by Hawes Spencer
“It was wild,” says internationally renowned juggler Mark Nizer, who has wrapped his three performances in the strife- and famine-torn nation of Zimbabwe, where he was a featured performer in the Harare International Festival of the Arts, held in the capital city.
Nizer, who has been known to juggle whirling chainsaws and electric steak knives along with ping pong and bowling balls, has performed at New York’s Lincoln Center and at D.C.’s Kennedy Center. But little could prepare him for the country whose dictator, Robert Mugabe, unsatisfied with the March 29 election that just put him out of power, found a way, as Nizer was leaving, to get a runoff election.
“The people there are so gentle and sweet,” says Nizer. “I think that’s one of the reasons Mugabe and the military have been able to control them.”
One thing leaders haven’t been able to control is inflation, which Nizer claims is running at two percent per day. Tickets to his show were $180 million, and a little bowl of rice curry he purchased was $450 million. (He notes that even though these prices amount to just $1.80 and $4.50 American, they’re out of reach for many ordinary citizens.)
Although vexed in one effort to take a hike outside the city due to safety concerns, the Free Union resident says he was thrilled that his three sold-out performances resulted in “explosive” laughter. “There’s not a lot of food in the grocery stores,” says Nizer. “I guess they need something to laugh at.”
Local audiences will get a chance to see why Nizer is such a globe-trotter when he performs at Charlottesville’s own Paramount Theater on July 25.