If ever there was an embodiment of Phoenix's weirder side, then Stephen Strange and Sahar Mitchell are it, and proud to be.
He's a 32-year-old occultist and magician with a flair for the fantastic. She's 34, a graceful serpent-wielding dancer dubbed "the Mother Fakir." Collectively, they're the Strange Family Circus, a carnival-esque performance troupe that's become prominent in the Valley fringe over the past decade.
The couple's a two-person sideshow of vaudevillian-style talents, from the exotic (Mitchell's snake-charming dances), to the amazing (Strange's ability to force himself through tennis rackets). Daring deeds are also common: He's walked barefoot across broken glass and sprung mousetraps on sensitive body parts.
Collaborating with like-minded artists, they've guest-starred at such off-the-wall local events as Romantasy Cabaret. Fellow freaks and "anybody else with a unique talent" (from stilt-walkers to gypsies) are also welcome at their gigs.
It's as inclusive as Strange's now-defunct fire-arts troupe Culte du Feu (from which SFC sprung). His future squeeze joined in 2002 and began dating him a year later. They'd traveled the same social circles, but had wildly different origins: Strange spent his adolescence in Iowa foster homes and became a vagabond and street performer, while Mitchell graduated from Wellesley College and eschewed law school for "a less boring" existence.
Besides a mutual love of fire-spinning and old-timey culture, they idolize the "beautiful poverty magic" of Hindu fakirs, doing extraordinary deeds with ordinary objects.
"They don't need elaborate mirrors or smoke," Strange says. "They take bits of the world around them — nails and garbage, basically — and make magic."
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Inspired by similar fakir tricks involving needles, both can string together razor blades in their throats with dental floss. It's not the weirdest thing being tasted, given that they've eaten fire and light-bulb glass. Beat that, Fear Factor.
As intense as his gags get, Strange never "declares war" on audiences. Ultimately, his aim is interaction, entertainment, and even inspiration.
"My act isn't all about showing how crazy I am," he says. "It's more, 'Hey, I'm an average guy, I didn't get much education, but the knowledge to do this is out there. If you approach it with knowledge and courage, you can do anything.'"