Masters of puppets
Renowned entertainers to gather and perform in Oxnard
By Daphne Khalida Kilea 01/30/2014
A gathering of renowned magicians, puppeteers, ventriloquists and other entertainers is usually something you’d expect to find in a city like Las Vegas. On the evening of Saturday, Feb.1, however, the excitement and wonder of such an occasion will be available locally during a public gala at the Mandalay Beach Embassy Suites Hotel in Oxnard.
The event will be hosted by KIDabra International Association (a professional performer’s association) and Axtell Expressions (an entertainment company in Ventura). The partnership between the two organizations formed KAX, which is behind the gathering of performers at the Embassy Suites.
KIDabra has operated for more than 20 years as the foremost network for performers of all levels of experience in family entertainment and is led by Mark Daniel and his wife, Tami Daniel. Axtell Expressions is owned by Steve Axtell (pictured) an expert puppet builder and puppeteer, who started his company in the 1980s and is currently the leading supplier of props for many of KIDabra’s performers.
“This (KAX) is a first-of-a-kind event combining every form of family performer in the variety arts: magicians, ventriloquists, balloon twisters, storytellers, clowns, jugglers and more,” says Axtell. “The only thing like it is the mother conference [KIDabra] itself, which meets in Tennessee in August and has for 25 years.”
The puppet convention begins on Thursday, Jan. 30 with a conference designed to enhance participants’ performance and business skills. Performers will then take the stage on Feb.1 for the KAX Gala, which is the only conference event open to the public.
“The caliber of performers in one show is rare. You’ll likely not see this talent lineup in a show again,” said KAX producer Ken Scott.
Scott has been involved with the organization for more than 15 years and it’s his background that brought him into his current role. He is an award-winning magician with two decades’ experience who does more than 350 shows a year; he has performed at the White House five times.
“It will be awesome to see the folks in Ventura County support a show like this,” says Axtell. “Variety shows with stars of this caliber are usually only in very big cities. This is a great treat for us here!”
The master of ceremonies (MC) will be the award-winning ventriloquist Jay Johnson, who starred in the 1970s sitcom SOAP with Billy Crystal. He is the only ventriloquist ever to be nominated for, and win, a Tony award. While the ventriloquist has not decided which of his cast of characters he will include in his performance, his best-known act, “Bob,” will be present.
And Johnson expects the gala to be an impressive show altogether.
“It’s the best of the new generation of performers and some legends in the business, including Mark Wilson and master puppeteer Rene,” he enthused.
Wilson is regarded as the first major television magician, and he will make a much anticipated appearance at the gala. His television program was nationally syndicated in the 1960s and eventually became one of the highest rated shows to air on Saturday mornings. Wilson was later named one of the top 10 magicians of the 20th century, alongside Harry Houdini and David Copperfield.
Rene, the other industry legend, will perform assisted by Joe Selph. With more than half a century of experience, Rene is an established puppet builder for all facets of entertainment and for corporations. He is a respected performer who also earned an Emmy for his locally televised children’s show.
“Everybody on the roster is a star in their own area and considered the best of the best,” said KIDabra CEO Mark Daniel.
Also featured in the lineup are award-winning magician “The Professor of Comedy” Mike Bent, outstanding balloon entertainer Buster Balloon, England’s acclaimed magician and ventriloquist Kimmo and winner of Star Search, comedian/ventriloquist Taylor Mason.
“The gala show is the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae that is KAX,” Johnson explained.
With incredible talent from Australia, Canada, England, Germany, Italy, Scotland and throughout the U.S., the question arises: Will there be any surprises?
The answer is yes. There will be special collaborations among performers. Scott will turn a spectator into a magician during his act. Among those and more, there is a final surprise that Axtell and Scott are the masterminds of.
According to Daniel, who is very much looking forward to the reveal, whatever it will be, it most certainly will be a fun experience.
“The show is perfect for the family, and I would say prepare to laugh and be amazed. It’ll be an evening that will leave fond memories for years to come,” said Scott.
Seemingly, the night is a rare opportunity for Ventura County to encounter an ensemble of first-rate talent, prepared to deliver a captivating and unforgettable experience.
Saturday, Feb. 1, at the Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach Resort. Doors open at 8 p.m. $5 for children, $12 for adults. www.axtell.com/kax.