Martin Lamberti is not a name familiar to most jugglers, but it should be. Despite what he says in the interview below, he was a very talented juggler as well as a top hand balancer. Before you read my interview with him, please watch the two videos below. The first has been online for quite some time, but the second was filmed by Bobby Jule and is shown here for the first time publicly. Thanks, Bobby, for sharing this video.
DC: Please tell us a bit about your background.
ML: I was born in Rochester, Indiana in 1954 to Bill and Sally Zaring. Later I was taken into foster care and then, along with my sister Lorena, adopted by Willie and Clara Lamberti. The Lambertis were circus people from, contrary to the Italian name, Germany and Austria.
DC: Tell us how you learned to juggle and do other circus skills.
ML: Growing up in the Lamberti home was one long practice session. My day looked like this: Beginning about 07:00 in the morning it was hand balancing. 50 handstands before breakfast including 25 so called roll-ups. This means arms and legs straight hands flat on the floor with hand-heels touching toes. Tuck up to handstand and tuck back down touching toes to the floor and back up again 25 times in succession. Then 25 one arm or one handed hand stands, 1 minute each. 20 seconds one arm handstand on the left, 20 seconds on the right: and then because I was right handed, another 20 seconds on the left. Juggling from breakfast to lunch. Half an hour to one hour “free time” after lunch. Then high bar/ trapeze, tight rope and rola bola till about 3:30, Then hand balancing again till dinner time round about 5:30. After dinner another hour of “free time” then in the evening there was TV, but always while juggling. Mostly volley ball spinning and manipulation. Round about 8:30 in the evening another half hour to 45 minutes hand balancing session. Then finally TV again without practice and off to bed.
DC: Please tell us about your act at the height of juggling career.
ML: I did everything then, small balls, soccer balls, rings, clubs, cigar boxes, top hats, pyramid tricks.
I guess the height of my juggling career was my performance at the International Circus Festival in Monte Carlo 1983.
I was supposed to go in 82, but the festival was canceled that year due to the tragic death of Princess Grace. I had been guaranteed a Silver Clown. The festival committee contacted me to go in 83 instead but without the Silver Clown award. When I asked why they told me that Sergei Ignatov would be performing. Case closed! No argument from me. Sergei is my favorite juggler of his type of all time. Also appearing at the festival that year but not as competitors were young Anthony Gatto, and Switzerland’s Serge Percelli.
DC: Of all the great juggling skills you learned, what are you the most proud of and what was the hardest to learn?
ML: First off, thank you so much for the compliment, but I never thought of myself as a great juggler. Slightly better than mediocre maybe, but great? No way!
There were so many great jugglers during my juggling days that I pale to transparency in comparison. There was of course Francis and Lottie Brunn, Sergei Ignatov, Gus & Ursula Lauppe, Italo Medini,, Rudy Cardenas, Rudy Horn, Kris Kremo, Michael Chirrick, and of course Dick Franco. All of them far better jugglers than I ever dreamed of being.
What I’m most proud of? Hmm, not sure. I guess it would be my new trick innovations. At the time, as far as I know, I innovated the four club kick ups and the four club reverse over the shoulder juggling. I also did a five club kick up routine dropping back to four and kick back up to five. Another routine I was quite proud of was a five soccer ball routine. Starting with a ball between my feet and juggling 4, I kicked / threw the fifth ball up from behind to head bounce and then up to five ball cascade then back down to four with head bouncing, back to five cascade then one bounce from head to final catch 4 balls in the hands/arms and the fifth between the feet again. Quite dramatic and fun. Michael Chirrick did that one too (much better than me by the way). The most frustrating trick I ever learned and one that took me the longest to learn was the three ball spinning back roll over. That’s a ball on left and right index fingers and third on a mouthpiece. Backward roll over on the floor. Took me months to learn. Maybe even over a year. I actually broke my hand hitting the floor in frustration, but in the end I got it.
DC: You also had an amazing balancing act. Please tell us about it.
ML: I was a much better hand balancer than juggler. Very old school, straight handstand and headstand. Inspirations were Unus and Jolly. But also Barton.
DC: Can you tell us a bit about your performing career?
ML: I guess the easiest way to do this is chronologically. My sister and I had our debut when we were 8 & 9 years old at the German club in Sarasota. We did a mish mash act of just about everything; juggling, passing, hand balancing, hand to hand, rola bola, etc.. Later, when we were 13 and 14, we had our first appearance on the WGN Bozo Circus in Chicago with my hand balancing act where Lorena assisted and did a couple of contortion tricks. The day before the appearance my dad had a conversation with Howard Shultz (the Chicago Agent) and mentioned that we did a second act: Juggling! Howard said great! Let’s book two days on Bozo. My dad had lied. That night we put together the juggling act, a combination of passing and my solo juggling.
Moving on, we appeared with several circuses in our youth: Carson & Barnes, Carden & Johnston, M&M Productions for Gracie McIntosh and Chuck Marino. A number of state, county and 4H fairs. Some night clubs in the mid-west and hotel club dates and convention appearances, mostly in the Chicago area. Then at 18 my sis left the business and I continued with hand balancing as my first act with dad assisting and solo juggling as a second act.
I continued on with dad assisting on LN Fleckles Circus International for a few seasons. Got married, put dad out to pasture and worked with my wife assisting. Then I worked with Tarzan Zerbini’s shrine circus for a couple of years. My final season with a circus was in 1979. I haven’t worked in a circus since. Except for a couple of short stints with Circus Corty Altof in Germany in the late 1990s.
79/80: Juggling became my first act and hand balancing got pushed to the back burner. I appeared in the Viva Las Vegas night club in Acapulco Mexico doing a six month contract. When I began the contract I did my standard classical “9 minute” juggling act. WOW that was horrible. I did everything. Small balls, soccer balls, rings, clubs, cigar boxes, top hats, pyramid tricks. My God, it just went on forever. I used to finish with a 2 minute cigar box routine. No music. Just me and the drummer. One night I missed a move and the boxes went flying. I threw in a comic line and it caught on. Then another night the drummer started changing tempo on me and it became a running gag; kind of a duel between the drummer and me. After a few weeks the act that had already gone on for an interminable 9 minutes was 12 minutes long. The night club manager took me aside and said it was getting too long. I apologized and said I’d cut the added cigar box gags and he said, “NO! Cut some of that other stuff and do more comedy.” After 6 months I was doing 2 minutes of classical juggling and 7 minutes of comedy cigar box juggling. A new act was born.
Then I came back to the states and couldn’t get a job. I wound up quitting the business for two years. I worked at the Sahara hotel casino in Reno as a slot dept. supervisor. Then, New Year’s Eve 1982/83, an old juggler friend came into the casino; Dick Franco. He asked why there were two jugglers there and I told him I had quit. He didn’t believe me. He told me that the Harlem Globe Trotters were looking for an act. 2 weeks later I signed a contract with them for my hand balancing act and off to the races I went again. I did a three month tour with them with my friends Michael Chirrick and Donald Lauppe, son of Gus & Ursula and amazing juggler in his own right. After that I, again, couldn’t get a job. I wound up selling Rexair Rainbow Vacuum cleaners door to door back home in Rochester Indiana. And then again Dick Franco came to the rescue. He needed someone to replace him in Italy while he took a high profile gig juggling his chain saws at the Deutsche Opera in Frankfurt Germany. He put me in contact with an Italian agent and I went to Italy to take his place at William’s Night club in Milan. After that I stayed in Italy and worked in night clubs for a while until the Monte Carlo festival. That’s where my show business career changed dramatically.
I met one Harry Owens, owner and director of Traumtheater Salome, (Dream Theater Salome) in Germany. The odd part of this is that he never saw me work in Monte Carlo. We just had a conversation and he was sold on my abilities. I went to Salome on Leap Day 1984 and stayed with the company first as a juggler/acrobat for 2 years then as juggler/acrobat/comic character & co-artistic director for a total of 13 years. In 1997 Salome went bust and in 1998 I was picked up by Neil Goldberg, owner and director of Cirque Productions’ Cirque Dreams of Florida and have been with him ever since.
DC: Please tell us about what you’re performing now.
ML: Now I’m still performing with Cirque Dreams in Their Production Cirque Dreams & Dinner aboard the Norwegian Epic cruise ship. I perform as Ring Master/comic character and company manager. I haven’t seriously juggled in years. I can still throw a few rings, clubs about but it’s not my life any more.
DC: What jugglers influenced you the most?
ML: Francis Brunn, first and foremost. Then of course the historical favorites like Enrico Rastelli, Massimiliano Truzzi, and Bobby May. And the one person that I would have loved to have as a trainer, who helped me in my youth: Gus Lauppe of Gus and Ursula. You see, my dad, though good for basics, was not a juggler. I surpassed his juggling skills by the time I was 10. Everything I learned in juggling I learned from watching other jugglers when I could, or from photos or descriptions of what others did. In the end I had to teach myself, except for a short time when Gus, (I think taking pity on me) would come over on the fair lot and unofficially coach me. He was also a bit frustrated with his son Donald at the time because Donald would go off playing football and soccer with the other show kids rather than practice. Years later poor Donald told me I’d gotten him into heaps of trouble because I was always practicing. LOL
DC: Who are you favorite jugglers of the past?
ML: Francis Brunn, of course his sister Lottie (Undisputable Queen of Juggling), and Sergei Ignatov.