"There is no why. When I see three oranges, I juggle;

when I see two towers, I walk!"

 -- Philippe Petit 

Photo by James Marsh

Philippe Petit

tightrope walker and author
Thursday, October 3, 2019


Click on images to read captions. Photos by Patrick Dodson / UAlbany, except as otherwise noted.


Philippe Petit 

tightrope walker and author

6:00 p.m. Demonstration and reception, University Art Museum 
Thursday, October 3, 2019
7 p.m. A Creative Life conversation with WAMC’s Joe Donahue
Recital Hall, Performing Arts Center
Free and open to the public -- See map

Philippe Petit has performed on the high wire more than 80 times around the world; he is also a magician, street juggler, visual artist, builder, lecturer, writer and subject of the Academy Award-winning documentary, Man on Wire (2008) -- see film screening below -- and the feature film The Walk (2015).

Petit’s first “coup” was walking between the towers of Notre Dame in Paris in 1971. He followed with a walk between the pylons of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, setting the stage for “the artistic crime of the century,” his Twin Towers walk a quarter of a mile above the sidewalks of New York in 1974.

He is the author and illustrator of several books, including Why Knot: How to Tie More than Sixty Ingenious, Useful, Beautiful, Lifesaving, and Secure Knots! (2013) and Creativity: The Perfect Crime (2014), a manifesto about the creative process.

Photo: Matthew Bannister & Keith Bomely ©DBOX

On the high wire

Petit’s new book, translated and introduced by novelist Paul Auster, is On the High Wire (2019), first published in French in 1972 when the author was only 23 years old.

In this poetic handbook, Petit offers a window into the world of his craft, masterfully explaining how preparation and self-control contributed to such feats as walking between the towers of Notre Dame and the World Trade Center.

Addressing such topics as the rigging of the wire, the walker's first steps, his salute and exercises, and the work of other renowned high-wire artists, Petit offers us a book about the ecstasy of conquering our fears and reaching for the stars.

Marcel Marceau called the book, “fascinating to read,” and said, “You will learn about the man, his work, his passion, his tenacity and lucidity.” Werner Herzog said, “This is a book of instructions to those who will dare one day the impossible.”

Mikhail Baryshnikov:

Like all extraordinary artists, Philippe Petit’s practice is founded in rigor, scrutiny, and dedication.


What sets Philippe in a class all his own is his restless quest to conquer the greatest physical heights, achieving a precise balance of chaos and creativity.


He is an inspiration to all who dare to dream of the seemingly impossible. Dear friend: I salute you!” 


Film screening: MAN ON WIRE

7:30 p.m. Friday, September 27, 2019
Page Hall, 135 Western Avenue, Downtown Campus

United States, 2008, 94 minutes, color. Directed by James Marsh.

On August 7th 1974, a young Frenchman named Philippe Petit stepped out on a wire illegally rigged between New York's twin towers, then the world’s tallest buildings. After nearly an hour dancing on the wire, he was arrested, taken for psychological evaluation, and brought to jail before he was finally released. 

Following six and a half years of dreaming of the towers, Petit spent eight months in New York City planning the execution of the coup.


Aided by a team of friends and accomplices, Petit was faced with numerous extraordinary challenges: he had to find a way to bypass the WTC’s security; smuggle the heavy steel cable and rigging equipment into the towers; pass the wire between the two rooftops; anchor the wire and tension it to withstand the winds and the swaying of the buildings. The rigging was done by night in complete secrecy.


At 7:15 AM, Philippe took his first step on the high wire 1,350 feet above the sidewalks of Manhattan.

James Marsh’s documentary brings the extraordinary adventure to life through the testimony of Petit and some of the co-conspirators who helped him create the unique and magnificent spectacle that became known as “the artistic crime of the century.” 

“It’s actually more like a heist film than a documentary,” said Marsh, in an 2008 interview with The Los Angeles Times, "But the human drama was what surprised me most about it, the power of the recollections of people. For all of them, it was a very big event in their young lives. Every interviewee was in tears at some point. What Philippe achieved was done with great passion and great conviction.”

About "The Creative Life"

Created and produced by the New York State Writers Institute, University Art Museum, and UAlbany Performing Arts Center in collaboration with WAMC Northeast Public Radio, The Creative Life features leading figures from a variety of artistic disciplines in conversation with WAMC host Joe Donahue about creative inspiration, craft, and career.

Major support for The Creative Life is provided by The University at Albany Foundation, The John D. Picotte Family Foundation and Stewart’s Shops/Dake Family. Additional support is provided from the College of Arts and Sciences,  Office of Intercultural Student Engagement and University Auxiliary Services. 

More information on the Creative Life Series.

NYS Writers Institute

Science Library 320

University at Albany

1400 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY 12222

(518) 442-5620

  • Wix Facebook page
  • Wix Twitter page
  • Instagram Social Icon
  • SoundCloud Social Icon
  • YouTube Social  Icon