A bit of downtown magic
When Magician Zach Hext takes to the stage he does it on his own terms-literally. But there’s nothing magic about the hard work this young entrepreneur has done to create his own venue for a hobby he wants to turn into a career. “I’ve always been fascinated with magic,” said Zach, “and I’d really like to make my living at it some day.”
He’s off to a good start. Earlier in the year this energetic 19-year-old and his family opened the Hext Theatre in the lower level of the Brown Street Mall in downtown Rhinelander. This venue not only provides a back drop for Zach’s shows, but also for other budding artists who are coming to learn what performing is all about. “We’re getting more and more requests for people to use the theatre,” said Zach. “People like performing here.
And performing in front of live audiences was the goal of this young businessman when he did his first magic act at the tender age of 10. “I got really interested when I would watch Cliff the Magic Man from here in town, and Rich Wilcox who performs in the Wisconsin Dells,” he said. “They inspired me to become really good at it.”
But magic takes lots of practice, and so for many years that’s exactly what Zach did. He was home schooled for much of his education, although he does possess a diploma from Rhinelander High School. But he admits that this arrangement allowed him more time to really explore the art and develop his magic skills. “I suppose I had an advantage that way,” he said. “But I’ve really learned a lot from magic, there’s a lot more to it than people realize.”
Zach’s parents, Jim and Lori, also encouraged their son’s budding performance career. They saw not only his potential, but determination as well, and helped construct and finance, his dream of building a theatre. Finding the right spot proved to be a challenge, but the family settled on a portion of the lower level of the Brown Street Mall. “It was in pretty bad shape,” said Zach. “The walls were a horrible yellow color and it was pretty much open. We actually had to build the theater from scratch.”
Zach and Jim spent many hours constructing a stage, a backstage and even a room where refreshments are sold. They carpeted the audience area, painted the walls a dramatic deep maroon and hung up plush curtains. They also strategically placed lighting and sound equipment in the correct places. By mid-summer they were open for business. Zach admits, audience numbers were a little low. “I think people have a lot going on in the summer, and that could be why attendance was down,” he said.
But that isn’t discouraging Zach. In fact, this kid’s determination and perseverance propels him on, and he has an upbeat attitude about future performances despite some beginning disappoints before the theatre was built. “The first time I did a show was at the library,” he said. “That night there had been an ice storm so nobody showed up.”
He’s also learned that by all means “the show must go on,” especially when mistakes are made. “Well, I have to admit I’ve had some flubs, but the trick is to keep going like that’s what you were planning all along,” he laughed. “Even though it’s obvious to you, most of the time the audience really doesn’t know you made a mistake. You just have to keep going and keep the performance moving forward.”
And Zach continues to move forward in developing his talent. Now that his home school studies are completed, he’s working hard to develop his magic trick repertoire. He’s looking to make some of his own props, and wants to develop a style of his own. “Every magician develops their own techniques,” he said. “You have to work on making the magic tricks your own.”
Right now the family is developing a winter schedule for the Hext Theatre and it’s looking interesting. Zach wants to book the popular “Mid West Dilemma,” an improve comedy group that he says has taught him a lot of about stage performance, something he wants to pursue. “I really didn’t get a chance to explore drama while I was home schooled, but I have learned through this group that I really like it,” he said. “I’d also like to book more musicians. Anthony Crofoot has played here and he drew a good crowd. Another popular show was Game Show Palooza. That was a lot of fun.”
While the Hext Theatre gains momentum, Zach is working part-time at Statton’s General Store north of Tomahawk, a job he really enjoys. He also likes to hunt and he’s a computer whiz, a talent he realizes he can fall back on while building up his theatre. And he thinks Rhinelander is the perfect place to pursue this endeavor. “This is really where I want to be right now,” he said.
But it’s magic that will always fuel his artistic spirit. “Magic is really a lifestyle,” he said. “I do like it because it’s fun, but I would also like to develop it into a career and really make the Hext Theatre a place where all live performers can come and show off their talents. That’s really where my dreams are going.”