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1 to Watch: Caleb Sigmon. Actor, illusionist, he’s a lifetime pretender

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Caleb Sigmon is probably the only Cockney chimney sweep from Hudson, almost certainly the youngest Santa Claus and indisputably the shortest giraffe. He’ll soon be the only native son to father a girl with magical powers and appear in a blue catsuit.

Sigmon spends his public life deceiving people. Sometimes he acts: He’ll star for Children’s Theatre of Charlotte as Mr. Wormwood in “Matilda: The Musical” in September and the title role of “Pete the Cat” in April. Much of the time he’s an illusionist, touring his self-created “Caleb Sigmon Live.” All of the time he’s an advertisement for the idea that you must follow a dream.

Actor/illusionist/occasional giraffe Caleb Sigmon pauses between offering tricks to passers-by in Freedom Park. “Basically what I get to do is pretend for a living, and I love it.” Photos by Joshua Komer The Charlotte Observer

His website calls him “the boy who never grew up.” Spend an hour in conversation, and you won’t be surprised to learn he proposed to wife Katy onstage at the end of a magic show.

They met at Hibriten High School in Lenoir, her hometown; she choreographed “Big River,” and he played (what else?) Huck Finn. Though he left to finish high school at UNC School of the Arts in 2011, their bond strengthened. They now have a 7-month-old son, Levi, whom Sigmon says “is growing up backstage.”

Dad’s path was sure almost from infancy in Caldwell County. “I was cast as Glowworm in ‘James and the Giant Peach’ at Foothills Performing Arts before I could read,” he recalls. “My mom read lines to me at bedtime, so I learned the entire show. The director said, ‘Caleb, you’re doing a fine job – but you cannot mouth everybody’s lines!’

The first magic kit entered his Christmas stocking at 5 or 6. A picture of him in a florist’s shop shows grandma choosing flowers – apparently for a funeral – while little Caleb, dressed as a clown, makes balloon animals. He developed magic routines, first for buddies and then for church groups. As he moved through high school, he devoured Ibsen and Shakespeare while perfecting sleight-of-hand.

Rejections from 16 college conservatories came as a blow, but not a fatal one. He designed his touring show, for which Katy has done lighting and costumes. “It’s a narrative, rather than just tricks,” he explains. “It’s my story, loosely. When I was little, I spent all my time in the backyard with a costume box, roping friends into plays. A cardboard box can be the ultimate outlet for your imagination.”

Sigmon gives a high five to Emma McDermott after guessing the card she picked; Christy McDermott is suitably amazed. Joshua Komer Joshua Komer

He worked with Children’s Theatre of Charlotte’s Tarradiddle Players soon after school and came back in 2015 to play the title role in “The Cat in the Hat.” He’s been a mainstay since, stepping in time as Bert the sweep in “Mary Poppins” and stomping on high as Melman the Giraffe in “Madagascar.” (He was supposed to play King Julien, but then “(they) asked if I could walk on stilts. I was surprised how taxing it would be to do that twice a day, six days a week. My legs and back took a beating.”)

Sigmon gets to sit down six days a week between Thanksgiving and Christmas. He first played Santa at 17 in Caldwell County, when the guy doing it in Granite Falls died. Now he dons beard and fat suit annually; he’ll host tree lightings uptown and in South End this year. He meets shy kids on their level, sitting on the floor to request help in getting a broken toy to work. Soon the youngsters share their desires.

In the end, everything Sigmon does serves a common goal. “Illusions work because people want to suspend disbelief,” he says. “They want to live in a world where magic is possible. It would be lovely if we could.”

This story is part of an Observer underwriting project with the Thrive Campaign for the Arts, supporting arts journalism in Charlotte.