By RACHEL BOWMAN
A lighted propane gas tank, a bowling ball and an electric carving knife seem to have nothing in common - that is, until Mark Nizer gets ahold of them. In Nizer's hands, these unlikely partners dance together in the air, a juggling feat that can leave an audience gasping. Nizer's juggling wizardry comes to Harrisonburg at 8 p.m. Saturday at Court Square Theater.
Nizer, who recently moved to Charlottesville with his wife and three daughters, says his desire to make people laugh prodded him to learn to juggle at age 12. As he honed the craft, he trolled the aisles of hardware and department stores, imagining how he could juggle such disparate items as wrenches, balls and flashlights.
"I look for things that are entertaining and different" to juggle, Nizer says. And he has juggled everything from rolled-up newspapers to growling chainsaws.
The tank, bowling ball and carving knife were featured during Nizer's first show. Those items, he says, were borrowed from his "only other job" at a lumberyard. With the success of that initial performance, he left the lumberyard to pursue juggling full time.
In the 30 years since, Nizer's performances have taken him to college campuses, street comers, variety shows and other theatrical venues. In the objects he juggles, he seeks to marry the elements of earth, air and fire. At the same time he's juggling, he maintains a rapid-fire commentary of jokes, probing for a reaction from the audience.
Mark Nizer's career and his performances are up in the air.
"Juggling is just juggling," he says. "The talking and the fun is entertainment."
Following his shows, Nizer is often
approached by inspired audience members who ask him to explain his tricks.
"Unlike magic, where everything is hidden, juggling is reality-based," he explains. Nizer, who "was never the first kid picked in gym class," says neither special physical prowess nor double jointedness is needed to do what he does. The key to mastering juggling is practice, and lots of it.
"You're only as good as the number of hours you put in," Nizer says. For seven years, he estimates, he practiced six to 12 hours a day to prepare for his weekend street shows in San Diego. Practice also paid off when he tried to conquer "The Impossible Trick," which was performed by a German juggler, Francis Brunn.
The trick sounds impossible. As a spinning ball balances on his right index finger, the juggler balances another ball on his forehead, then rolls it to the back of his neck and down his back. When the ball reaches his heel, he kicks the ball, which, if the trick is done correctly, will land on the spinning ball on his index finger.
"I worked on The Impossible Trick seven years before I got it once," Nizer says.
Practice has paid off for Nizer. In addition to audience adulation, in 1990 he was named U.S. National champion by the International Juggler's Association, and in 1998 was named Comedy Entertainer of the Year by the Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities.
Even with the recognition, Nizer seems to relish the "physical chess" he plays while practicing. Working out a solution, he says, "makes it true magic, in my eyes."
Contact Rachel Bowman at email@example.com
Mike Tripp / DWR
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