The Upside Down Straight Jacket Escape for 3D TV Magic Special

Yesterday, we filmed two acts for the final taped segment of our 60min 3D TV Magic Special. The first act was a spiker illusion performed with a spectator while surrounded by a 100 people. The location was at the bottom of the skate pool at the Xtreme Skate Park at East Coast Parkway. It was a cool interactive illusion and fit the theme as well as adds variety in the context of the entire show.

The main highlight of the segment was a suspended upside down straight jacket escape with the line on fire, 30ft off the bottom of the skate bowl. It is quite nice timing that Houdini’s birthday was just 2 days ago. If you did not know, he pioneered the suspended upside straight jacket escape. This escape has since been presented by hundreds of performers over the years. 

I was originally hesistant about presenting this stunt as it has been done before. However, after seeing the context of the story board and the location, I felt it fit. The segment’s setting is the Xtreme Skate Park and is about extreme sports and pushing the physical limits of the human body. So, the escape worked.

In addition, no one else in Singapore has presented this escape in such a location at this height with such a massive set-up. And, in the context of the show, this is a “filler” segment and not the grand finale. Our “Bus Vanish” mega illusion will close the TV show.

Finally, to ensure that there is some element of originality and “pushing of the envelope”, we had the suspension rope lit on fire and I used NO safety line in the escape.

Disclaimer: This escape was an extreme stunt and should not be attempted by anyone except experienced professionals. And if you do attempt the stunt, you should use a safety line.

Escapes are an allied variety art and often categorized as a subset of magic. While not really a subset of magic, escapes do share a lot of the same techniques of magic. A lot of purist escape artists do not see themselves as magicians and do not like the association but I think a lot will do better if they did study magic techniques, psychology and structuring of routines. How many escape artists do you know besides Houdini? I bet you can name more magicians! Nuff said. Having said that, there are many excellent escape artists in the world and I respect their work immensely.

I’ve worked on several escapes for Ning, myself and two performers under Concept:Magic so have a reasonable amount of knowledge in this specialized field. I have received input from professional escape artists and professional magicians who had previously performed an upside down straight jacket escape. We have also tested and worked out rigging in a previous escape she did called “Inversion”. At that time, Ning also went without a safety line and received flak from some magicians.

With this version that I designed for the 3D TV show, it is the location and theme that just added texture and uniquess to this classic escape. The fire added danger and a visual spectacle. I performed a straight jacket escape from 1994 – 2001 in my live shows so am quite familiar with the restraint. But, this is the first time I have done it suspended upside down. I have experienced hanging upsidedown when testing out the rigging for Ning during the set-up and rehearsals of “Inversion”.

We were meticulous with the rigging although the movement of the cherry picket extending and retracting made everyone uneasy. My feet are not strapped in but merely hooked onto a bar. Any large jerking movements can cause me to dislodge. The height we chose was for maximum safety and the ideal height for the camera (on a crane) to capture all the footage from a variety of angles.

I worked out the movement of the crane and camera positions with the director and cinematographer and the shots look awesome. The finale pose is also really cool as I insisted on doing a flip and drop down to the suspended platform to end the escape with a punctuation mark.

In traditional riggings of the feet, the performers cannot do something like that, they have to be lowered down completely and their crew have to untie their feet before they can close the stunt. With our rigging, since, my feet are just hooked onto the bar, I can flip myself over and un-hook myself down.

This is quite a physically demanding and I spent two weeks preparing for the inverted aspect of the stunt. Just getting your body used to being upside down for extending periods of time along with physical assertion is something you have to build up to. Add 30ft of distance between you and the concrete ground and without the physically and pyschological peace of mind of a safety line… it is both a mental and physical challenge.

The Concept:Magic crew that worked on the stunt with me did a fantastic job making sure all was safe (as it could be :-p ) and ensured we could perform the actual stunt without safety just once for the actual take. Great job Mac, Adeline and Daniel!

Check out the full behind the scenes photo album on our Facebook page. Thanks to Darren Ong for the photos!


About J C Sum

International Headline Entertainer, Content Creator and Investor
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