the acclaimed off-Broadway musical, on Saturday at 8 p.m., at the State Theatre in Easton. Folk legend Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary has endorsed the show and will be appearing in this production of the show as a special guest star.

Folk artists whose music will be included are Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Pete Seeger and the Weavers, Gordon Lightfoot, Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, The Byrds, Donovan, Cat Stevens, Don McLean, James Taylor, Van Morrison, and with a special tribute to Leonard Cohen.

The production is complete with period costumes and multimedia projections as it features romantic duets, patriotic songs, church hymns, union anthems and songs of protest, transporting its audience from the 1920s to the 1960s and beyond.


Also at the State Theatre: "Riverdance – The 20th Anniversary World Tour," back by popular demand, will play a strictly limited engagement on Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. The production, composed by Bill Whelan, produced by Moya Doherty and directed by John McColgan, will feature new costumes, lighting and projections, plus the addition of a new number, "Anna Livia," featuring the female members of the Irish dance troupe in an a cappella hard-shoe number.

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