Native Australian, Al Millar, also known as ALAKAZAM: The Human Knot, is the official street performer for the 2012 Festival of the Arts, continuing through Sunday in downtown Oklahoma City.
Check out this NewsOK video of him performing at the festival, and click here to read my interview.
As The Human Knot, he juggles a small chainsaw, performs “contortionist pushups” and even squeezes his 6-foot, 155-pound physique through the frame of an unstrung squash racquet.
For his grand finale, he scales a 12-foot pole with the help of audience volunteers and then juggles three long knives atop it while his specially made “Triple-Trouble, Double-Ended Ice Axe Blender Blade” twirls over his head like a perilous propeller.
“I tried it one time in my friend’s backyard before I went and did it in my show,” he told me Thursday about his dangerous finale. “because the best place to make a routine around a trick is on the street doing a street performance. ‘Cause the street audiences, they give you the best indicator of if it’s good or not. I mean, I’ve practiced the circus element of it for years and years and years, but yeah, the pole’s just a big, dangerous trick, really.”
His act got an added element of danger Thursday afternoon as the Oklahoma wind began gusting.
“It’s dangerous when I’m up high, ‘cause if there’s a gust of wind, one of the knives, if I’m thinking it’s gonna go and I’m gonna catch here, it might be there. And then it goes on the ground,” he said with a laugh. “Also, from the crowd psychology point of view, the wind makes people less attentive, you lack focus. I know all about crowd psychology.”
The attentiveness of the crowd is a particular concern since Millar depends on several audience volunteers in his 30-minute act. Two strong men give him a boost so he can scale the pole, four more man ropes that help hold the 12-foot metal rod in place, and a woman is tasked with passing up his knives.
“I have to stay on top of it. If I think I’m going this way, I’ve gotta be like ‘Dude, pull that rope, you know, pay attention,’” he said. “People think it’s more dangerous because it’s just random people holding it up. If it was locked into the ground and I just got up there and did it, it would be different. But people are unpredictable, so that’s what makes the trick unpredictable. I rely on the fact that no one wants to look like an idiot in public.”
Even with all the potentially harmful stunts, Millar believes his cheeky, often bawdy quips are just as vital to a successful routine. Like many performing artists, he wants to keep his show cutting edge.
“If it’s not funny, it gets boring, you know. So I try to make anything I say either a setup or a punchline and cut out all the rest of it,” said Millar, who sometimes encourages parents during his act, “You can laugh. The kids don’t get it.”
Along with performing on the international festival circuit since about 1999 — he typically tours from March through October — Millar, 34, was a runner-up on the TV show “Australia’s Got Talent” in 2007 and made an appearance last year on “America’s Got Talent.” He has performed for the likes of Sting, Bruce Springsteen and Woody Harrelson.
After the Festival of the Arts, he has gigs coming up in Germany, Holland, Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, Iceland and Canada.
The festival marks his first gig in Oklahoma City. Performance times are noon to 12:30 p.m., 2:30 to 3 p.m. and 7:45 to 8:15 p.m. Friday and Saturday and noon to 12:30 p.m., 2 to 2:30 p.m. and 4 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday.
For more information, call 270-4848 or go to www.artscouncilokc.com.