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Magic man does his best work at home with his kids
It’s been a pretty memorable year for Tony Chris.
In May, the Tri-City magic man won two awards: the Close Up Magician of the Year from the Vancouver Magic Circle and the Stage Show Magician of the Year from the Fraser Valley Magic Circle.
And, in June, he clinched the Children’s Entertainer of the Year accolades from both organizations.
The four recognitions follow his success from last year when he became the only Canadian ever to win an international magic prize in the category of mentalism, from the Pacific Coast Association of Magicians in Seattle.
“I just happen to be on a roll with winning,” he said from his River Springs home last week.
Chris, whose real name is Tony Kazoleas, has been fascinated with the craft for 30 years and, these days, performs about 200 shows a year under the stage moniker Zany Zack.
Kids’ birthday parties are his bread and butter. “I get such a rush from the smiles and the laughter and the applause,” he said. “For them, it’s a type of escapism from reality.”
The same can be said for Chris, who grew up in rural Alberta in the 1970s and ‘80s with an “old world” Greek family. He had a strict upbringing and found solace in music. He sang and played guitar with a heavy-metal band called Gothica, which toured North America and Europe.
But magic was also a love. At the age of four, he became entranced with the art form when his uncle pulled a coin from his ear. As a teen, his mother would drive him to the small public library where Chris would repeatedly check out the first volume of the Tarbell Course of Magic, which formed the foundation for his future career.
“Magic was a small hobby that I did for the neighbourhood kids,” he recalled. “I would sell lemonade and they would get a free magic show with their drink.”
Chris moved to B.C. in 1992 and studied law. Realizing it was a bad decision, he dropped out and, while unemployed, he was channel surfing one day when he fell onto a children’s program that had a magician who showed a card trick — and explained how he did it.
The wheels in Chris’ head started to turn. He jumped up and grabbed the Yellow Pages to search for the nearest magic store. Luckily, there was one nearby and he went over and bought Mark Wilson’s Complete Course in Magic.
“It was a pivotal moment for me,” he said.
His wife, Penney, was supportive as Chris began a career in magic. By then, he had a day job and, at night, honed his repertoire, knowing that one day he would perform full-time.
His magic career began to gain traction when their daughter, Shayla, was born.
But all was not well. Chris could sense something wasn’t normal as she didn’t speak and had little eye contact. At three, he and Penney took in their child for a series of medical tests; she was diagnosed with autism. “Everything in our lives turned upside down,” he said.
Five years later — and knowing there was a 50/50 chance any future siblings would also have the disorder — the pair had Dimitri. Again, they went to see specialists when he was three and got the same result.
While Shayla is considered moderate high-functioning, Dimitri is mild high-functioning and is able to go to school. Chris and his wife recently pulled Shayla out from her Grade 10 year “because it just wasn’t working,” he said.
Chris said his family challenges have taken a toll on his magic job. There have been times when business would be calling but he had to ignore it to take care of outbursts and other struggles. He also travelled less than other professional magicians to be closer to home. “It’s hard to juggle two autistic kids and a career,” he said.
But, lately, with the wins and Penney now home-schooling Shayla as well as the kids getting older and more independent, Chris is coping better — though, he admits, he worries constantly about the future.
He is helping Shayla to write and record music for a new CD (Chris has released three children’s albums). He is also watching his nine-year-old son — a Grade 4 student at Coquitlam River elementary — grow into a fine young man and, most of all, he is thanking his blessings for marrying a strong woman.
“It has been quite an adventure full of ups and downs and I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Chris said.