ST. PETERSBURG — Chris and Ryan Zubrick stepped onstage ready to entertain, dazzling with matching sequined blazers and shiny white smiles.
Underneath a canopy of purple velvet, the partners — in life, and in business — would perform a variety of illusions.
Before they whipped doves out of thin air or put their assistant in a box to be sliced up, the couple would share an extra special bit of magic with their guests: Their love story.
A magical meet cute
Ryan and Chris, now 36 and 40, each grew up in Michigan. In towns around two hours apart, both were drawn to illusions at a young age: Ryan was gifted a magic set for his fifth birthday. For Chris, it started with a trick at the bottom of a cereal box. Each ended up going into the business.
As adults, their paths finally crossed in 2005. Chris, fresh off a stint performing in Japan, had been booked for a show at the Wharton Center for Performing Arts on Michigan State University’s campus.
Ryan, then a freshman at MSU, had also been booked for a show there — on the same day and time.
“Instead of being like, ‘I’m going to take this one, you go home,’ we just put our shows together,” he said.
Just hours before going onstage, the pair figured out how to combine acts. And though it didn’t come up that day, there was a spark.
Ryan noticed how attractive Chris was. For Chris, it was already settled.
“I’m going to marry this man,” he thought.
A business is born
Their relationship developed slowly, first revolving around work. Ryan, studying technical theater and lighting design, could help Chris with shows that were already booked.
Their first meeting was at Chili’s — to discuss their performance, Ryan said.
“It was a date,” Chris told the Tampa Bay Times with a wink.
The romance grew as their business did. After living and touring the Midwest together for two years, the couple was offered a two-year contract to work in a theater at a resort in Saipan, located in the western Pacific Ocean.
“We thought if we could live on a tiny tropical island and work together, this would be a testament to our relationship,” Chris said. “Right before showtime, we would come in with the sand between our toes, get into our costumes and go out on stage.”
Two years abroad turned into eight, and then the pair was offered a gig working for their employer’s sister company on Guam. They stayed abroad for another five years, until the pandemic put a pause on live performances.
Planning your weekend?
Subscribe to our free Top 5 things to do newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Since their audience had been mostly tourists from Japan, China, Korea and the Philippines, the pair didn’t speak much during the show. Instead, they dazzled audiences with large-scale illusions. Offstage, they spent so much time together that they ended up sharing one car and one cell phone.
“That’s I think where we developed knowing exactly what the other one is thinking,” Ryan said.
Making the family official
Ryan proposed during their Saipan era, during a favorite activity together — strolling the beach at sunset.
“I told him that since I want to marry him, he has to ask me when he’s ready,” Chris said. “And he made me wait nine years —nine years!— just to be certain I was the one.”
At the time, same-sex marriage wasn’t legal on the island. They hosted an unofficial ceremony to celebrate with family and friends. Just a few months later, same-sex marriage became legal in Hawaii. They went there to get married in a small ceremony — just the two of them and an officiant on the beach.
The next step was to expand the family through adoption. This meant conferences, home studies, paperwork. A lengthy process was made harder by the fact that many religious adoption agencies didn’t want to work with a same-sex couple.
“Plus, we were overseas. People had not heard of Saipan,” Chris said. “So we went the open adoption route.”
They braced themselves for a long period of waiting. Then, they got an email.
“Ryan’s sister came forward and said, ‘I have an oven that I’m not using if you guys would like to use it,’” Chris remembered. “And then a couple of weeks later, one of our best friends that Ryan grew up with in high school said, ‘I would donate my eggs to you guys if you can find a surrogate.’”
Their son, Oliver, was born in Santa Monica, California, five years ago. A budding illusionist himself, he occasionally likes to do a trick in the Zubricks’ live show.
“He’s in kindergarten,” Ryan said. “He competed in the talent show and took first place doing magic, of course.”
After leaving Guam, the Zubricks bought a 34-foot Class A RV. This would become their temporary home while they searched for a place to grow roots.
Starting in Santa Monica, then heading to New York, then driving down to the Florida Keys, they considered their options. On the journey back to Michigan, they stopped after crossing the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. They’d never heard of St. Petersburg before.
“It checked all of our boxes,” Chris said.
Instead of the Michigan winters they’d grown up with, the couple could live surrounded by palm trees. There was year-round tourism, yet no other magic competition. And the city was known for being LGBTQ-friendly.
They bought a house with a pool and signed a lease for a vacant property off First Avenue North. With bare concrete floors and no walls, it was a perfect empty canvas for them to construct their theater exactly as they wanted it.
They opened their show in 2021, debuting a mix of grand illusions, comedy, drama and plenty of audience participation.
“One of the biggest misconceptions of magic is when you hear a magic show, you think of fluffy white bunnies and balloon animals and top hats and cheesy caped magicians. This is not that show,” Chris said. “This show is family friendly, but it’s really designed to entertain and fool adults. But the kids can have fun too.”
On days when they aren’t performing, they get up at 6 a.m. to drop Oliver off at kindergarten, then hit the gym before work. Ryan is the master of the technical aspects, like lighting, fog and music. Chris handles the business side, including marketing and advertising.
“This is a lifestyle business. We want to work and perform. But we also want to spend time as a family,” Chris said.
Their favorite date night activity is visiting their neighbors in the EDGE District, like the Saint speakeasy. As a family, they love going to the St. Pete Pier, where Oliver roams the playground as his dads chow down on pizza.
Shows take place Thursday through Saturday evenings, followed by a Sunday matinee every other week. They always kick off the show with a nod to their love story and family.
“We want our son to know that he can live his authentic self and treat people with kindness regardless of race, religion, sexuality, whatever it may be,” Chris said. “It’s not a hidden agenda. We’re just saying, ‘This is who we are. This is our show, and here’s our family, let’s have some fun and see some magic.’”
Occasionally, they’ll get negative comments from people who don’t support the LGBTQ community.
“But it’s super far and in between,” Ryan said. “We get a lot of people that come up and say, ‘You guys are so brave, and it’s so refreshing to see an out couple or out parents.’”
“We’ve had educators come up to us and say, ‘Thank you for making this a nonissue, and for teaching our youth that they can be who they are,’” Chris added. “So it’s rewarding.”
If you go
Zubrick Magic Theatre offers a roughly 70-minute show of family-friendly illusions at 1211 First Ave. N, St. Petersburg. Performances take place at 7 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. There is a 2 p.m. show every other Sunday.
Tickets are $42. A VIP package costs $149 for two front-row seats and includes two beverages, one popcorn and one special gift. To book, visit zubrickmagic.com or call 1-866-982-7425.