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Center Stage

The mysteries of life


He dangles upside down from a rope that is suspended from the ceiling. His straightjacket binds him as he hangs just inches from the unsprung teeth of a 1,200-pound bear trap dubbed the “Jaws of Death.” Should the sharp jaws snap shut, it would stab his body in nearly every vital organ, killing him instantly. And the ropes that hold the jaws open? They’re awash in flames.Jaws

The man is Jay Owenhouse. He’s an illusionist, a tiger-tamer and a magician. He’ll be performing this Saturday at Hoyt Sherman Place. Scary? Maybe. But the Montana native says audiences of all ages will be entertained.

“We geared it for sophisticated adults, but it’s appropriate for kids, and no off-color language,” says Owenhouse. “Our demographic is ‘everybody.’ ”

In 2009, Owenhouse had his life suddenly turned upside down. His wife of 22 years died of a rare disease.

“She was the love of my life,” Owenhouse says. “She was my partner in business and in life.”

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As the show unfolds, Owenhouse tells his family’s story and how he and his four children — John, Peter, Juliana and Christina — coped with life after tragedy. He hopes to encourage as well as entertain and inspire the crowd.

Owenhouse says he took a couple of years off from performing on the road, but now the act is a family affair.

“They all travel and work in the show,” he explains.

His two sons each contribute with the business end of things and with the show’s engineering. His daughters are both on stage as his assistants.

“We decided to do shows just on the weekends,” Owenhouse says. “We’re a family show that’s also for other families. And we’re a family, too.”

The Owenhouse family also includes two tigers: Shekinah and Sheena. They are twins but aren’t identical — one is white, the other orange.

“I raised these tigers since they were babies,” Owenhouse says. “I’ve owned a private tiger sanctuary for 25 years.”

Fans sitting in the front row better watch out — the tigers are so close, you might get slobbered on. If you want to get an even closer look, you can meet the tigers backstage before the show by purchasing VIP tickets.

Owenhouse raised his two tigers from shortly after their birth. He’s passionate about the felines and worries about their possible extinction.

“There were 100,000 tigers in the world (in the wild) in 1900,” he says. “Today, there are less than 3,000. The show is about the things I love: my family, the art of illusion and animals. And to show that dreams are possible.”

Part of the proceeds from the backstage “meet and greet” with the tigers for VIPs goes toward supporting the largest tiger sanctuary in India. The sanctuary uses the donations to pay armed guards to keep wild tigers from being poached. Owenhouse says poaching is the primary reason for the declining tiger population, as they have no natural predators.

He hopes everyone attending the show will leave mesmerized and with a renewed sense of wonder, but also with “a greater understanding and love for one of God’s greatest creations — the Bengal tiger.”

Owenhouse can do the trick that killed Houdini — escaping from a water-filled chamber — on national TV. He can escape from a straightjacket while hanging upside down over giant claws designed to maim and kill, and he’ll attempt to do that on Jan. 30 at Hoyt Sherman.

“Life is a mystery,” Owenhouse says. “Anything is possible. If you believe enough, anything can happen.” CV

Who: Jay Owenhouse The Authentic Illusionist
Where: Hoyt Sherman Place
1501 Woodland Ave.
When: Saturday, Jan. 30

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