BEACON FALLS — Jim and Sandy Sisti’s marriage is magical in more ways than one.
This year marks the tenth consecutive year Jim, 55, and Sandy, 54, who are both magicians, are performing at Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury.
Historically, for two weeks during the summer, the Beacon Falls couple takes a vacation. This year, however, they will be at the park for the full season.
“When we sat down for our yearly conference to decide what was going on, the owners said they would really like us to do the whole year,” Jim said.
Jim explained even though he and Sandy would be there the whole season, they wanted to do something different for two weeks. So, he proposed the idea of doing a sideshow.
“Why don’t we do something that carnivals and circuses have known about for years? Carnivals always had a 10-in-1, and they always did a huge business,” Jim said. “This is a purely American form of entertainment that at least two, if not three, generations have not seen.”
After Quassy’s management agreed to the idea, Jim recruited Todd Robbins, who was involved with Coney Island’s Sideshow School, to be a part of the show.
“Todd has crossed paths with us over the years. I’ve always liked him. He’s not only extremely talented, but extremely approachable and affable,” Jim said.
Ripley’s Believe it or Not signed on shortly after to sponsor the Summer Sideshow.
“The association with Ripley’s was huge. Ripley’s has attached their name to it, Ripley’s Believe or Not Summer Sideshow. It gives a lot of credibility to the enterprise, for an international corporation like Ripley’s to lend their branding to it,” Jim said.
Jim explained that he begins the show with a bally to attract an audience and performs magic. Sandra performs the electric lady act, which involves an electric chair, and the rubber woman act. For the rubber woman act, she curls into a basket and blades are pushed through that basket.
Robbins performs a routine where he hammers a nail into his nose, a sword swallowing routine and a fire eating routine. He also eats a light bulb, an act which he is famous for.
After the show, the audience is invited to tour the museum of sideshow oddities, including the Fiji mermaid, a saber-toothed cobra, and the Lake Quassapaug Monster.
Jim explained that, in allowing them to perform the sideshow, the amusement park has now offered something that will stay with the children and create an indelible memory.
“That’s the appeal of this, when Todd bites into that light bulb, the kids sit there and their eyes get wide. There’s no rollercoaster in the world that can compete with that,” Jim said.
Magic caught Jim’s eye at a young age.
Jim became interested in magic while visiting the Danbury Fair when he was about 10 years old. He saw Dan Tsukalas performing and selling magic tricks.
“I bought my first magic trick from him. Every year I went back to fair, and I bought another trick or two. Then he began taking me aside and teaching me other tricks to do,” Jim recalled.
When he went to college, Jim majored in journalism and ultimately got a job in radio.
He worked in radio for 12 years before deciding it wasn’t the right career for him.
“It didn’t pay well. It was needlessly competitive,” Jim said.
So, Jim decided to try his hand at being a professional magician.
“When the radio station started falling apart, I said all right, I will give myself one year to do this. If I can’t make a living doing this I can always go back to radio. That was 22 years ago; I must have been able to make a nickel here and there,” Jim said.
Jim’s magic career began in restaurants doing close-up magic at tables.
“The good thing about restaurant magic is that if you have a bad audience, you’re only there for five minutes. If they aren’t into it, you just politely go to the next table,” Jim said. “If I walk out to do a stage show, and it’s a cold audience, I have to fight for an hour to get their attention.”
Over the years, Jim has expanded out into larger venues such as the annual International Toy Fair in New York City. In 1994 he performed in the Off Broadway production, Richard Robinson’s Magic Show.
While working as a restaurant magician Jim reconnected with an old high school friend.
“Sandy came into Chowder Pot, where I was the house magician. That was in 2000,” Jim said. “We started seeing each other and we got married.”
Shortly after they got together, Sandy became interested in performing magic as well. While Jim found jobs in restaurants and colleges, performing for adults, Sandy found her niche performing magic for children.
“I’ve always loved kids and being a mother I have experience with them. I like their sense of wonderment. I do something and the kid looks at me like ‘wow that’s incredible,’” Sandy said.
Sandy explained she likes performing for children around four years old the best.
“There’s nothing worse than hearing a kid say ‘I don’t believe in magic.’ I get them before they get out in the world and become jaded,” Sandy said.
Even though she loves working with children, Sandy does not limit herself to just young audiences. She has a show for an older audience that includes palm reading.
Along with her magical talents, Sandy is also an accomplished seamstress. She does tailoring specifically for magicians through her website www.seamslikemagic.com.
Jim explained if a magician was to walk into a regular tailor and try to explain all the extra pockets and alterations that need to be done to a suit to make it fit for an act, it would take a long time.
“She knows how to do this tailoring this way because she is a magician herself. Sandy does it right the first time,” Jim said.
Ripleys Believe It or Not Summer Sideshow runs at Quassy through July 22. Jim and Sandra will return to Quassy with their own magic show on July 24 and will be performing there through September. The magic couple can also be seen at special events throughout the state, including Southington Family Night July 31 in Southington, Ocean Beach Park’s Magic on the Boardwalk in New London on Aug. 1, at the Harwinton Fair the first weekend in October, and at the Beardsley Zoo for its annual Halloween event.