02/10/1992 at 01:00 AM EST
WAGNER MADE ART WITH HIS RING CYCLE. RICK MAISEL makes art during the wash cycle. Putting a new spin on Houdini, Maisel, 34, performs at parties and clubs, slipping out of manacles and padlocked chains while sealed inside a front-loading commercial washing machine. While the machine is operating.
Maisel, who has been practicing magic since he was 7—"I got to choose between magic and piano lessons," he says—hit upon his odd form of good, extremely clean fun 10 years ago-when he saw TV footage of '50s-era campus pranksters piling into dryers. Intrigued, he made his first escapes in a hotel laundry room in Albuquerque, N.Mex., where he lives alone and runs an antique shop. "I didn't know I had claustrophobia until I got in the machine and the water started coming in," he says. "I did almost drown the first couple of times." Cautions Maisel: "Kids, don't try this at home." Or even in a Laundromat.
In time Maisel overcame his claustrophobia, as well as the motion sickness that is another occupational hazard. He also experimented with soaps until he found the one that least irritated his eyes (the magician's choice: baby shampoo). There's one problem the 6', 147-lb. performer hasn't solved: how to keep from getting bashed by the 25 pounds of shackles he wears in his act.
Fabric softener, alas, has proved ineffective.