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September, 2014 Issue

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The Utterly Astonishing Craig Karges

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I have been involved in the national campus entertainment market for more than 30 years now and I have yet to see an entertainer with the resiliency and skills that Craig Karges exhibits. Better yet skill, the masterful way he engages students in the audience. No wonder, he is one of the hottest properties still available to campus programmers.

Craig came into much of his early glory during my latter years with NACA and his light still shines as brightly today. If you are a DSA, just think how many hot acts you have seen over your tenure in the marketplace and count just how few are still occupy the level of support from students, Craig occupies one of those rare elite spaces in campus entertainment history.

In May, extraordinist Craig Karges celebrated a special milestone with his 5000th show. His touring schedule has taken him to 22 countries on four continents as well as all 50 states with more than five million miles of travel via planes, trains and automobiles and, as he is quick to point out -- he's not done yet!

Craig is arguably the most "decorated" performer working the college circuit. He is a six time winner of the National Association of Campus Activities Entertainer of the Year award (a record) and he captured NACA's Variety Entertainer of the Year title for 12 consecutive years (another record). He's done very well with our awards as well winning Entertainer of the Year four times (a record he shares with Justin Willman AKA Justin Kredible) along with 11 other wins in categories ranging from Best Live Novelty Performer to Best Male Performer to Best Performing Arts Attraction. In fact, a CNN news piece on Craig dubbed him "the king of college campus entertainment." Craig was also the fifth inductee into the National Campus Entertainment Hall of Fame. This year Craig earned "platinum" status on our Campus Activities Magazine Report Card Dean's List with an amazing 4.99 average (out of five) score.

What does Craig do to achieve this kind of recognition? While he bills himself as an "extraordinist" (a term he and former manager Clint Billups dreamed up) Craig is a "mystery entertainer" along the lines of a mentalist or magician. His show is billed as "Experience the Extraordinary" and audiences do just that as tables float, minds are read, metal bends and the audience's imagination is challenged because they just can't believe their eyes.

"One of the cool things about reaching the five thousand show milestone is that it was primarily done through one night stands. It's not like I have a residency in Vegas where I'm doing five to eight shows a week. With the exception of a few casino runs and maybe a weekend at a performing arts center, the shows were done one venue at a time. That list of five thousand dates includes about three thousand college appearances," Craig says.

Craig began performing on college campuses right out of college. "When I graduated from Marshall University I immediately hit the road with the college market as my main focus. In the 90s I was averaging 175 campus dates a year," he explains.

The extraordinist keeps a more diverse schedule now. "The bulk of my work is on the corporate market. I also do a handful of theaters each year and some special events. Saturday I worked for the Ferrari Club of America at the Crescent Classic Rally in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. The Ferrari owners spend their days driving the twisting roads of the Ozarks and spend their nights wining and dining. I was their closing night entertainment at the 1886 Crescent Hotel known as America's Most Haunted Hotel. Ferraris and a haunted hotel,what more could you ask for?"

But colleges still play an important part of his touring schedule. "I still love doing campus dates. It's where I started and it's where I'll always work as long as the schools keep calling and find an open date. I just finished my annual Back to School Tour. This year I visited nine campuses in 14 days traveling over five thousand miles and entertaining over 10,000 college students," Craig says.

Craig's list of college orientation and welcome back week dates in late August this year was impressive. Central Michigan University -- 7th appearance; Carnegie Mellon University -- 15th appearance; Duquesne University -- 15th appearance; Xavier University -- 21st appearance; Lehigh University -- 4th appearance; College of William and Mary -- 6th appearance; University of Akron -- 20th appearance; Bowling Green State University -- 6th appearance; and Michigan Tech -- 17th appearance. That's 111 shows on just nine campuses over the years. "I'm so fortunate that these schools call me back year after year. I'm honored to be a part of these important on-campus programs," Craig says.

Those who have worked with Craig attribute at least part of his success to his wife, Charlotte, who has always handled his college bookings. "Charlotte still keeps the master calendar and she remains my exclusive college agent. She's also the liaison between the agents who book me in other markets. However, with the college market representing only about a third of my calendar now, she has a little more free time. We only regularly attend the NACA National Convention and the occasional performing arts conference. Charlotte's not one to sit still. She's been an antiques dealer for over twenty years. First in malls in the Pittsburgh area and then in recent years doing four or more higher end antiques shows as a dealer in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. In May, she opened a storefront in an historic building in our hometown of Wheeling, West Virginia. It's really a magical space filled with wonderful objects. Not just antiques but jewelry and art -- everything Charlotte loves. She's also doing some interior design work and, quite honestly, she's happier than I've seen her in a long, long time. The business is called Etc. and if you're ever traveling through West Virginia on interstate 70 stop in and take a look around," Craig invited.

What does the future hold for the extraordinist? "More of the same, I expect. I'm working about 100 dates a year. It's a nice pace with a mix of shows for corporate, college, theater and special events. I'm working on my fourth book, tentatively titled 'The Book of Secrets' but I've been working on it since 2011 so it's a little slow going. Don't expect it any time soon! I'll start 2015 by traveling to Europe on January 2nd for a Department of Defense tour of US Navy installations. In February and March I'll be doing an extended tour of Asia for the navy as well."

What about retirement? "Oh, I think retirement is a while off. At least three years, possibly as many as ten and realistically about six or seven. You know, I may never fully retire. The show is my life in a lot of ways. I don't have a lot of hobbies. I like to hike and I like to snow ski but if you told me I could only hike, ski or perform for the rest of my life and gave me the choice to pick just one of those activities, I'd have to go with performing, even if no pay was involved. I'm incredibly fortunate to have been able to do what I love to do for all these years and to get paid for doing it. It's been a great life," Craig says.

Craig is an anomaly on the college circuit. Many performers play college dates as a stepping stone to bigger and better things. Others work the market and then fade away, some over time and some much more quickly. Craig continues to work the market as his career continues to evolve. Over the years he has authored three books including the best selling Ignite Your Intuition. He has made over 40 national television appearances and has starred in two, one-hour syndicated television specials. He has become well known on the lucrative corporate market for his ability to blend entertainment, motivation and message in a single presentation and he tours a theatrical version of his show to theaters and performing arts centers throughout North America. But he still plays colleges. Why? "To answer that same question, I posted a video of me going on stage at Xavier University. Standing ovation with such energy and enthusiasm. It's just a great feeling to get that kind of response from college students. Playing the market keeps me young! Some of my agents and producers point out that I often lose money by taking college dates and I do. The other markets I work all pay significantly better than college shows. I try to price myself to still be affordable to most campuses and I never cancel a show to take a better paying date. I still love working the market," says Craig.

For Booking Information: Contact Charlotte Karges at Karges Productions (304) 233-4366 or ckarges@craigkarges.com