Sharii Nelson was born into magic.That’s why she’s sitting in a truck cab at an Indiana gas station with a squawking macaw named Pippen. She’s hauling 30,000 pounds of equipment across the country designed to fill people with wonder – giant saws, a dozen doves, a helicopter that can appear out of thin air, the 21-foot-long Drill of Death that she has seemingly been nearly impaled by countless times.
Nelson is an illusionist. She debuted at 18 months old dragging her father’s straight jacket off stage. Now 22, she travels the country performing with her parents, Jeff and Lynn Nelson, and new husband, Scott MacNeill, who joined Nelson Illusions last spring. They’ll present the all-ages show “Smoke and Mystery” Saturday, Jan. 30 at Washington State University. On a pit stop, Nelson talked by phone about her life of danger and magic.
“I used to play backstage in the curtains and the equipment. I was home-schooled so I went with (my parents) everywhere. I really loved it. … If I hadn’t have gone into magic I would have gone into the performing arts. It was a pretty straightforward choice.
What does it take to be an illusionist?
“It takes a lot. We all studied dance, theater and acting. You also need a bunch of technical skills – metal work, carpentry, electrical work. We design and build all the pieces in our act.”
While it is called an illusion, it looks dangerous. Is what you do dangerous?
“It is. A lot of this stuff is based on a lot of mechanical things and mechanics don’t always work. There’s definitely a lot of things that can go wrong. There’s a degree of danger. It’s important that all of us know our part. During the act there are people backstage working to make sure it works safely.”
What is your favorite act?
“I love doing the drill act and the dove act. I started doing that when I was 8. I’ve always enjoyed performing with animals. I produce about eight birds. It’s a very fun production piece. I do it at the beginning of the show. When I perform I feel like I’m getting to meet the audience for the first time and say hello.”
“A lot of people think magic is about fooling. … We try to present it as a form of art. … We want to make the audiences feel wonder and that anything is possible, that you could make something fly or that you could survive something, which is what we try to portray.”
What: “Smoke and Mystery” by Nelson Illusions
When: 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30
Where: Jones Theatre in Daggy Hall, Washington State University, Pullman
Cost: $16 adults, $13 seniors (ages 60 and older) $8 non-WSU students and youth. A discount on adult/senior ticket prices is available for groups of eight or more. WSU student tickets are free and available in advance at the Beasley Coliseum ticket office with valid WSU ID.