Question: How do you saw a Weeki Wachee mermaid in half?
Answer: Just ask Penn and Teller.
The mermaids of Weeki Wachee Springs will be featured in an upcoming NBC television special, Penn & Teller: Off the Deep End.
Scheduled to air Nov. 13, the two-hour show is the first time any magicians have performed an entire magic special underwater, the show's executive producer and director Star Price said Tuesday.
In it, Penn and Teller travel to the Caribbean, where they make a submarine disappear. They perform magic acts with "hungry sharks" and "psychic dolphins," according to the Weeki Wachee Springs news release.
Even pop singer Aaron Carter makes a guest-starring appearance for one of the tricks.
Then, of course, there are the mermaids.
Mermaid Morgana was chosen as Teller's underwater assistant for much of the show. Mermaid Megan is "sawed in half" by Teller in water off Grand Cayman. Mermaid Carli also served as an assistant.
"They were fantastic," Price said of the mermaids. "I don't think we could have done it without them. We were shooting at 25 feet underwater, without oxygen. For them, that's like hanging out in their living room."
Some parts of the show were filmed using scuba gear and helmets with air hoses that reached up to the surface to give performers some breathing room.
Price said he was especially impressed by the feat Mermaid Morgana performed with Teller, which was filmed offshore of Grand Cayman.
"Morgana, she's locked in a cage underwater in handcuffs," he said. "Teller has about a minute and a half (to switch places with her). I was more nervous than she was, and I was sitting in a chair above water."
It seems fate brought the pair of magicians and mermaids together for Off the Deep End.
"We've been living in the Las Vegas desert for years," Penn said in the news release. "Nothing but cactus, sand, scorpions and Wayne Newton. And we realized it was time to do a show underwater. Magic needs a good head-soaking."
Of course, the show's producers set out looking for magician's assistants.
"We thought we needed a lovely lady assistant underwater," Price said, adding that someone suggested the Weeki Wachee mermaids. "I didn't even think that place still existed."
Price said his staff started jumping up and down when they spotted the Weeki Wachee Web site.
Weeki Wachee, which still is in the midst of its Save Our Tails campaign to preserve the aging attraction, is equally thrilled by the mermaid-magician partnership.
"The opportunity to have your mermaids appear on an NBC prime time special is remarkable," marketing and promotion manager John Athanason said. "We're just excited that the mermaids are going to appear on a show of this magnitude."
He said he can't imagine nonmerfolk playing the parts of underwater magicians' assistants.
"All of our girls were just perfect for what they needed," Athanason said. "I think the girls exceeded their expectations of what they could do underwater."
Mary Spicuzza can be reached at mspicuzzasptimes.com or (352) 848-1432.