Brother Paul-Vincent Niebauer, in Mazomanie this summer on leave from a Minnesota monastery, is scheduled to eat fire and direct a play in Mazo this weekend.
This story has historic puppets on loan from England, a Benedictine monk on sabbatical from Minnesota and a new play set in Mazomanie about some famous brothers from Baraboo.
It has just about everything except someone cheating death by eating fire.
Strike that. Sunday afternoon, Brother Paul-Vincent Niebauer will eat fire.
"Don't inhale," Niebauer said, when asked how one goes about that particular feat.
Niebauer, 60, touches all parts of this story.
He's a Phillips native who has a degree in theater and secondary education from UW-Madison. He is also a monk who lives and works at St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minn.
Niebauer is in Mazomanie this summer on a six-month sabbatical from the monastery. If you think a sabbatical means half a year in a hammock, don't. Niebauer does try to take a long bike ride every morning to bond with the birds and the breeze, but he's had a busy few months.
He majored in theater at UW-Madison, but his heart was with the circus. (There had been a short, pre-Madison stint at St. John's when Niebauer considered the priesthood, but he wasn't ready, not then.) He worked at the Circus World Museum and befriended Tiny Krueger, the late Wisconsin legislator and circus fan.
In 1974, Niebauer joined the Franzen Bros. Circus out of Stevens Point. For the next 15 years, with Franzen and other circuses, he assumed most of the available roles, from ringmaster to clown, juggler to fire eater. The travel was brutal, the pay inconsequential. Still, he loved it, until his 40th birthday loomed, and with it a desire for something more.
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