Gypsy Geoff brings circus arts to streets, schools
Geoff Marsh -- aka "Gypsy Geoff" -- claims to be "on permanent vacation," and yet he works most days of the year. Perhaps the line between Marsh's work and play is blurry because he's a professional magician, clown, mime, circus arts instructor and fire manipulator.
"Making people laugh is contagious and I intend to spread it across the world," says Marsh. "The fact is, I actually can in this line of work."
Over the past few years, Marsh, 23, shared his entertaining skills at more than 300 kids' birthday parties. Plus, he's a member of Milwaukee's Vaudeville-style cabaret group called Dead Man's Carnival that performs around the country, and he's a regular fixture at most Milwaukee festivals, including the East Side Summer Soulstice, Locust Street Festival, South Shore Frolics and Summerfest. (Marsh says he was hired at Summerfest after sneaking onto the grounds and spontaneously performing for donations.)
Marsh works with the Milwaukee Public Theatre in a program implemented in Milwaukee Public Schools called "Rainbow Cirques Hip 2B Healthy." The program is available to MPS students and teaches exercise, nutrition and the circus arts.
"Through imagination games we build self confidence," says Marsh.
Marsh's interest in the circus arts started in childhood. While his brothers watched TV and played video games all summer, Marsh preferred "being outside in the sun" and took up skateboarding and hacky sack.
"I was raised by TV, but after a while, I got really bored with it," says March, who lives on the East Side.
As a teenager, Marsh moved to New Orleans to live with his father. He spent a lot of time hanging out in the French Quarter, hacky sacking for spare change, and meeting a menagerie of street performers, including buskers, painters, jugglers and break dancers.
When he was 18, Marsh traveled to Ireland to visit his grandmother, whom he hadn't seen in eight years. In Ireland and London, he met more street performers, including a mind-blowing juggler on a unicycle.
"It looked like he was juggling three objects, but it was actually four, and it was amazing. Everyone was captivated," says Marsh.
Although inspired by the unicycle-riding juggler, Marsh continued to attempt to make money playing hacky sack. He played in the streets of Ireland everyday, for at least four hours at a time, and although he made a decent wage, the physical demands of the task were unbearable.
"I couldn't walk," says Marsh. "I realized I could only hacky sack for two hours at a time without overexerting myself, but I wasn't making enough money."
When Marsh left Ireland and returned to New Orleans, he taught himself to juggle and tried to build a street show. Marsh says he struggled for a while, but it all came together for him one afternoon when comedian and star of '80s television show "Night Court," Harry Anderson, walked up to him in the French Quarter.
"This guy walked up to me, introduced himself as Harry Anderson -- you know, the guy from "Night Court" -- and offered to show me a cool magic shop, which was disguised as a laundromat," says Marsh.
Marsh says Anderson, who started his career as a street performer -- brought him to the magic shop, and on the way, gave him a valuable piece of wisdom.
"He told me there's a character behind the performance. It's not just an act," he says.
Marsh says he ran into Anderson six months after their spontaneous meeting, but they have not kept in contact. However, Marsh says Anderson's advice was priceless, and inspired him to travel with a circus group through the southern states where he was able to hone his act.
Marsh came to Milwaukee a few years ago to visit a friend, set up his juggling magic show on Brady Street and quickly realized Brew City was his new home. Although he moved away from Brew City for a brief stint at culinary school in San Francisco, Marsh says he's at peace with his life as a Milwaukee-based circus performer.
"I like the kids here and I really like working with families," says Marsh. "I truly love my job, and I do this because it makes me feel free."
Goeff did a party I was at last night and he was great! The kids really got into it, and he was having as much fun as they were.
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