Turning all of life into a circus

October 29, 2006|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Sun

Michael Rosman's show combines slapstick comedy and daring feats.

For example, he balances a blender on his head and catapults bananas into it.

Also, he juggles flaming torches and a running chainsaw.

And sometimes he does it while riding a 9-foot-tall unicycle.

The stunts are all part of his Amazing Feats of Comedy act that he started performing more than 15 years ago.

After making a name for himself on the variety show circuit, Rosman is ready to tackle a new feat - a two-person show called Rosman and Rose.

And the show is sure to have people roaring with laughter, he said.

"It's a show about me and my lovely new assistant," said the 40-year-old Reisterstown resident. "I hired her to help me with my act, but in the show she can't get anything right."

Fortunately, making mistakes is not a problem Rosman encounters off the stage, said James Taylor, the director of the Palace of Wonders Museum in Washington, who met Rosman at the opening of a now-defunct museum.

"Variety is the other entertainment," said Taylor, an author and historian of sideshow and circus acts. "And to do well, you have to make some amazing choices. Michael goes to some outrageous extremes that make him one of the best in the business."

Rosman started as a street performer while a student at the University of Delaware. He learned to juggle and ride a unicycle.

Upon graduating with a degree in finance in 1988, he attended the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus Clown College. He then spent 1989 traveling with the Clyde Beatty Cole Brothers Circus.

When the year was over, he took a job as a credit receivables manager, and in his spare time he created the Amazing Feats of Comedy show.

"It's a physical and verbal comedy," he said. "I do things like juggling knives while standing on a bowling ball."

He spent his free time working the kinks out of the show. And two years later, when the company he worked for closed, Rosman became a full-time performer.

And after 15 years of performing variations of that show, this fall he's debuting the latest addition to his repertoire - Rosman and Rose.

Noelle Burk and Laurel Peyrot will alternate in the part of Rose, who is like the children's character Amelia Bedelia, said Burk.

"Amelia Bedelia always took everything literally," the 19-year-old Greenbelt resident said. "Amelia is the type of person that if she was told to draw the curtains, she would sit down with a pencil and paper and draw some curtains. Rose is a character that also takes things literally."

And it's a part that was made for her, Burk said. It allows her to unleash her silly side.

"Rose screws everything up," said Burk, who has learned to juggle and walk on stilts. "She really wants to help, but she just can't get anything right. The show will make the audience laugh, and that's what I love to do."

As Rose, Rosman said, Burk repeatedly proves the moral of the show: Help is the last thing you need.

And in Rosman's case, that's the truth, said Baltimore attorney Jeffrey Trueman, who met Rosman in 1992 while booking entertainment for Harborplace.

Even though Rosman had been performing only a short time, he was distinguishing himself among other performers.

"My job was to find talented street performers who could do their show without screwing up," said Trueman. "And Michael is super-talented. He did everything he said he could do and never made a mistake."

But there was more to it than that, said Trueman.

"Michael is the only one out there that I know of that puts a blender on his head," said Trueman. "But he also keeps the interest of the children and the adults, and still manages to produce a quality show."

Lots of practice and learning from mistakes have been key to his success, Rosman said.

To hone his skills, Rosman has created a backyard circus arena. It features two tightrope wires, a large trampoline, giant swings, a trapeze and a zip-line. A barn serves as his studio.

Also, the backyard serves as a space for teaching his kids how to juggle and walk on stilts, he said.

And his daughter, 9-year-old Sophia, said it gives her a chance to do things other kids can't do.

"My brother and I don't spend all of our time sitting in front of a television," she said. "Instead we go out in the backyard and learn how to do things like juggling, riding a unicycle, walking on stilts and spinning plates."

But it takes a lot of practice, said Ethan, 7, who aspires to become a performer like his father.

"I practice all the time, and I'm getting better. My record is 200 throws in juggling," Ethan said. "And I started juggling clubs this summer."

When there is time, Ethan is learning such skills as spitting water and falling.

"My dad will blow real lightly, and I have to wait about 10 seconds and then fall over when the blow gets to me," he said. "It's really cool!"

The children haven't learned how to surprise an audience, although Rosman is famous for it, said Taylor.

"Michael plays on the things the audience thinks are difficult to do," he said. "He intentionally messes something up and then he does what the audience expects him to do - he starts all over. Only this time, he speeds it up. After doing that five or six times, he's going so ridiculously fast that people can't believe that anyone could ever do what he's doing. The audience thinks they know where he's going with it, but no one can ever know where Michael is taking an act."

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