British daredevil Jonathan Goodwin has pulled a lot of crazy stunts, but one of the scariest was hanging from the top of a 120m-tall building by just two fingers.
Not a good idea for a man who is afraid of heights.
“Anything where I’ve been more than a couple of storeys off the ground I’m not a fan of,” he tells InDaily.
“The only way I got through that day, because I was very nervous, was to never look down once.
“There was never a moment when I saw that 395-foot drop.”
Goodwin, one of the stars of the upcoming show The Illusionists 1903, has made a successful career out of pushing his body and nerve to the limits, and on that particular occasion his fate was dictated by the roll of a dice. He was on the roof with a single crew member whose job was to roll the dice and call out the resulting number, dictating how many fingers he would continue holding on with.
It could have been worse: she might have rolled a one.
One any other day, the self-described “professional danger man” and escapologist might be found hanging by his toes from a helicopter, getting burned at the stake, buried alive, throwing knives at people or pushing needles through his skin.
“I read a book about Houdini when I was seven and like all kids that age, I was into superheroes – what particularly appealed to me about him was that he was real. He really did the things I read about,” Goodwin says, explaining how he wound up on such an unusual career path.
“I decided then that I wanted to be like him. I would get my dad to tie me up and I would try to escape.”
He eventually expanded into other activities such as climbing, highwire feats and marksmanship.
“My peers were collecting Pokemon cards and I was collecting heroes who had died before I was born.”
Goodwin demonstrates his William Tell skills
Goodwin has an enduring respect for the daredevils and illusionists of yesteryear, including the likes of Australian escape artist “Murray” (Norman Walters), who hung upside down from an airplane while trying to escape from a straitjacket; 1800s performer Ivan Chabert, who reportedly would enter an oven with a raw leg of lamb and only come out when the meat was cooked, and Ethel Purtle, who rode the “wall of death” (a horizontal wall) with a lion in her sidecar.
He is particularly fascinated by the golden era of the craft, which occurred from around 1903 until the 1920s. The 2015 touring Illusionists show coming to Adelaide this month seeks to re-create the magic and grandeur of that time, which is one of the reasons British-born Goodwin was so keen to be part of the seven-strong line-up.
“The thing about those guys and what was going on back then is that they were really unfettered – there was no such thing as health and safety [regulations], so they were unhampered and could let their creativity go.
“In the 1940s, people started to think more carefully about what should and shouldn’t be allowed.”
The disparity between what people believed was real and what was illusion was also much narrower in those early days, says Goodwin. When the first performer sawed a woman in half in 1918, there was even an ambulance on standby outside the theatre to encourage the audience’s belief that she was in serious danger.
“The world was turning so fast and innovation was so rapid that people were perhaps more easily beguiled.”
The Illusionists 1903 will feature six other performers whom Goodwin says all have impressive reputations: The Immortal (Rick Thomas), The Eccentric (Charlie Frye), The Showman (Makr Kalin), The Conjuress (Jinger Leigh), The Clairvoyants (Thommy Ten and Amelie van Tass), and The Maestro (Armando Lucero).
Many of the acts they perform were pioneered in the early 20th century, with the romance of the era reflected in the score, costuming and set, which Goodwin says will be evocative of films such as The Prestige and The Illusionist.
His own feats are often performed outdoors and filmed for television, so one of the challenges he has faced is making his routine suitable for a theatre stage.
“There’re going to be crossbows, I think I’m going to be on fire at one point in the show, I do a stunt with a live scorpion in my mouth … it really runs the gamut of the different things I do. Some are escape-artist stunt and some are more daredevil stunts.”
While the feats had yet to be finalised when InDaily spoke to Goodwin (some may be subject to insurance cover), he said he might also display his knife-throwing skills, which usually involves an audience volunteer. Nervous potentials might feel better knowing that Goodwin says he’s never had an accident.
His wife is also his on-stage assistant and is so confident in his aim that she happily stands there while he shoots a crossbow in her direction. He re-created the famous William Tell apple shot by shooting an apple off the head of a “witness” from a distance of 120 feet for his television show The Incredible Mr Goodwin.
“If I wasn’t 100 per cent confident I would get it right, I wouldn’t pull the trigger.”
The Illusionists 1903 will be performing at the Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, from January 15-25.
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