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'It’s become this huge thing': How a local magician created a Houdini-inspired drive-in show

Arizona Republic logo Arizona Republic 9/10/2020 KiMi Robinson, Arizona Republic

Update: Thomas Poole’s drive-in magic show has been rescheduled to Friday, Sept. 25.

When coming up with new magic tricks to perform, Thomas Poole asks himself two questions: “What would be the craziest thing to see?” and “How could I make that work?”

The result is a new trick that took the Arizona-based magician and mentalist two years to figure out how to do. He won't reveal what it is just yet, but Arizonans can watch it happen live in Mesa on Friday, Sept. 25, at a 90-minute drive-in magic show titled "Unforgettable."

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Poole has other tricks up his sleeve as well. He will perform illusions and close-up magic on stage and street magic such as card tricks at attendees' cars. The surprise trick will happen in the middle of the show, and a camera will follow him around all the while so visitors can see everything on the big screen.

a man swimming in a pool of water: Thomas Poole practices for his Houdini-inspired drive-in magic show, which will feature an underwater escape, Sept. 11 to 13 in Mesa. © Courtesy of Thomas Poole Thomas Poole practices for his Houdini-inspired drive-in magic show, which will feature an underwater escape, Sept. 11 to 13 in Mesa.

"I wanted it to be different from a normal magic show and leverage the fact that we’re at a drive-in," Poole said.

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A Houdini-style underwater escape

The other highlight of the night will be a Harry Houdini-inspired underwater escape.

One of Houdini's most famous tricks was escaping from a "water torture cell" while locked head-first inside a water-filled tank. Another is his straitjacket escape while hanging upside-down from a crane.

Why not combine the two?

"How cool if I could do the two together — a straitjacket in a chamber," Poole said.

It will go like this: Poole will be wrapped in a locked straitjacket and submerged in water inside a glass chamber. He'll have just a few minutes' worth of oxygen to get out of the predicament.

He has had to learn how to pick a lock, escape from a straitjacket on land and in the water and do breath training.

"I have to be comfortable with more (carbon dioxide) and condition my cells," Poole said.

Fully relaxed, he can hold his breath for 3½ minutes, Poole said. But while moving and exerting his muscles, he lasts just over a minute.

Part of his training involved holding his breath until he passed out — "so I'm aware of it when I'm getting close," he said.

Watch the magician practice for the stunt:

How a drive-in magic show became reality

When Poole's corporate gigs got rescheduled earlier this year due to the new coronavirus pandemic, he wasn't sure how to spend his time.

Not much had gone to plan this year: He thought he was also going to perform on this season of "America's Got Talent."

After several auditions, the producers taped an hourlong interview with him, Poole said. Even though he didn't get to perform, it was still a good experience, he said.

Poole decided he should do whatever he could during the pandemic. He also figured people were in need of entertainment.

"This is a really good opportunity to give people not only something to do now but also something new," he said.

When Poole got into talks with the owners of Digital Drive-In AZ, a pop-up venue that started operating as indoor movie theaters were closing due to COVID-19, his plans got increasingly elaborate.

"I was originally only supposed to do the water escape," Poole said. "It developed more and more into a show."

Before he knew it, "It’s become this huge thing," he said.

Coronavirus safety at the show

Audience participation is optional during the show, Poole said.

He will not wear a mask on stage, and those interested in joining him on stage or participating in his street magic at their cars can choose whether they wear a mask. Attendees will not be socially distanced if they choose to take part.

"If you’re not comfortable participating, let staff know," Poole said.

He will go around to cars to perform card tricks. A staff member will be "following around with hand sanitizer," and a fresh deck will be used each time, Poole said. Masks will be available to volunteers.

Attendees can sit inside or next to their cars. There is no limit to how many people can be in one car — "as long as it's safe and legal," Digital Drive-In AZ co-owner Bob Bentley said. The venue will be following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said.

"You have to respect social distancing," Bentley said. "Stay within your designated space."

He asks that guests be respectful of others; if you are uncomfortable in your space, a staff member can help you move to another spot.

"Do what you're comfortable with," Bentley said.

'Unforgettable'

What: A drive-in magic show by Thomas Poole.

When: 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25.

Where: Digital Drive-In AZ, 1901 N. Alma School Road, Mesa.

Admission: $100 per car, plus fees.

Details: https://thethompsoneventcenter.ticketspice.com/unforgettable.

Reach the reporter at kimi.robinson@gannett.com or at 602-444-4968. Follow her on Twitter @kimirobin and Instagram @ReporterKiMi.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: 'It’s become this huge thing': How a local magician created a Houdini-inspired drive-in show

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