For eight years Christian Painter and Katalina Absolon have been performing the Mind Tripping Show at the Hilton Downtown, attracting an eclectic mix of couples, families, out-of-towners, and people looking for something a little bit different.
Mind Tripping is definitely different. It’s a show where the chemistry between the married partners is as important as the mind reading and the magic performed.
The chemistry with the audience is uber-important. This is why the first thing you might see in any given performance is Painter coming out onstage and chatting you up. Partly, he does it to get a sense of how the night’s performance might go.
“I might [think] it’s going to be a tough audience tonight,” says Painter, who might as a result shuffle a show's content. "Every audience is its own organism.”
Depending on the night, you might get some mind-reading, a few card tricks, some demonstrations involving memory and the power of suggestion, and some things that are impossible to describe, that just have to be seen to believed. On top of all that, you've got the husband-wife banter between Painter and Absolon.
They might strike up a conversation with you, or even pull you up on stage, to make you part of the act.
After almost two decades doing what they do, and eight years at the Downtown Hilton, they might just have a few things to say about what makes a good performance.
“You have to be good at the magic part,” says Painter, who alternately describes Mind Tripping as a lounge show and a parlor show. “The magic has to be second nature. Actually the harder part is the scripting and jokes.”
While they do plenty of magic, both are loathe to pigeonhole Mind Tripping as simply a magic show.
But like any good magician, both have learned to accept the occasional snafu.
“Doing it for so long, you have them,” says Absolon. “And luckily people are nice enough you just roll with it. Usually it’s not a major snafu, but sometimes you don’t get that lucky.”
Painter, who grew up in Indianapolis, and majored in psychology at IUPUI, started performing magic when he was in college. Later he joined the army. He met Absolon in Fort Bragg N.C., in 1994: she was a commissioned officer, he was a sergeant.
They got married, and then were stationed together in Germany.
In Painter’s off-hours, he started performing with a German partner; Absolon became the stage manager for this performing team.
After they were both out of the army, Painter and Absolon began performing together, but it took them a while to find their groove.
“When she came back here it took us a few years how we wanted to approach it as a couple,” says Painter. “Because over there it was just he and I. We had a comedian and a straight man; it was fun. It took us a while to figure out who we are onstage and we figured out that it’s just husband and wife. I know that sounds simple but it wasn’t.”
“At first when we looked at some of the famous husband and wife couples,” says Absolon. “Sonny & Cher and King of Queens were very popular. But if you look at those relationships, they’re horrible; they’re mean to each other. The old Sonny and Cher episodes are bad; it’s like they hate each other.”
Says Painter, “We wanted to show a loving side to the relationship so we modeled more after George and Gracie and Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore,” he says.
Before they settled into their routine at the Hilton, they traveled all around the U.S., and all over the world, perfecting their act.
They got to perform in front of New York City and L.A. audiences who they say, who can be tough and snarky. European audiences appreciate their act, but for Japanese audiences, it seems, something of their routine was lost in translation.
They wound up on the road so much that they were only home around 85 days a year.
“After doing that for about ten years, we needed to get off the road,” says Absolon. “We had to come up with a new business model to figure out how we’re going to do this.”
So they came to a mutually beneficial arrangement with the Hilton Downtown.
After more than eight years in, after more than 600 shows—they’ve lost count—they’re still doing working out of the Indianapolis Hilton, but their stage has experienced some changes over the years.
They redesigned it about five years ago to give it a sort of mid-century modern vibe.
“I’m wearing the clothes of that time trying to match the appeal,” says Absolon.
Their show has caught on with a wide-cross section of people, both Indy residents and people travelling through. Among their audience members are those who’ve seen the act before, so they like to keep things fresh. This was what they were doing by trying out a new trick one night in late October, which, let's just say, involved a big ball.
“It’s not perfect yet but it’s coming along,” says Painter. “We figure by the end of the year we’ll probably have sounded that down, the whole routine. It’s fun and that keeps us on our toes too. Plus, we have people come back five, six, seven times so we want to make sure they have a new experience.”