As a little experiment, I held my breath before starting the video below.
Being a rotund chap with the cardiovascular fitness of an asthmatic sloth, I made it about thirty seconds in before I felt like I was going to die. Escapologist, illusionist, and deep diver, Christian Wedoy, on the other hand, manages to last over four minutes without breaking a sweat.
That four minutes is actually less than half of the current world record for holding one’s breath without the aid of pure oxygen – the current record stands at 11 minutes and 54 seconds as set by Branko Petrović in 2014 – but those records are set in freezing free dive conditions, not in what looks like a mall. Oh, and Petrović probably didn’t have to pick a bunch of locks while he was setting his record.
We’ve seen Wedoy do this kind of stunt before -in the video above he manages a terrifying five minutes underwater – but there’s something about the setup in this feat that puts my teeth on edge. There’s something viscerally unpleasant about the transparent box filled with water, even if I know on an intellectual level that the box likely has all kinds of safety features built in to prevent Wedoy from drowning in front of a bunch of kids. Still, one of the many secrets to good escapology is a palpable sense of danger, and that unnerving SAW-like setup certainly conveys that.
As a bonus, that kid’s terrified yelp when the wooden stock fell over was hilarious.
TV channel FX has ordered a pilot for a potential adaptation of Brian K. Vaughan’s excellent 60-issue comic, Y: The Last Man.
In the comic, struggling street magician and escape artist Yorick Brown and his capuchin monkey Ampersand become the last males on earth after a mysterious event kills every other creature with a Y chromosome. What follows is an exciting, raucously funny, brazenly political, and often heartrendingly sad journey across the post-male world.
Yorick’s escapology skills get him out of (and into) a whole bunch of sticky situations, but their use is almost always realistic, if not authentic. The wrong pair of handcuffs or an antagonist that’s just a little too attentive is enough to render most of his tricks useless. The jargon is mostly spot on too (though a New Yorker being a member of IBM instead of SAM stands out as odd now I think about), but what really grounds Yorick as a character isn’t that he’s a magician, but that you can see how a man like him would become magician, and how that’s an inexorable facet of his character.
There’s no news on when the pilot is set to be produced, but we know Michael Green (American Gods, Blade Runner 2049, Logan) and Aida Mashaka Croal (Luke Cage, Turn) are to serve as co-showrunners and executive producers on the project. Vaughan will also be an executive producer. Insecure and Master of None director Melina Matsoukas has been tapped to direct the pilot.
Personally, I’m super excited about this one. In my humble estimation, Vaughan is straight up the best writer working in comics today and Y stands among his best work.
There is a man suspended upside down in a glass box filled with water. His hands and feet are bound. The man holds his breath. The audience does the same. That’s the popular image of the escape artist right there.
Over a hundred years after it was first performed, the “Water Torture Cell” is still the most iconic trick in the arsenal of escapology. Paul Krendl’s variation of the escape, performed without a curtain, earned him a spot on The Illusionists.
But what is it about the escape that seems to resonate so well with audiences, aside from it being the signature of the most famous escapologist of all time? According to Krendl, it’s the audience’s ability to empathize with the performer. Everyone knows how hard it is to hold their breath, and it’s that understanding that gives the performance its nervous energy.
“Anyone can hold their breath and within 30 to 40 seconds get a glimpse of the pain and struggle your body will feel,” he explained to Magic Africa. “Being in the tank for three minutes makes people become uncomfortable. They want to believe it will be fine but part of them can’t believe it’s happening. This is where it gets interesting. You see for me I am going through my own personal struggle every time I go into that tank. The struggle is real; there is no faking it.”
And in his estimation, it’s the struggle that connects Krendl to his audience. His escape becomes a metaphor for their own.
“This leads to the biggest element… both the audience and I can feel connected yet we are each experiencing our own truth,” he said. “I have had people relate the struggle of me escaping the tank to their difficult divorce they are going through, others telling me it gave them strength to believe in the passion or project they are trying to accomplish, and many others that I would never have thought could connect like this.”
So thus far it’s all very grand and mystical, as befits a masterful stage performer, but holding one’s breath for over three minutes while held upside down underwater? That’s just down and dirty practice, baby. In fact, it’s that physical challenge that drew Krendl to the trick in the first place.
“I started my breath hold time for approximately 30 seconds,” he explained. “From there I had to figure out if it is possible to hold your breath longer and how. I did lots of research reading books, internet searches, talking with others in the know, etc. I learned that it is not only possible but it is something you can train for.”
You may be wondering how much training is involved in that feat. Krendly claims it took him three months of training to get past the two minute mark, but not quite as long to hit three. Unfortunately outside forces, like changing altitudes, time zones food and environments, can make the physical aspect of the escape much harder. The only thing that’ll stop him, however? Not being able to justify using the water to fill up the tank because the city you’re performing in is on the verge of a water shortage.