It might be goofy. It might be absurd. It might look nutty. But it’s Hilby the Skinny German Juggler Boy, who’s been entertaining crowds across the globe for decades, returning to the stage in his adopted hometown of Ithaca this week.
The show is being held at the State Theatre on Saturday, Feb. 1 from 6 - 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 5 p.m., and tickets can be purchased online for $6 or 4 for $20. They can also be purchased at the door. Hilby will be joined by guest performers from Syracuse who will do acrobatics and gymnastics.
“It’s very interactive, family friendly for all ages, juggling comedy-show,” Hilby said, boiling it down. “When I say juggling, I mean it really spans all variety of things that can be juggled. Paddle balls, bowling balls, cue sticks, balloons that are bigger than VW Beetles, etc.”
Hilby came to juggling unconventionally, having worked as a social worker in Germany before taking time off to travel and running out of money. He had to get resourceful, so he took what he knew how to do, which was juggling, and went to the streets to try to build a career. Somehow, it worked.
“It was really fun, on top of everything,” Hilby said. “I decided this was going to be my new life, and 27 years later it still is.”
The quick change was nerve-racking, like almost any risk that significant would be, but Hilby said his lack of other options propelled him forward. When the need to survive kicked in, he said, it gave him an extra boost he used to keep himself motivated and focused. His age at the time helped as well, as he was more willing to assume the level of risk it would take to make juggling an actual career. Yet he’s still happy he took the chance, considering how it has worked out. Now, he’s performed in 63 countries and been able to entertain people in tons of different cultures and venues, everywhere from arts festivals to cruise ships, something he prides himself on. But there’s still something special about performing here.
“I live here in Ithaca, I call it my hometown now,” he said. “It’s beautiful, it’s where I live. It matters to me now [...] It’s always a bit more nerve-racking to be at home, but it’s also more exciting. And you, perhaps, put a little bit more time and effort into preparing for it as well.”
Especially with a few new tricks, and some featured guests backing him up, Hilby said he’s very excited to get back on the State Theatre’s stage, with a crowd of people he’s comfortable with, cheering him on.
“Most of what they can really expect is just a jolly good time,” Hilby said. “Ninety minutes of switching up, seeing your fellow citizens having a good time, slapping their knees and having belly laughs. [...] It’s a unifier.”
Being on stage gives Hilby the chance to connect with people, he said, and to receive gratification so instantly when he’s done well via the applause and joy of the audience. It also lets him bring people together, he said, something that he focuses on as one of the subtler benefits of his profession. Like many entertainers, he believes his primary function is to give people an escape, no matter how brief, from whatever their usual routines are.
“That keeps me going,” he said. “My show, it somewhat stays the same, it has new tricks and elements to it, but I get motivated by entertaining people, having people have a good time. We concentrate and focus on our differences, but when I do a show I see people having a good time about the same thing.”
Saturday, Feb. 1 from 6 - 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 5 p.m., and tickets can be purchased online for $6 or 4 for $20.