Michael Hilby Interview
(The Skinny German Juggling Boy)
(The Skinny German Juggling Boy)
He’s been described as “Poetry in Motion” and a man who turns heads with his unicycle performance and jaw dropping juggling skills.
He is – Michael Hilby, The Skinny German Juggling Boy.
Q – You were at the New York State Fair this Summer (2012). Do you typically perform at Fairs?
A – Well, I do quite a few Fairs. I do about 60 days a year at Fairs and you won’t see an act like mine at Fairs. That said, there’s 4,800 Fairs in the country. So, you see me there, but there’s not that many acts that you would see at every Fair.
Q – You base yourself out of Ithaca, New York?
A – Yeah. I’ve been living here ever since I came to the United States.
Q – Why did you choose Ithaca to call home?
A – There are many reasons. The mother of my children is here and we decided to settle here. Also, her mother was part of initiating a co-housing community. It’s an Eco village.
Q – You travel by car to your gigs?
A – It depends. For example by tomorrow when I go to Oswago College I will travel by car. Monday I’m flying to Halifax to go to my gig. It’s a combination between flying and driving.
Q – How much of a hassle is it to get your props on a plane to play a U.S. gig or an overseas gig?
A – Well, let’s put it this way: I’m paid for my travel and waiting, not for the show. It’s the least favorite part of my career, the travel and the in-betweens and the down times.
Q – So, how long have you been doing this act of yours?
A – I’ve been doing it 20 years.
Q – Did you ever study under anyone or go to school to learn what you do in your act?
A – No. I was a social worker. I started juggling when I was 22 and I really liked it. I sort of explored it further and so I did. I studied informally. I would take a workshop here and there or a VHS tape or books. It’s not really like I would go get credits, or do an entire semester or something.
Q – There are not many people out there with an act like yours, correct?
A – Well, it depends. If you’re in that community it seems like quite a lot. There’s hundreds out there not thousands so to speak. For the regular person, no. You don’t see too many people who do what I do. It’s a fringe occupation I would say, not what the guidance counselor tells you about.
Q – This is a full-time venture for you isn’t it? You’re not doing anything on the side are you?
A – Well, I do other things, but yeah it’s full-time. I also have two houses I fixed up with one long-term and one short-time renters. There’s always some construction project. I’m working on a deck with a jack hammer and concrete out on the ground.
Q – That seems like an occupational hazard to me. If you injure your hand or break your arm, you’re in trouble.
A – I don’t even go there. I be careful. I’m good at multi-tasking but if I would think about that all the time it would excite the level of my being, so I try not to think about it. But, you’re right. If I break my hand that’s it for me.
Q – You’re doing a cruise. How many shows a day do you perform on a cruise ship?
A – It’s not per day necessarily. You see, a cruise is one week long. You’re usually expected to do two shows, one evening, two seating’s. The theatre usually isn’t big enough to hold the entire ship. So, you do two seating’s or two shows in one night, 45 minutes to an hour and them sometimes you’re asked to do a third show with another entertainer for 20 minutes to half an hour. So, overall you don’t do more than 3 or 4 shows.
Q – Will you be doing the same show you did at the New York State Fair?
Q – Yeah. I have two sets of equipment. One is strictly for indoor. One is for outdoor. I don’t do the fire. It’s not allowed. Of course all the comedy I do on the street is based on people walking by so of course that’s pretty much lost on the ship ‘cause you have a focused audience already there. But, in essence it’s the same performance, yeah.
Q – Did it take a lot of money to launch your show?
A – Well, it’s not cheap. Put it this way, it never bothered me. It’s what I do. It’s what I decided to explore on my life. Let’s get the tools I need. It’s not cheap.
Q – How did you get this name the Skinny German Juggle Boy?
A – Well, it was a combination of a waitress on a Cruise Ship kept calling me the Skinny German Boy. Then I repeated it onstage and the audience loved it and then I put the Skinny German Juggle Boy together in that order and people responded and people remembered it.
Q – How long have you been performing on cruise ships?
A – The first one I did was in ’98.
Q – Cruise ships seem to be an un-tapped market place for entertainment. It’s a growth industry.
A – Yes, in a sense. The taste of the cruise ship industry and what kind of acts they hire seems to change so there’s room for new ideas and different acts, but some acts have found it harder and harder to get work on cruise ships. It is right for certain types of entertainment and for other entertainment it’s actually getting harder.
Q – But, not for you.
A – No. I have a pretty unique thing going. It’s very difficult to outsource what I do. There’s not that many Skinny German Juggle Boys out there I assume.
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