An encounter with Elias “Lefty” Caress leaves an indelible impression. Not so much a performer as a force of nature, the 33-year-old Caress possesses an incandescent, yet unassuming, affability—the sort that can put an audience at ease but also keep them on the edge of their seats.
Most striking is Caress’ sheer versatility as an entertainer. Can he pound a nail into his nasal cavity? Sure he can! Do a face-plant into a pile of broken glass? Of course! Wild West-style lasso and shooting tricks? Why not? Stage magic, juggling and card tricks? Yeah, yeah and yeah. He’s a one-man spectacle.
“Other entertainers think I’m crazy; most of them stick to one act or one character,” Caress says. “Now that I perform full time, the variety can be a bit stressful, but I still love it. This is what I want to do the rest of my life.”
If the burlesque revival of a few years ago portends a rebirth of vaudeville, Caress is its best hope. With partner Celeste McCulley, he performs at charity benefits, birthday and bachelorette parties, Renaissance festivals and, increasingly, on Utah’s theater circuit. Earlier this year, Caress and McCulley shocked Provo audiences with their carnival freak-show act while opening for Utah Repertory Theater Company’s production of Side Show.
In fact, it was at the Utah Renaissance Festival in Ogden where the pair first met. McCulley was a gypsy fire-eater; Caress was a buccaneer. “You should see him as a pirate,” says the pink-haired Celeste. “He swoons all the women. All kinds of crazy sword-fighting, juggling, switching whips.”
The two quickly discovered a common interest in certain arcane practices. “Lefty made a bed of nails, and I told him I wanted to try it,” Celeste says. “He’s kind of my mentor—he mentored me in the fine art of circus freakiness.”
Now living together, the two have begun conducting a series of “theatrical séances,” scheduled to be held monthly all year through Halloween. Hearkening back to the spiritualist movement at the turn of the 20th century, whose adherents were interested in contacting the spirits of the deceased, these thrillingly spooky performances—led by Caress, with McCulley serving as spirit medium—do involve some tricky props. The light flicks on and off, and in the darkness, a table raps, a bell rings and objects seem to move around under the influence of ghostly presences.
Through Caress’ showmanship and McCulley’s serene stage presence, audiences become participants; linking hands, they become engaged at such a visceral level, they leave the show convinced they’ve experienced actual contact with the spiritual realm. At a recent séance, it appeared as though a divinatory pendulum placed on the table flew through the air and hit the east wall of the room with great force. Afterward, we never found it. For the next two days, I was chilled to the bone.
From the very start, Caress’ show-business career had a tinge of the supernatural. He first became an entertainer out of unrequited love. “When I was in high school, I liked a girl, but she didn’t like me,” he says. “Her mother offered to teach me how to read palms. I thought it would help me get the girl, so I did it. I didn’t get the girl, but I stuck with palm reading.”
Palmistry led on to bigger and better things. “I started getting invited to parties to read palms,” Lefty says. “At these gigs, I started meeting dancers, magicians, jugglers—all sorts of amazing people.”
Unfortunately, the charms of the left-hand path proved all too alluring. “I began to seek out spiritual teachers on the fringe,” Caress says. “I found priests and practitioners of the dark arts—basically the scariest people I could find. These relationships didn’t really end well. People attracted to evil and demonic beliefs don’t usually have high moral character.” He ultimately abandoned darker pursuits, and says, “Now, I prefer more pleasant hobbies. I practice things that make people happy.”
One thing that undoubtedly makes audiences happy—while they cringe in horror—is Caress’ human blockhead act, the classic stunt in which he drives a nail into his nasal cavity with great bravado. Don’t try this at home: “I actually learned it from a doctor,” he says.
As it turns out, a nail pounded at a low angle can actually be inserted without injury into the head via the nasal canal. It’s a gruesome demonstration of human anatomy but, as Jim Rose used to say, “It’s science!” And, in Caress’ case, it’s not just science. It’s an art.
Friday, March 29
Additional events monthly through Oct. 31
Call 801-783-6058 for more info
Tickets @ Spoox: A Spooky Bootique
3453 S. State
Historic Murray Theater
4959 S. State
Monday, April 1