Italian streams from his lips as he makes dinner plans with Giacomo and, for a moment, you wonder if you’ve been transported to one of the European festivals. Finished, he returns to your conversation, laughing easily as he turns the crab hat, a talisman against rain, repeatedly in his hands. Never still, he seems always to be scanning his surroundings for something to play with and you wonder how long it will be before he reaches in to a pouch and pulls out enough objects to form a pattern. Let me introduce you to Paolo Garbanzo.
photo credit: Leinad Thornwolf
Paul “Paolo Garbanzo” Hudert has always been a performer. According to his theory, it’s because being the youngest of four meant that he was always looking for ways to attract attention. Emulating his brother’s friends provided one way and, when the boy boasted the he too could juggle like one of them, they taunted him to prove it. Never one to back down, the twelve-year-old learned the trick and found he enjoyed it. He continued learning new tricks from the friend, taking on any challenge thrown at him.
Knowing that he wanted a career that let him stay involved in theatrical productions, Paul earned a degree in Set Design from the Virginia Commonwealth University. His classes proved invaluable as he began, even in college, to produce his own shows. He knew what was possible and how to achieve it. He never had to be like a performer he worked with who asked to have a black light put in a certain location so that it would be darker. After graduation, he worked with set design companies, painting sets for plays and movies on both coasts. Working on sets provided the flexibility he needed for performing and is now only an occasional activity for special projects.
The Garbanzo Brothers, the show he directed while in college, performed throughout the east. The move to the West Coast in 2001 precipitated the beginning of his solo career, including busking on the famous Pier 39 stage in San Francisco. He joined the Flying Karamazov Brothers for a time but returned to solo performing in 2003. Paul laughed as he told me, “Jugglers are basically anarchistic and subversive; we don’t take orders very well. That’s why jugglers are generally a solitary act.”
Late in his college career, a friend introduced Paul to the Maryland Renaissance Festival. He was stunned; Renaissance Festivals were, at that time, the last bastion of vaudeville style entertainment. Here was a multiple week event with exactly the kind of shows he loved to do. The Garbanzo Brothers were already performing at kids’ parties, corporate picnics, and the occasional art or street festival, but those were one-day gigs. He attended several weekends, and then contacted the Entertainment Director. The Garbanzo Brothers made their first appearance at the Maryland Renaissance Festival in 2000, coming in as guest performers for the last two weekends. Paul was hooked and started sending out promotional tapes to various Renaissance Festivals. It was during this time that he and his partner discovered that their ideas on “touring” did not mesh and the team split up.
Although there have been several characters through the years, Paolo Garbanzo is the one that feels most real to him. Some of Paul’s ancestors were from Italy and he is proud of the authenticity it brings to the character. While spending six months in Italy teaching classes on juggling and comedy, “Paolo” acquired background, accents, and accoutrements true to the character. Paul even built a gypsy wagon (a vardo) to travel in which also serves as a stage backdrop when appropriate to the venue.
He performs at faires on the East and West coasts but, in his case, it is the West Coast of Europe. In the summers, Paolo travels and performs at festivals all over the continent. Festivals in Europe are different he told me, not renaissance or medieval faires, but primarily celebrations of the founding of a town which just happened to take place during the Renaissance or Medieval periods. Other performers that Pual has worked with, both past and present, include Clan Tynker (primarily in Europe), his own Accidental Circus, and with Giacomo the Jester in the “Ooops! Comedy Knife Throwing Show.”
It’s common to see jugglers eating an apple that is one of the objects in the pattern. Paolo adds a few twists to the trick, juggling a knife, a flaming torch, and an onion, all while standing on a large plastic ball. His favorite cute patron story from faires involved this same trick. Typically, he includes youngsters in the setup, calling three volunteers to the stage to hand, toss, or throw the various objects to him. On this day, he looked out at the audience and there was a young girl there dressed in a finely done handmade princess gown. The child was regal and serene when Paolo called her to the stage. The second volunteer was a boy who was just bouncing all over the place. Handing each of them their object, Paolo had them turn toward each other, shake hands, and then bow. Though she appeared reluctant, the girl shook hands and then performed a perfect martial arts bow. The boy responded, but without the finesse. When Paul uttered the word, “Fight,” he got exactly what he had hoped for. The young man didn’t have a clue what to do but the princess went in to a perfect fighting stance; she was calm, cool, and ready to take that boy down. The crowd could tell she was right on and thought she was so cute.
This past year, Paul traveled to England to compete in the International Jester Tournament during Muncaster Castle’s Festivale of Fools. Since 2005, the event has selected the best juggler to fill the role of Fool of Muncaster, a lifetime title that honors Tom Skelton, the original Foole of Muncaster. Paul competed against five others during the 2007 Festival and was the first American to win the prestigious award. He will attend the Festival again this year, first performing for the crowd as the out-going Fool, and then emcee the competition to choose the 2008 Fool of Muncaster. While he did tell me that he’s hard at work on several new bits for his performance, he wouldn’t reveal more than that.
This year’s schedule includes several events in Germany and one in the Czech Republic, in addition to his US tour of Tennessee Renaissance Festival, Sterling Renaissance Festival, Pennsic War, and King Richard’s Faire. He also took some time off in the spring to attend a juggling convention and workshops on the art of buffoonery in Boston, Massachusetts, before going to Muncaster Castle for April Fools’ Day. Paul told me that he makes time for the classes and competitions to keep him fresh. “When you’re performing full time, you lose time to practice new things; it’s the curse of the full time performer because there is so much traveling it’s hard to find time to learn new things and practice them to a level that can be presented to the public.”
photo credit: Garbanzo Juggling
Paul told me he is the luckiest person in the world, making a living by doing what he loves. People come to see the faire and tell him that he lives the dream and he agrees. “We may not have much money but I wouldn’t trade it.” Some of his best times are in the evening when he gets to relax, sometimes juggling with those in the campgrounds around him. Faire is a whole community that encourages each other. Being on the road with Renaissance festivals is not a popular lifestyle choice with jugglers, “It’s not considered making the big time like working a Vegas show.” But he’s doing OK and likes faires because the events are multiple weekends; when you get in you’ve got a good chance of being there again the next year; and it’s not an intense requirement to always be searching for the next gig. Maybe fifteen years or so from now he’ll be ready to quit juggling flaming death sticks or mostly razor sharp knives. When he is, he may go back to painting sets, but for now, he has no regrets.
In closing, Paul encouraged everyone never to give up on your dreams. If you feel like you should be doing something else, do it. Do what you feel like you should be doing and don’t let anyone tell you what that should be. Then the subversive anarchist popped up and told me, “Say what you mean and mean what you say. Just because someone’s feelings may be hurt, it is not a reason not to say something that needs to be said. There’s too much political correctness these days.”
Websites of Paolo Garbanzo and Paul Hudert: