ROANOKE, Va. – A Roanoke street performer is hoping his artistic performances inspire people to push themselves in life.
Jefferson Rose, 30, does magic and sideshow acts for a living. He travels all over the country to entertain people.
“I do anything from card tricks to mind reading to eating fire and hammering nails in my face,” Rose said.
He said there is a reason why he chose to do these acts on the streets where you will most likely see him if you are walking along Market Street.
“I like to meet people where they are,” Rose said. “It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, art is for everybody. Doing the show on the street, people are invited to a party they didn’t know was going on. It’s an honor and a privilege to make people laugh, smile and minorly disgusted,” he laughed.
Rose does other geek magic acts like swallowing sewing needles and making them come back up on a string or lying on a bed of nails. He also eats broken light bulbs.
“I did have to take two years off from eating glass because I used to eat a lot of spicy food and developed ulcers in my digestive system,” Rose said. “I had to go back to a diet that was safer.”
That wasn’t the only injury Rose has had to overcome.
“I burned my hair off my face in a fire-eating accident,” He said. “I lost my eyebrows. It is funny how when your face is burned, your eyelashes curl in a way so when you blink, it is like Velcro and they don’t open easily,” he laughed.
Having these risky outcomes can be expensive.
“I was snapping my tongue in a mouse trap, and I got the angle wrong, and I broke my front two teeth,” he laughed. “It was a one-dollar stunt when I got the mouse trap from Home Depot and now it is a $901 stunt.”
Rose said he always knew he wanted to go into this career.
“I have two distinct memories on what really got me hooked,” Rose said. “It was my 10th birthday, and my parents took me to the Maryland Renaissance Fair. While we were waiting for the jousting to start, we saw a sword swallower named Johnny Fox. He performed there for 37 years doing magic and sword swallowing acts.”
He said during that fair, his parents lost him.
“They went to the jousting act, and they never came back so I caught all four of his (Johnny Fox) shows that day. Three years later, I saw Hilby the Skinny German Juggle Boy. That was another thing that got me toward variety entertainment and street performing.”
Rose put on his first performance when he was just 11 years old when he performed for his friend’s birthday party.
“There was a number of years I have taken a break and had to get a 9-5 job working in construction, but I always came back to this career and doing it bigger and better every time,” he said.
Rose did admit, it was difficult in the beginning trying to earn a living street performing and even today, it comes with its ups and downs.
“Street performing isn’t as big of a part of the culture as it is around some other parts of the world,” he said. “It is a different thing. Over the last two years, everyone has been going through a hard time. Stopping people on the street it is a little more difficult. But when they have the chance to stop and experience something raw and interesting that everyone is invited to, they really respond so that has been the challenge and reward at the same time.”
Outside of his physical injuries, Rose did experience a brief time in his life when he was addicted to substances.
“I spent several years with substance abuse later in my teenage years,” Rose said. “I have been clean for nine years now and part of that was wanting to focus on the shows I was working on and I didn’t want to be laid up in a rehab somewhere. So, being able to focus on the art itself has helped me be healthy for the last 9 years.”
Rose said a lot of his healing came with surrounding himself with the close relationships he built during his shows.
“It was going backstage with other variety acts and getting advice and support from them that I admired,” Rose said. “It was surrounding myself with positive influences. These were people who had checkered pasts and knew what it was like to go through what I was going through. It was a lot of seeing friends in the hospitals and worse than that. I did not want to be on the wrong side of the jail bars and I wanted to make people happy and not feel sorry for me.”
Rose has successfully made a name for himself while also starting his own non-profit organization.
“I am the co-founder of Alternative Arts Inc. which focuses on bringing underrepresented arts and education to Southwest Virginia,” Rose said.
The organization will create different fundraising events like the Street Performer Expo the put on this year.
“We use those events to fund free arts education for childing young adults and people of all ages for playwriting, magic, standup comedy, improve comedy, and arts we find are underrepresented in this community and this area,” Rose said. “It was 6 months of work to make something underrepresented and really wonderful happen.”
Rose hopes his story encourages others no matter what their walk of life may be.
“It is about human grit and determination which hopefully it is more than just shock value,” Rose said speaking about his acts. “It encourages people to do things maybe they didn’t do before…not what I do because that is dangerous. I am a professionally trained idiot,” he laughed. “But go out and get that promotion at work or buy that car that you need you didn’t think you could afford. A lot of people have been through similar stuff that I have but a way to break from those struggles if given the choice between good luck and good friends, choose good friends every time.”
If you would like to learn more about Rose’s organization to see how you can get involved or how to help, visit their website at www.alternativeartsinc.com.
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