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Juggling busker up to new tricks

Finding performers on downtown Milwaukee streets has become much more common in the past weeks thanks to the wealth of activity. From festivals, live music and world-class theater to farmer's markets, art galleries, dining and nightlife, downtown has plenty of exciting attractions. With increased foot traffic, Milwaukee is becoming a prime place for street performers to exhibit their talents.

Meet Marcus Monroe, a precocious 17-year-old from Shorewood who is fast becoming a famous face in the Milwaukee area thanks to his breathtaking juggling act. He's been seen on downtown Milwaukee streets "busking" for crowds at River Flicks, Rainbow Summer and near the Pabst Theater. This weekend he'll take his show to the RiverWalk to perform for crowds from Al's Run, the Milwaukee River Challenge and the Downtown Housing Expo and Open House.

OMC: You have a very unique act. You incorporate very inventive tricks and stunning visuals. How do you come up with new tricks?

MM: I think my show has really matured since I started eight years ago. My first show was a birthday party and I tried to do the clown thing, but it just wasn't me. I realized that I have to come into my own and do something really original to be successful. So I lost the gimmicks and concentrated on coming up with tricks people have never seen before.

It starts with my friends and I sitting around going, 'Dude, wouldn't it be cool if you could do a drum solo by throwing balls at the drums and bouncing them back?' Then I make it happen. Now that my tricks are becoming more difficult and intricate, it takes me months to perfect them. It's becoming harder and harder to top myself. But that's part of the fun!

OMC: Have you been successful performing in downtown Milwaukee?

MM: Downtown has been pretty good to me. After getting booked at Summerfest and Bastille Days this summer, I thought I'd try busking on my own. I had some really good crowds at Rainbow Summer and River Flicks, especially when I was doing fire and sword stuff. Nights are good for me because I have fire and glow-in-the-dark tricks and the crowds seem more energetic.

I think the more buskers that get out there, the more people will get used to it and get used to tipping. It just takes time. They have to realize we're not trying to bum a quarter. It's give and take.

OMC: Can you make enough money busking to do it full-time?

MM: Well, right now I'm still in school, so I don't have any bills to pay. But, sometimes people will look into my tip bucket and say, 'You make more money than I do!' But what they don't realize is that I'm only out there for a few hours. And most of that money goes back into my act. The bigger and better my show gets, the more expensive it gets. For instance, I made pretty good money at Summerfest so I bought an 11-ft. unicycle. That was the whole check.

To answer your question, I think in the summer you could make a living busking, especially if people become more supportive. But corporate parties and festivals are more lucrative.

OMC: How did you get started juggling?

MM: Well, I saw a girl in grade school juggling and I was really impressed. I decided I wanted to learn how, so my dad and I practiced and practiced until we got really good. Then we started trying new things and experimenting with different tricks. I became really passionate about coming up with cool tricks and not copying things other jugglers were doing.

Like I said, my parents volunteered me for a birthday party for my first show. I made $15 for less than an hour. I thought that was pretty good money. So I started sending out resumes and started getting bigger parties and festivals.

OMC: What are your plans for the future?

MM: Well, right now I'm putting together a "hip-hop" juggling show. I want to do a demo and try to get on tour with a national act. It would be cool to be on the road with a rock 'n roll band, too. The rock 'n roll juggler! I've also applied to a couple cruise ship lines. I'd like to continue juggling and make a living at it. But, I'm going to finish school and go to college. So, I've got lots of plans!

Stop by Pere Marquette Park and the RiverWalk, 11 a.m.-1 p.m., Sat., Sept. 21 to see Marcus perform. Hang around for the River Challenge and Housing Expo festivities.

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