7 Qs for Criss Angel | Catching up with a world-famous illusionist in Akron

words by Christopher Morrison, photos by Svelta Morrison

Before I knew it, world-renowned illusionist Criss Angel had “magically” appeared in Akron. As quickly, he disappeared.

The native New Yorker, born Christopher Nicholas Sarantakos, granted me a few minutes before the October 6 show at the Akron Civic Theatre of The Supernaturalists. (He was smitten with the measure of detail preserved in our 1929 historical landmark.) The star of an electrifying TV show, “MindFreak,” which is now in syndication, no other magician has logged as many hours on television as Criss Angel, who also reigns as the most-viewed magician on the Internet. He’s also the author of the book “MindFreak: Secret Revelations” and his work has garnered accolades his contemporaries—namely David Blaine and David Copperfield—can’t match as winner of Magician of the Year, Magician of the Decade and Magician of the Century. His Las Vegas show “Believe” is now collaborating with Cirque du Soleil at the Luxor Hotel, and of course, now he’s the creator and director of “The Supernaturalists,”a show featuring nine magicians and illusionists handpicked by Angel to tour nationwide.

Prior to this assignment, I found YouTube videos of him plying his amazing trade. In one, he “ripped” a girl in half on a park bench while spectators’ jaws dropped. He shocked folks by walking on water in a pool at a hotel in Vegas and broke records for the amount of time he was suspended in air, submerged and shackled in Houdini’s Water Torture Chamber in Times Square.

Criss Angel and writer Kris Morrison talk at the Akron Civic Theatre during Angel’s visit to Akron. (Photo by Svetla Morrison)

A contemporary street performing illusionist accessible to the hands of smartphone swiping millennial, Angel doesn’t often take breaks. But on his visit to Akron, he’s dressed for comfort: A black baseball cap, Channel shades, ripped jeans and a black and white image on his t-shirt. He was approachable from the very first moment we met in front of the Civic and very giving of his time. He never looked at his watch, even with the buzz of management before curtain call, or rushed through as we talked about his performances on the street and stage, the unexpected that happens during live performances—and magic.

Christopher Morrison : “The first thing I noticed when I looked you up Criss, was what you looked like; I was quite surprised and thought, “This guy is 47? He can’t be 47!” You are a very young looking 47 years old. What do you to stay so young and fit?”

Criss Angel: “Well thank you, thank you very much. Magic! (Laughs) I think it’s exactly that, to remain fit. For me it has been all about for many many years of training, working out and eating right and I think also mentally; your mental outlook in life is very important. I don’t consume my life with negativity. The outlook of yourself and your perception. I try to be a beam of positivity. I believe that keeps you youthful-age is just a number to me, I’m still just 21.”

CM: “What are the physical demands of performing in public, or on stage? On the street? I caught up with your mind blowing performances on YouTube, what’s different?”

CA: “Each medium has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Take television for example, you’re able to have a camera and have that camera focus in on what you want the audience to see at home, and then you have the opportunity to get a chance to do it again, again, and again.

“In a live performance, it’s all about the audience’s perspective. You can’t zoom them in, or pull focus, you have to know how to direct and you need to get something together so that they can follow and understand, it needs to be done in a pacing that’s rapid and keeps their interest. With television it’s a lot easier to do that, you can cut time, there’s music, other means to keep time moving faster.

“With stage you need to design something that’s going to engross and consume people on an emotional level and engage them in a way and have them understand on what to follow; you need to connect with them on a very primitive kind of emotion and with stage you don’t get a second time, you have to make the best of any scenario that presents itself during a live performance. They’re completely two different mediums.”

Kris walks into the Akron Civic Theatre for his interview with illusionist Criss Angel. (Photo by Svetla Morrison)
Kris walks into the Akron Civic Theatre for his interview with illusionist Criss Angel. (Photo by Svetla Morrison)

CM: “While performing has anything unexpectedly gone south and you just picked up the pieces and winged it?”

CA: “Absolutely, we have the element of surprise as performers in magic, people don’t know what the outcome is supposed to be. So I take full advantage of that and if some things don’t go according to plan, which happens, that’s why it’s called live performance, you roll with it. If you’re really good on your feet and able to improv, which I pride myself in doing, not like other magicians who read teleprompters, or have scripted lines, I listen to the public-whatever they’re digging, or not digging depending on how the audience is interacting with me, so if something doesn’t go as planned, no problem I just roll with it, I’ve had fire alarms go off during a performance, anything that can happen will happen during a live show eventually”

CM: “What’s like the weirdest thing that’s ever happen to you during a live performance?”

CA: “I’ve had a lot crazy things happen during a show, I’ve had girls masturbating during a performance in their seat. I’ve had a girl flash me in her seat, drunk people in the audience, all sorts of stuff, you never know what you’re going to get and that’s the excitement I get during these surprise appearances. The Supernaturalist don’t need me on the stage, they’re nine incredible artists, and they’re doing the greatest illusions out there, but when I go on stage and they go on stage you never know. And that’s what makes it exciting”

CM: “How do you keep your performances fresh? Looking at your schedule touring, it looks like you’re booked pretty much back-to-back with performances.”

CA: “I do about 450 shows a year. For me there are a couple things that happen. Number one, I’m the creator of the shows that I do, and now celebrating my 7th year anniversary, which is about 3,000 shows in Las Vegas—thank you very much (smiles)—this Halloween. I direct and have complete creative control in all my performances, the Supernaturalist isn’t something I had to do, it’s something I wanted to do, so I’ve created these outlets that has allowed me to change, transform and evolve.

“As performers and artists we realize we are blessed to do the things we love to do. We’re able to get on that stage and platform and give people what they want to see; we’ll never have that same group of people in that audience ever again. That is what it feels like the first time each night, because we have a new audience and so we all want to give 110 percent, giving them the best experience when watching magic.”

Criss Angel poses for a shot before the Akron opening of The Supernaturalists, which the famed illusionist produced. (Photo by Svetla Morrison)

CM: “Is there anything different from performing on the street, and on stage. I mean do you just walk on the street and start performing?”

CA: “Nowadays, usually it’s ‘Hey Criss, can you take a picture, or sign something?’ Sometimes people ask ‘Can you do this? Can you do that?’ Depending on the vibes and the person, many times I do stuff and bug people out, and so many times I wish I had a hidden camera somewhere to capture that reaction. It would’ve been priceless. I don’t go out there to solicit money with street performances. I brought in $150 million for the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas. I don’t have to do that anymore, so I’ve been very blessed. I didn’t get into this business for the money. This is the reason why a lot of people do things (but) money doesn’t matter to me. When you’re focused on being the best at your craft, delivering experiences to audiences that they can’t experience anywhere else, then the bi-product is money and fame. I never started to do anything because of money. To me, to do that you’ll have a disaster.”

CM: “What would you be doing if you weren’t performing magic?”

CA: “I’d probably be a martial artist. I love that stuff. I’ve studied martial arts for many years. As a kid, I was just fascinated with that. It’s like a chess game and I love that stuff, because it’s very competitive and I have that type of spirit, or something in the line of that. Or a detective—something like that, figuring out things. My mind works that way when I see something I don’t understand, I have to see how things work.”