Mighty Mike Johns has one event on his schedule that he looks forward to every year.
The Halifax Busker Festival fascinated him when he was growing up in Bedford, inspiring him to hone his skills so he could someday be part of the show. During four years working at Pete’s Frootique, Johns would juggle, do magic tricks, and create balloon animals.
He took a break from performing when he moved to Ontario at age 16. But at age 28, he was still thinking about achieving his dream; he gave up his full-time job at an insurance company and began travelling around the world performing his strongman show.
“I like to connect with people,” he says. “There are things they can do that they didn’t think was possible because that’s how it started for me. I didn’t think I’d ever be doing this full-time. I’d be a little bit embarrassed to be in front of a crowd because it’s been a long time since I have done that.”
Accustomed to performing in front of live audiences in Halifax, Johns has had to adapt for this year’s festival. In response to the pandemic, the festival has moved online, streaming performances on Facebook from July 31–Aug. 2. Johns starts the festival with a performance at 1 p.m. on July 31.
He recorded his performances from the confines of his apartment and different venues in downtown Toronto. The performer is grateful for the help and support of his fiancée Gloria, who learned how video edit so she could help.
The biggest challenge
for Johns is not having the ability to interact with a live audience in Halifax.
He explains that a good connection with the crowd sparks a better performance.
“Sometimes I can be on, sometimes I can be off, but when there’s no crowd, my main strength is gone,” he says. “We’re trying to ride the challenge and adapt ourselves as performers instead of just being street performers or festival performers. I’m trying to see myself as a performer, an entertainer, first of all, trying to get into what that means for me. It’s been a lot of growth, but I definitely can’t wait to get back to live shows.”
His busker character is a time-travelling strongman who reintroduces feats of strength that haven’t been popular since the 1920s. Those include juggling bowling balls, inflating a hot water bottle until it explodes, and bending and straightening horseshoes.
He promises fans will see their favourite feats this year, but also something new that will push his limits. He knows local fans will appreciate it. “When I go to Halifax, at the end of the shows, I’ll stop after I’m done and I look at the audience and nobody’s leaving, everybody’s waiting,” he says. “It’s just the respect like ‘we get what this is.’ The give and take, the trust with the performer and the audience is so there.”
While Johns would prefer to see his audience in person, he promises to do his best to make them happy, amid what’s been a difficult year for his hometown.
“If it’s important to anybody in Halifax as it was to me as a kid, I’ve got to try and do something little to make people feel happy, inspire them, and make them laugh just for a bit,” he says. “I think I will be coming back next year, and with the training in the offseason, I am going to be some pretty killer shows.”