Philippe Petite’s ‘Wireless!’

Philippe Petite performed his new and developing stage show, ‘Wireless!’ for three sold out performances in New York’s historic Abrons theater. An added show and standing ovations has provided the encouragement the artist needed to continue the performance, promotion, and perfection of this show.

A street performing juggler and tight/slack rope walker since 1965, Petite gained world renown when he walked across a high wire rigged between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, the two tallest buildings in the world, in 1974.

Almost as astonishing as the feat itself is the fact that the 450 pound rigging had to be secretly snuck and set up on the roof of the towers because he could never have gotten ‘permission’ to execute such a stunt. Francis Brunn financed the preparations, including preliminary helicopter stake-out and photo spy session. The story is recorded in the feature film, ‘Man on a Wire’ which won the Oscar for best documentary film in 2008 and directed by James Marsh. Philippe has taken his juggling/tight rope walking act and performed it as street theater all over the world.

In ‘Wireless’ he does not perform his street show, nor does he do any tight or slack rope walking. So what does he do? Well, mostly he talks about his life and career, and punches up the production with a few demonstrations of skills.

Your enjoyment or non-enjoyment of this show will depend largely on your expectations. If you’re expecting to see the man who conquered Manhattan doing his famous high wire act, you will be vastly disappointed. You are therefore warned by the very title, ‘wireless’ that that’s not what this show is about.

But if you want to see and hear from the real personality behind the legend, his philosophy of life, his poetry, and his hopes and dreams, you are in for a treat.

He begins by telling about his early fascination with magic and card tricks. He demonstrates a few tricks and describes the learning process, and how he got kicked out of school numerous times while studying diligently those areas of interest not on the curriculum, like juggling. He then (about a half hour into the show) picks up three balls and the music begins. For three minutes he combines dance, comedy, and juggling. As he gracefully displays shoulder throws, penguin catches and a variety of simple patterns, his impish personality comes out ready to charm and cheer.

It’s really the only time during the show that he is doing ‘the thing itself’ as opposed to discussing it. He thus, in three short minutes, validates the rest of the show.

He then tells how he taught himself to walk the slack rope at age 16. After seeing a circus act and having no one to ask, he only knew he had to learn gradually, step by step. So he bought a rope and wrapped it around two trees, seven times, and gathered the cords together with wire hangers. He practiced walking back and forth on it for hours each day, and cut out one strand from the bundle per day until he was left with a single rope by the end of the week.

Next: Bullfighting! He dons his habit and tells of his adventures manipulating sword, cape, and cattle. Naturally all his bullfights were bloodless, as was his stint as a pick-pocket. He always returned his victims’ wallets and watches; he mearly enjoyed seeing the looks of wonder on his victim’s faces.

And ‘Wonder’ is what it’s all about. Staying childlike, never losing your wide-eyed mischievous smile. If it means sitting at your desk at work with no pants on in the office or walking across a cable over Sidney Harbor Bridge, never lose your punch, never retire your mind. Never think anything you want to do is impossible. And that, he explains, is how he brought peace to the Middle East. With the mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek’s whole-hearted permission and blessings, he walked a high wire across the border of East and West Jerusalem. Half way across, as he describes it, he paused, reached into a pocket, and produced a scarf, from which magically he appeared a dove, the symbol of peace. A dove which he released to freedom and which was supposed to fly away into the heavens. Trouble is, the poor bird was too stiff from its time in the pocket to fly and almost dropped straight down. It did manage to flap a few moments and make it all the way over to the nearest surface to land on – the top of Philippe’s head. The audience saw that and went wild cheering, wondering how he could have possibly trained a bird to do that so precisely. Thus for a single minute, East and West was united in joy, laughter, and wonder. And if it’s possible for a minute, then it’s possible for an hour or a day or a year or forever.

And to this day the mayor of Jerusalem keeps a picture of Philippe with a dove on his head, framed and on his desk to remember that the impossible is quite possible indeed. Lights out.”

Raphael Harris

Raphael Harris was the proprietor of the Jerusalem Circus School for Children for over ten years. He has performed "Sir Juggley's One Man Circus" over a thousand times. He appeared in the Guiness Book of World Records twice and the Record Setters Book of World Records three times. He lives in New York.

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