Will Oltman might seem to be an unlikely person to get on a stage and perform.
He’s quiet, keeps to himself, and doesn’t look to be the center of attention.
“In real life, I’m an introvert,” Oltman said.
But once he’s on stage and all eyes are on him, he’s a different person.
“I’m usually the person who’s not talking a lot, so this gives me a static audience where I can be in front of the group and do my thing and people will listen,” he said.
A native of the Chicago area, Oltman learned how to juggle from a friend in fourth grade, and he’s never stopped. Since then, he’s performed magic tricks, improv, and more on stage. He started his career as a 10-year-old when his mom drove him around to various birthday parties and events where he would perform.
“Back then, I was Chilly Willy the Amazing Conjurer and Juggler Extraordinaire,” Oltman said. “I was doing pretty well for a fourth grader.”
Oltman went on to attend the Illinois Institute of Technology. His wife, Tasha Oltman, brought him to Grand Rapids in 2005, where he finished his studies at Kendall College of Art and Design, with a bachelor’s degree in industrial design.
His high school juggling partner introduced Oltman to Tasha, who also participated in a juggling club.
“He said, ‘She’s pretty cool, you should talk to her,’” Oltman said.
They started their relationship by talking on the phone and via instant messaging for half a year until they met in person. Oltman later transferred schools to be with her in Grand Rapids.
|See Will Juggle
• Nov. 7, performing as part of Comedy Outlet Mondays
Dog Story Theater, 7 Jefferson Ave. SE, Grand Rapids
Show starts at 7 p.m., tickets are $5
• Nov. 11, performing at Flowerland’s Holidazzle
Kentwood Flowerland, 4321 28th St. SE, Kentwood
6-9 p.m., free and open to the public.
Registration required at myflowerland.com
Today, Oltman goes by the stage name Will Juggle and regularly performs around West Michigan. He currently has a 30- to 45-minute variety show featuring his main act of juggling, although he often ventures off into puppeteering and improv.
Oltman works everything from birthday parties and corporate events to street performance, but he’s also performed for the president of the United States and on the streets of Paris.
“I’ve been from Reno, Nev. to Buffalo, N.Y. and everywhere in between,” Oltman said.
Currently, Oltman performs at Grand Rapids-based Dog Story Theater for Comedy Outlet Mondays every other month. His schedule typically includes about 100 juggling shows each year.
KEEPING LIFE INTERESTING
Oltman is led by his own curiosity, as he likes to learn as many skills as possible. So far, he’s dipped into karate, falconry, barbershop quartet singing, dancing, bowling, swing dancing with his wife and playing the trumpet.
“I guess I’m a collector of hobbies,” he said with a laugh.
If there’s one constant in his life, it’s Oltman’s sense of humor.
“My whole life, I’ve sort of been funny,” Oltman said. “I keep a notepad at the side of my bed to write jokes as I’m falling asleep.
“I think comedy was just a natural outpouring of the people who I’m surrounded by.”
For his wife, that makes for an “interesting” life.
“There’s silly voices and accents, inside jokes. … He makes up songs and the words don’t make any sense, but I think it’s hilarious,” Tasha Oltman said.
Despite the accolades from family, friends and audience members, Will Oltman continues to push himself and hold his shows to a high standard, discussing the performances with his wife, who also takes photos.
“Part of my support in being there at every show is just to support him and have that familiar person there, a level of comfort and familiarity, and then also to help refine the act,” Tasha Oltman said. “I can hear the crowd’s reactions to help him refine or tweak something.”
A LIFE OF PASSIONS
For a day job, Will Oltman works in product design and development at Ada-based 2B Studio. Before that, he worked at Newell Rubbermaid, where he helped design the PaperMate InkJoy Gel Pen.
Oltman is a member of Civic Theatre’s Rapid Delivery Improv Troupe and remains involved in Last Retort, a group he and local comedian Amy Gascon started a year ago that produces weekly sketch videos.
Additionally, Gascon and Oltman are trying to start GR Comedy Tours to offer guests a comedic tour of the city. He has already received his certification as a Grand Rapids Tourism Ambassador from Experience Grand Rapids.
Regardless of his pursuits, Oltman says he’s thankful to be fulfilling his comedic passions, and for always having his wife and favorite audience member around to take in the daily impromptu performances.
“Occasionally on a Saturday morning, we’ll go find a bunch of estate sales to drive around to, and I might be talking entirely in gibberish all the way up until lunch,” he said.
Tasha Oltman said life is full of laughs. Having fun with Will allows them to “escape the adult world.”
“The silly things just remind me how much I love him,” she said. “He’s constantly making me laugh and making me feel happy, reminding me to be silly.”