Melanie Kramer insists
she's no thrill-seeker. She's a practical single mom who gets
squeamish even at the thought of, say, a roller coaster. Still, a
girl's got to a few dicey death-defying things to get work in this town
in her chosen profession of circus acts. Kramer has had knives
thrown at her, pyrotechnic explosions set off in her face, swords thrust
into a box when she's curled up inside - not to mention having
cigarettes knocked form her lips by a man with an evil-looking bullwhip.
But it's all child play compared with Kramer's newest act: Working under
the tutelage of expert marksman Bob Markworth she snatches an arrow out
of the thin air and scarier yet, catches another shot directly at her
mouth. It's Vegas, baby. So how does Kramer do it?
Catlike reflexes? Or just plain chutzpah? Luckily, the mustachioed
Markworth is a former Californian archery champion and an inductee
into the Archery Hall of Fame. He's a veteran performer who has taken
his act to 58 countries, a bow-and-arrow guy who's been around so long
he appeared on the "Ed Sullivan Show." For years he appeared on
the TV show "Circus of the Stars" at Caesars Palace but recently has
done more gigs off the Strip.
"You have faith that
everything is going to work out OK." said Kramer, a petite dancer
with large brown eyes. "And you have to really trust your partner,
to know he's a serious professional and not just some guy who wants to
shoot an arrow into your head."
Markworth doesn't just shoot
apples off people's heads - he pierces cherries on top of those apples
and splits cards face sideways.
But in today's competitive
performance arena, with young audiences used to eye-dropping video game
technology and the "wow" factor of the Cirque du Soleil shows, he's been
forced to take his game to the next level.
"These days, you've got to
walk on water," he said. "So I've developed an act that walks on
Kramer knows the risks of the variety thrill-acts trade.
As an assistant to various black-caped magic men, shes been cut by
swords shoved haphazardly into a box, grazed by a knife blade, singed on
her mouth after swallowing flame and burned on the face and neck in a
pyrotechnical explosion gone bad.
She's received so many stitches
that she jokes with partner magicians that "I'm truly not your assistant
until you make me bleed."
Such daredevil work drives Kramer's
mother crazy. "Every time she does one of these stunts, I pray,
"Please let her come back," Laura Kramer said.
Markworth got the idea for the arrow-catching trick, he knew his two
current assistants weren't up to the task. So he called a Las
Vegas talent agent to find fearless female partners willing to learn a
stunt he says no one has done before. Four other circus performers
who answered his casting call didn't measure up, Kramer did, "She
had attitude," Markworth said.
Days later, after doing her
research on the viability of Markworth's act, she was standing in
a field, trying to snatch arrows whizzing by her side.
The act takes
precautions. An arrow shot with a fully cocked bow can travel150
mph - too fast for any human. So Markworth uses a slower,
heavier arrow with a dulled blade, but even travels faster than the eye
At first, Kramer bloodied her hands reaching out to snatch
the arrows that sped past. She hesitated to reach out for the
arrows at first, but hundreds of shots later, with tutoring by a martial
artist, her success rate rose to 90 percent. That's when Markworth
decided she was ready for the head-on stunt.
In this "don't try this
at home" gig, Markworth shoots an arrow directly at Kramer that first
passed through a small plate of glass. She snares the arrow with
both hands just as it breaks a balloon clenched in her teeth.
act took time. First, Markworth shot arrows with "modified points" that
bounced off her stomach, then her chest. Finally, he began aiming
at her head. Kramer can't see the arrow coming, so she watches for
small signs that Markworth is going to release the arrow as a signal to
react. The problem is he doesn't give any.
people, there's a tell-tale twitch that says they're ready, but Bob
doesn't have that," she said. "He stands like a statue with
that arrow - the suddenly lets it go."
Kramer said she must
eagle-eye Markworth's arrow release hand, 36 feet away, to spring into
action. So what goes through a person's brain when facing a
"You can't get nervous or you're going to react
differently," Kramer said. "You've got to act cool and collected
and think 'I'm going to catch this arrow - no doubt about it.'
It's not reflexes. It's the belief you can pull it off."
said he plans to unveil the new act within a few months but hasn't
decided on a venue. As the mother of a 5 year old son,
Kramer knows she can't defy death forever, so she's developing a talent
agency called Posh Productions.
But for now, she stands ready for
Markworth's arrow. The archer said the stunt is "almost magical."
For Kramer, it's a pure confidence boost.
"It's exhilarating every time
I do it," she said. "I know that if I can catch an arrow in
mid-air, I'm capable of anything."