Lady Houdini gets out of sticky situation

The free stages at the North Dakota State Fair offer possibly some of the more unique and underrated performances to take place during the fair’s nine-day run. The free stage acts also frequently give performances multiple times a day, making it more convenient for fair-goers to catch a show.

One of the free stage acts not to be missed is Lady Houdini on Free Stage 7 by the Commercial II building.

Lady Houdini, who has been called Houdini of the 21st century, and who also answers to the name of Kristen Johnson, has successfully performed more than 1,000 public escapes. In 2012, she broke Harry Houdini’s record for the most Water Torture Cell escapes ever performed. Johnson and her husband, Kevin Ridgeway, have been touring together since 2000.

Four times a day, Johnson and Ridgeway amaze the crowd with their show. At the 1 p.m. show on Monday at the State Fair, Ridgeway, magician and master of ceremonies, started off by pumping up the crowd with a magic trick of his own that involved a spinning fan and his head appearing to diminish in size after staring at the fan for a short amount of time.

A volunteer from the audience was needed for the first stunt and without too much trouble, Ridgeway found a willing participant to help secure Johnson in a straightjacket. She was then suspended in the air about 15 or 20 feet as she struggled to free herself from the constricting jacket. Loud music with a pulsing beat filled the air as well as cheers from the audience while Johnson successfully shrugged out of the jacket and let it fall to the stage.

Johnson is the top female escape artist, Ridgeway said during the first stunt with the straightjacket, and has been featured on the Travel Channel and the Discovery Channel.

A second volunteer from the audience was needed for the second stunt, this one involving a tan corduroy blazer and some rope. Ridgeway instructed the volunteer, a man sitting toward the front with his family, to join Ridgeway and Johnson on the stage and wear the blazer. The volunteer was also instructed to make sure the rope was sturdy, which it was, and then tie up Johnson using double and triple knots and making sure her arms had no chance of moving. Ridgeway then had Johnson stand behind the volunteer, placing a curtain around them. Not more than 15 seconds later, Ridgeway dropped the curtain only for the audience to see Johnson’s upper body still securely tied with the rope, but somehow wearing the blazer with the ropes tied over it. The volunteer, somewhat stunned, returned to his seat as the audience cheered in amazement.

For the third and final stunt, two more volunteers were selected, one to place handcuffs and shackles on Johnson, the other volunteer to open the combination lock on the metal box that was on the stage. The metal box, about the size that would fit a large air conditioner, was opened and Johnson fit herself snugly inside, then locked in. Johnson’s stunt would be to escape from the metal box, which she managed to do by pushing part of the door open, fitting her arm through the opening and spinning the dials on the combination lock to the correct numbers. It took her three tries, but she managed to escape from the metal box, and without the handcuffs and shackles.

After the third and last of Johnson’s successful escape attempts, she explained that she would not be performing the Water Torture Cell escape at that show, but would be doing it at the next three shows of the day at 3:30, 6:30 and 8. Performing that escape three times a day was her limit, she said.

When practicing for the Water Torture Cell escape, Johnson said she spends a lot of time at the bottom of a pool holding her breath. Johnson can hold her breath under duress for three minutes and 14 seconds. “Parts of it (the escape attempts) are fun,” Johnson said, “but the water show is not. I’ve had two hypoxic seizures and blacked out and Kevin has had to get me out.” The biggest part about the Water Torture Cell escape is controlling the anxiety about being stuck in a tank full of water, she added.

Johnson said she will do the Water Torture Cell escape until God tells her not to. For the rest of the week, Johnson will be performing as Lady Houdini at Free Stage 7 four times a day.