Gravitational Engineer to put on a show
Mark Nizer says he enjoys trying to perform seemingly impossible juggling feats.

By Lindsay Key
of the Roanoke Times

What do an electric knife, a propane tank and a bowling ball have in common? They all pass through the hands of Mark Nizer as part of the comedic juggling act he is bringing to Blacksburg on Saturday.

But Nizer, who calls himself a "gravitational engineer," won't stop there. He'll also juggle lasers, show footage from a juggling adventure in shark-infested waters and demonstrate "the impossible trick," which he said is an audience favorite.

Nizer begins by spinning a basketball on his finger - a task that is hard enough for some people. But then, at the same time, he balances a volleyball on his forehead, lets it roll down his back and then kicks it with his heel so it lands on the basketball, so they're spinning together.

"Sometimes it takes a few tries to get that one, and part of the excitement is the buildup of trying to do something that is impossible," Nizer said.

Finding loopholes in the laws of gravity has taken a lot of practice for the 45-year-old. His mother enrolled him and his brother and sister in a juggling class in Concord, Mass., when he was 12 years old.

"My mom thought we had too much energy when we were kids," he joked.

As a teenager, Nizer would spend his days at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with the juggling-club' there.

"I just would go and practice with them and get inspired with them," he said.

When he was attending the University of New Hampshire, he continued to practice juggling and started showing up for open mike nights, at comedy clubs. He also entered into an exchange program with San Diego State University so he could take classes amid the bustling California entertainment market.

While in college, he said, he won a national talent contest at which Bob Hope was master of ceremonies. Hope took Nizer under his wing and got him opening gigs with many famous names, including Ray Charles and George Burns, Nizer said.

"Everyone that's dead, I've opened for them," he said, jokingly. "I don't know if there's a correlation there or not."

When he graduated from college with a degree in psychology, Nizer was already performing full time at colleges, comedy clubs and other venues.

The venues got more unusual as the years went by. Nizer said he has performed for pineapple workers in the Philippines through the U.S. Department of Defense, the first O.J. Simpson jury in Los Angeles and the king of Thailand. In 1990, he won first place in an international juggling championship.

After living 10 years in Los Angeles with his wife, who is an actress and Richmond native, the two packed up and moved to Charlottesville six years ago to be closer to her parents. They also wanted to have a safe place to raise their three daughters,-Nizer said.

"Now I have plenty~ of land and I can play baseball and not have to worry about the ball going in the neighbors yard," he mused. "However, there is the occasional stray rooster."

Nizer said he has visited Blacksburg before to perform for Virginia Tech students, but it was at least 10 years ago.

Lyric Theatre staff members said they are excited about his arrival.

"We have made a conscious effort in our live event programming to -broaden our reach to which community people we're serving," said Susan Mattingly, the theater's executive director. "We felt like there has not been a lot of fun, family-friendly entertainment of this caliber available to people in the New River Valley. It just helps us broaden our reach. After watching the video online, he just looked like he was going to put on a very fun show."

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