Jason Bishop is a performer. He can change a $1 bill into $100. He’s pulled a goldfish out of an iPod and has defied the laws of gravity. He’s made a successful career as an illusionist, but his most impressive magic trick might just be how he went from eating out of trash cans and living in an orphanage, to performing on Broadway and around the world.
His performance at World Café Live in Philadelphia is to raise money and awareness about CASA of Camden County. There are currently 800 children in foster care in Camden County and they need an adult advocate. Bishop remembers his childhood and says he didn’t have an advocate by his side. He knows firsthand how lonely and scary the experience can be.
“An advocate stays with the kid, you know, the entirety of their time in foster care and advocates for them which is a consistent thing, which foster kids just don’t have,” Bishop told NBC 10 News. “A CASA advocate is certainly something that benefits the kids who have a lot going against them.”
So how did he do it? Bishop was young, but he remembers nights he almost starved. He would try to fall asleep as rats would crawl across him and his mattress on the floor. He sat next to his siblings unsupervised while his parents used heroin in the next room.
“When things appear to be a complete mess, when they seem beyond our reach or even hopeless, it’s the best feeling of accomplishment to bring things back into order,” Bishop said. (“CASA of Camden – Rise Above: A Story of Resilience”)
He used dark humor to cope with his living conditions. He remembers people looking at him differently as he had to move to different neighborhoods, start a new school, and try to make new friends. Bishop says it was complicated because people didn’t understand the difference between the foster care system and adoption. When others would tell him ‘oh, you’re a foster kid, so you were adopted, that’s great,’ he would reply ‘no, I was a foster kid, no one loved me enough to adopt me.’
For Bishop and his siblings, they spent about ten years in the system. At one home, Bishop was one of four children sharing a room. He said as foster kids, they shared more than just a room. They shared emotions. They all were hurting, but in different ways. The problem was no one really knew how to express those emotions, so they often came across as angry or defiant.
“Sometimes trauma is physically obvious, but often it’s invisible, which has its own difficulties because invisible handicaps and scars don’t easily allow for understanding or empathy,” Bishop said. (“CASA of Camden – Rise Above: A Story of Resilience”)
Bishop didn’t see a bright future for himself.
“I clearly remember telling my foster dad once that I could never be anything because I was just a foster kid,” Bishop continued. (“CASA of Camden – Rise Above: A Story of Resilience”) “I was convinced that where I started in life absolutely dictated that I wouldn’t end up very far. That I didn’t stand a chance.”
His foster father gave him a mantra that changed his life: “I’m a winner, so I win.” Bishop says those words inspired him and he started studying magic while in foster care. He found his on-stage and off-stage partner in high school. From prom to Broadway, Kim Hess has been by his side.
“Knowing that both Kim and I have evolved is probably the thing I’m proudest of, and knowing that we’ll continue to grow is what I’m most excited about as we move forward,” Bishop said. (“CASA of Camden – Rise Above: A Story of Resilience”)
Together, they faced a lot of obstacles and rejection. On a road trip from Pennsylvania to Georgia, they had all their equipment stolen at a rest stop in South Carolina. They picked up some supplies at Walmart and continued the journey to a national showcase in Atlanta, working with minimal props to pull off limited tricks. They persevered and managed to gain a few bookings.
When Bishop was 21 years old, he landed a contract with Caesars Resorts. Adding Caesars Resorts to his resume inspired him to audition for more resorts, but it wasn’t an easy path to success. Bishop recalls a moment of confusion when one potential employer was really impressed with his work, but refused to schedule him.
“I didn’t understand. I persisted until he finally, sheepishly asked, ‘If I book you, will you show up?’ Kim and I were stunned. That was it. He was concerned we wouldn’t be reliable. He told me that he would book acts and they simply wouldn’t show up to the gigs,” Bishop said. (“CASA of Camden – Rise Above: A Story of Resilience”) “I simply said to him with as much confidence and resolve as I could muster at 21 years old, ‘If you book us, we will be here every single time’ and we were. It wasn’t an easy audience or a gorgeous venue, but we held to our word and respected this man who had taken a risk on us.”
Bishop credits one of his bosses with shifting the way he viewed situations after he was told to avoid the word ‘problem’ and replace it with ‘challenge.’
“Problems sort of never really get solved, you’re always kind of reminded of them, and they may continue to irk you. But challenges, challenges are something people rally behind. Challenges are exciting. They’re a goal to be achieved and they can be remembered with a sense of success,” Bishop said. (“CASA of Camden – Rise Above: A Story of Resilience”)
He adopted that technique moving forward. Bishop says his crew was on their way to a gig in New York when another driver rear-ended them on the highway at speeds exceeding 70 miles per hour. The other driver took off and left them with a mangled trailer door. The crew wasn’t sure if any of the equipment was damaged, but they couldn’t open the trailer door. They knew if they did, it likely wouldn’t shut again.
They called the venue and the head technician. They showed up early the next day to the gig with heavy tools. Using a sledgehammer and crowbar, they pulled off the door and wheeled out the props. A few props had minor damage and one prop was totaled. They had to remove it from the show, but still managed to perform that night.
“Executing our contract and performing the show at 95% was a much better alternative for us than cancelling, even without knowing how we’d secure the door and get back home,” Bishop said. (“CASA of Camden – Rise Above: A Story of Resilience”)
His crew used ratchet straps to secure the door in place so it wouldn’t fall off on their journey home. The crash wasn’t a problem to them. It was another challenge that Bishop and his crew overcame.
Bishop’s been told he’s a resilient person, but he admits it took him a while to see it. He says there is always something to do and he didn’t see his limitations as disqualifying. He’s marveled by the human spirit’s ability to survive and come out stronger after tragedy. It’s something he accomplished as he survived an abusive childhood and came out stronger as an adult with a passion for performing. Now, Bishop’s an international award-winning illusionist that has performed on Broadway, showcased his talent on television, visited 40 countries, and he isn’t slowing down.
You can watch the full video where Bishop talks about his life and performs magic tricks at https://vimeo.com/424586610/0e97c2f339.