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The Karasel of Progress
Fri, Oct 10 2008
The American Gym Show - Possible?
Mood:  incredulous

                  I have only been to one European juggling festival so I’m no expert on the subject.  However, the European convention I chose, you’ll have to admit, was THE one to pick – EJC 2008, an event that, to my knowledge, stands as the largest congregation of jugglers in the history of the world – 5500 REGISTERED attendees, and ya’ll know that not all of those sock spinners were registered, haha.

 

                So even though I’ve only been to one, it was an epic festival, and my mind was, for lack of a better cliché, blown.  I didn’t go to the EJC to perform, to teach, or even to network.  My goal in going to the EJC was to observe and understand this juggling culture about which I had heard so much.  Typical American globe-trotters like Jay Gilligan, Luke Wilson, and Jeff Lutkus had conveyed to me some of the “fundamental” (popular word during election time here in America) differences between the largest conventions in America and Europe – the IJA and the EJC respectively.

 

                Now, to be perfectly honest, I rather disliked a large portion of these differences.  Camping, for example, was rough.  My legs were permanently cramped as I couldn’t actually straighten my knees in my tent when horizontal.  Group showers with hordes of naked men were honestly not how I was expecting to spend my EJC mornings – just wasn’t aware of this practice.  The gym was hot and sweaty, the seating in the tents was, well, a bit earthy for my sore bottom, and the workshop board eventually became more of a chore to read than a joy.  I probably sound like a spoiled American wussy, but remember the culture from which I’m coming from.  The IJA means hotel room, private shower, air-conditioned gym, plush theatre seats for shows, and a workshop schedule that rarely gets added to.  It also hosts about 10% of the attendees this year’s EJC welcomed.

 

                However, if I could pinpoint my most enjoyable facet of the EJC 2008 in Karlsruhe, it would most certainly be the shows – both their quality and even more so, their quantity!  As a minor globetrotter in my own right now who has seen and experienced both sides of the coin, one of the major ideas I would love to migrate to America would be the emphasis on shows and the presentation of original, unique material, even in “less-than-stellar” environments.

 

                Let me be clearer.  Let’s examine briefly an IJA and a regional festival in America.  First of all, a regional festival in America is likely to (at most) have some sort of an open stage on Friday night (rare) and a big show on Saturday night – this is the standard.  At most regional festivals I’ve been to (8 just this past year), the Saturday night is always run as a variety show – a large amount of 4-8 minute acts consisting of B and C list American jugglers and usually a foreign juggler to close the show because Americans are obsessed with imports.  Well, and also, these European jugglers are usually the reason I come to the fest (Erik Aberg at RIT, Jens Sigsgaard at NYC).

 

                At the IJA, the standard fare as of late has been the following:

 

Tuesday night: Welcome Show, similar to a regional fest Saturday night show.

Wednesday night: Juniors comps

Thursday night: Championships

Friday night: Cascade of Stars

Saturday night: Awards and “Closing Show”.

 

                The unfortunate thing is that, besides skill level, all “shows” at the IJA are basically the same.  There is an MC who introduces 7 minute act after 7 minute act.  During the competitions, these acts are judged and awarded small cash prizes, but the format is entirely the same.  The Cascade of Stars is similar (I actually MC’d it this past summer) except that they usually try to round up an A list team of jugglers to really end with a bang.  The Closing show is barely worth talking about – various talking acts do their best to entertain you while you eat a catered meal and watch a bunch of awards get handed out.

 

                At the EJC, the closest thing I found to “competitions” were the games on Saturday morning, run by Luke Burrage.  No one seemed to really care who won and many of the games involved absolutely no juggling at all.  It was silly fun, intended to pass the time and make us forget about Godot for an hour.  The only other competition was the “Eurovision Contest” (poorly attended from what I hear) and the juggling “fight night”, which is one-on-one combat amongst club-juggling celebrities.

 

                Other than that, the entertainment consisted of show after show after show.  In fact, there were so many people to entertain nightly that two tents simultaneously held shows.  In one tent was always an open stage, similar to an American regional Saturday night show and in the other tent was a self-titled “special stage”, which held a variety of groups doing their full-length standard shows.  Two of the biggest highlights for me were seeing Duo Fullhouse and Extra Art, two groups that presented their full shows near the end of the week.  This was no 7 minute act.  Both companies had their own, well-rehearsed, extremely professional 90 minute show to present.  Both shows had juggling, comedy (both high and low), clowning, music, spectacle, and fun.  The two members of Duo Fullhouse are extremely well-versed in languages, so they interwove English, Spanish, Italian, German, and French, often in the course of a sentence or two so everyone walked away with at least 20% of the show.  Extra Art had a completely wordless show, instead relying on their amazing physicality and presence to include the international audience in their often silly behavior.

 

                So while I loved these tent-based long form shows by established companies, I have to admit that in the past, the IJA has hosted similar events.  Jason Garfield did a full-length show one night during the IJA in the early 2000s.  In 2005, Lazer Vaudeville presented their full show for I believe a Tuesday night slot.  And in 2006, the Mud Bay Jugglers took one half of the Cascade of Stars, leaving the second half for special guest Jerome Thomas. 

 

                So where’s the major difference?  Well, it all comes down to one simple marvelous point, which is really the force behind this article.  The EJC contained so much talent and so many shows that it actually couldn’t contain it all.  Shows spilled out of the tents and into less-obvious places.  One marvelous example – Pol and Freddy, a duo based out of Belgium, decided that they would present their amazing and funny two-man show on the hillside!  So they put up posters, one of which I noticed, and in the middle of the afternoon, I went and sat with probably 1000 other people on the hillside and watched Pol and Freddy present their hour long performance outside.  The great thing about this experience was that behind their backdrop, 1000 other people were continuing to juggle and have a jolly good time.  So even though there was a huge crowd on the hill enjoying the show, there were plenty of other jugglers content to just juggle.  Pol and Freddy actually ended up giving an encore presentation a few days later because word of mouth had required an additional show.

 

                This was only one example – another night, after an open stage, a circus company did a show on the hillside.  It was incredible, and involved a backdrop on which video was projected.  In the minor workshop gym, another circus company did three performances of their full-length show.

 

                Surprisingly, these “casual” tent-less shows left the most powerful lasting impression on me.  So many talented jugglers felt the need to present their work that they decided an official “spot” on a stage was not required to share their art with the rest of us.  A hillside or a gym left vacant for an hour was enough.  A few posters served as promotion and they could always count on a well-attended show.  Sitting on a hillside or on a gym floor, I really felt like I was a part of these endeavors, and welcome the chance to put down my props for an hour or two and go enjoy the research and hard work of other performers.

 

                So now let’s get back to America.  I honestly don’t think that we have a shortage of American jugglers with 45-90 minute shows in their back pocket.  For example, Jen Slaw has a solo show that she’s going to be premiering this Nov. 7 in Philadelphia at one of the most famous juggling showcases on the east coast – Greg Kennedy’s studio.  Nic Flair, who seems to be doing very well for himself, also has a solo show.  Greg Kennedy just recently performed a fringe show for the Philly Fringe Fest.  Sean Blue created a show called “Mixed Up” which he performed in Philly this past weekend.  These performers and many more like them have a wealth of material that they have translated into a solo show.

 

                Here’s my proposal – the invention or at least the experimentation of the American Gym Show.  In this proposal, I don’t suggest that we change anything about the regional festival in America or even the national IJA festival – I simply suggest that we add to what we already have.  Let’s say that I’m a juggler with a 45 minute solo show.  I’m at a regional festival in America.  Saturday night we already know is going to be a glorious 90 minute variety show.  Why not set up a backdrop in the gym and perform my solo show around 4pm?  In this scenario, I wouldn’t expect the gym rats to stop what they’re doing.  If you want to gather around, sit on the floor, and watch my show, go ahead.  If you want to keep juggling and dropping, feel free.  The purpose is not to try to turn the gym into a theatre – it’s meant to also see the gym as a casual performance space, where solo shows can offer an alternative to practicing for an hour. 

 

                Thus the American Gym Show would be created.  I think this scenario would definitely favor a music-based show.  So for an hour, the usual gym top 40 soundtrack could be dropped out and the performer’s music would replace it.  The different music would encourage some to investigate what’s going on, while the jugglers who still want to practice and socialize would still have a soundtrack.

 

                We all go to festivals for different reasons.  Some really just enjoy the space and time to practice.  Others really love the social aspect – the chance to see old friends again.  Others still come for the Saturday night show, a chance to see new acts and jugglers they’ve only ever seen on YouTube.  Others even come for the workshops, a chance to teach or learn new material. 

 

                I think the truth is that all the reasons listed above are compelling arguments for attending a regional American juggling festival.  The American Gym Show, however, could be one more.  Imagine the buzz created by the fact that a juggler you really love will be presenting his/her brand new untested full-length show in the gym, before dinner?  To me, that’s a perfect day of juggling.  Workshops, open juggling, a gym show, dinner, and then the Saturday night show.  Then again, there’s also Sunday, the self-proclaimed dead day in juggling festival history.  Sunday for me is always a long and sad farewell to all my juggling buddies, a chance to realize I’m too sore to seriously juggle any more, and a realization that every five minutes, there are fewer people still remaining in the gym.  The vendors pack up, the banners come down.  Who wouldn’t love to come into the gym on Sunday and have an 11:00am gym show?  Some people may not be into the performance/theatrical side of juggling as much as me, but to me, this would be wonderful!  The more shows, the better.  I can practice at home – while I’m at a festival, I want to be exposed as much to the art of juggling as possible.

 

                The wonderful thing about presenting Gym Shows at festivals is that you have a built-in knowledgeable audience that will give you real and honest feedback on your work.  It’s almost similar to a workshop performance and it’s possible at the IJA that you could use workshop rooms as venues because honestly, I think an IJA gym is too loud to pull off a gym show where you don’t expect everyone to watch.  So yeah, I’d encourage Gym Shows at regional fests and Workshop Room Shows at the IJA.  And, if you’re feeling randy and the weather’s nice, try a show outside!  Who knows, maybe even the local police force will show up!  Haha…man…

 

                I did want to applaud Sean Blue and friends for presenting “Mixed Up” as a sort of preamble to this year’s Philly Fest.  It couldn’t have come at a better time.  Jugglers who might not have come to Philly to see a 60 minute show did so because they were there for the fest anyway.  This proves in my opinion that all three regional fest slots – Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday afternoon – are all viable spots for shows that aren’t being used up at the moment.  Let’s change that.  The sport of juggling is receiving a lot of air time here in America – not so much the art side.  I know that none of you are going to make any money from doing a gym show at a juggling fest, but that’s what I always thought was so wonderful about festivals – jugglers come together for a weekend or even a week at a time and remember that juggling is not just a career – it’s something that can be shared and supported.  That’s why the IJA and the EJC thrive – because everyone’s willing to pitch in as a volunteer.  Dare I say we as artists volunteer our shows to our fellow jugglers?

 

                If you are an America juggler with a solo show, please contact me and I will give you support, encouragement, and advice to try and attempt one of these American Gym Shows that I’m proposing.  I want to recreate that mutual feeling of support and encouragement that I felt during the casual shows at the EJC here in America.  Let’s give it a try.

Posted by Michael at 1:56 AM EDT
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Fri, Oct 3 2008
Sean Blue Show tonight 8pm in Philadelphia (10/3/08)
Mood:  happy

 

 

Hey cyberspace!

Today is October 3rd, 2008.  Tonight there is a show featuring the following jugglers at 8pm in Philadelphia:

Sean Blue - Master of ball-spinning, rings, balls, and clubs.  IJA Award of Excellence. 

Kyle Driggs - 1st place 3 club competition, IJA 2008.

Marcus Monroe - Inventor of the Knorch, featured on MTV's TRL.  Knows Kanye West.

Wes Peden (via Live video feed to Sweden!) - Most popular juggler on the planet.

If you live in or near the Philadelphia region, you owe it to yourself to attend "Mixed Up" at 6122 Greene St, zip code 19144.  This is Greg Kennedy's personal studio and you very well may see him there, but my guess is he'll be runnin' the lights/sound.

 In a day or two, I'm going to post another blog entry about why it is so important to attend juggler-created shows like this, especially when they are coinciding with regional juggling fests, like Philly Fest which is also this weekend at the Friends Select School in downtown Philly.  But for now, just take my word for it.

Lastly, if anyone is willing/excited to review the show, please send it to me and I'll be happy to post it on the Karasel.  Thanks and enjoy "Mixed Up" tonight!

P.S. It's a Friday night in Philly so I recommend planning to get to the show at least a half hour early because then you'll be ten minutes early. 


Posted by Michael at 12:22 AM EDT
Updated: Fri, Oct 3 2008 12:49 AM EDT
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Sat, Sep 20 2008
Funny manipulation - the missing link?
Mood:  rushed
Now Playing: "Try Again" by Aaliyah

                  So now I’m out of school living in the big city (New Yawk!) and since I’m still young and culturally allowed to be stupid, I’ve decided to try to pursue juggling as a viable career option.  Yes, even though I was the valedictorian of my high school and possess marketable computer/typing/writing skills, I’ve decided to choose something (at least temporarily) with 0 security, 0 stability, and 0 benefits.  Oh, and in case you’re wondering, my fallback is “theatre”.  Haha, enjoy the timely demise of Michael Karas over the next five years.  Let’s place bets – when will Michael reluctantly face his first cubicle?

 

                Anyway, there’s a horrible ‘M’ word in any performance-related job – ‘marketable’.  Able to be marketed.  After all, as I’ve learned, juggling when it becomes a career, seems to involve 90% business and 10% art.  Like anything, we need to convince people in a recession that they should spend their hard-earned money on a guy who throws objects around in the air.  This is a difficult challenge – even I don’t want to give a dollar to some of the very talented people I see on my trips in the NYC subways.  Why?  Because I’m cheap, my rent’s ridiculously high, and I’d be broke if I gave these artists the money I think they deserve. 

 

                So here we are in America.  There are no major government art subsidies.  As a self-employed contractor, it’s our job to “market” ourselves to achieve maximum financial gain without (hopefully) having to sacrifice too much artistic integrity.  Again, I’m no historian and I don’t profess to have an incredible ability to feel the “pulse” of the entertainment sector, but it seems very apparent to me that the easiest road to success in American juggling is to be a comedian.  Comedy first – juggling second.  Better to have a great comic personality who can juggle okay than an amazing juggler with substandard comic timing and flair.  Many jugglers in America seem to have had success by teaming up and creating a partnership – the Passing Zone, Raspyni Brothers, Fettucini Brothers, Karamazov Brothers, Clockwork, Lazer Vaudeville, the Gizmo Guys, and Team Rootberry to name a few. 

 

                Partnerships in Europe are also common – Pol and Freddy, Tre’space, Get the Shoe, Extra Art.  However, notice one major and important difference.  All the American partnerships, with the exception of Lazer Vaudeville, are talking acts.  They routinely intersperse comedy and audience interaction with their actual skill presentation.  All the European teams that I mentioned use music exclusively and never utter a word on stage.  While America seems to rely on language (the aural), Europe seems to rely on the visual.  European teams rely more on physicality and clowning, while America relies more on wordplay, sight gags, and (I’ve noticed) self-deprecation. 

 

                I think one could very much argue that America’s prominence in the world as well as the English  language are a major factor in this continental difference.  Even at the EJC, where almost no one spoke English as a FIRST language, English was the main language.  So in America, of course, we can attain great success by speaking and joking in our own language.  In Europe however, where small countries and their very different languages comingle so closely, it is perhaps a lot more marketable to produce a show without words, because it enables the company to travel and achieve success in multiple countries.  (On a side note, the team “Duo Fullhouse” is the only show I’ve ever seen in which both performers speak so many languages that all major European countries can understand at least 20% of the show – it’s amazing.)

 

                So far in my juggling career, I’ve strictly performed music-based wordless routines at juggling festivals and conventions.  Occasionally for private gigs I’ve done comedy but I haven’t particularly enjoyed it, although I’ve often received good compliments.  Although I think I can be a funny person, comedy isn’t something that I particularly feel at home doing.   So we arrive at my conundrum – I’m a 23 year old juggler with tons of material that could be presented at a juggling festival, but very little material for the American public market, at least as we know the mainstream.

 

                So what do I do?  “Cave in” to the norm and ditch all the high-faluting “art” and “choreography” for gags and audience participation?  Steal some jokes, do a few funny combo tricks, eat the apple, and leave’em laughing?  Because at this point, in the American comedy market, my actual juggling “skills” are more than enough.  I could stop practicing now and work solely on patter and comedy and put together a killer act that I could do for 30 odd years before retiring in California.  Cruise ships, corporate gigs, you name it.  Pander to the rich and dying, and laugh all the way to the bank.

 

                God, there has to be another way. 

 

                Well, I think there is but as with any new foray into art progression, it doesn’t come without extreme risk, and a good dose of trial and error.  Like any successful marriage, the key word is “compromise”.  My juggling repertoire as I know it now does not, in my opinion, have the ability to create a solid hour-long show that can be marketed all over America.  What’s missing?  In my opinion, it’s the secret to American success – comedy! 

 

                But wait!  So Michael, you’re just going to ditch everything you’ve worked on and go down the comedy route?  Well, no, of course not, but I’m going to attempt to find the “sugar” that will make artistic juggling easier to swallow.  In other words, the mission statement becomes: is there a way to make speechless, music-based juggling accessible and entertaining to the masses and if so, is comedy the best route to take?

 

                A lot of artistic jugglers that I’ve seen tend to take themselves too seriously.  I think this is why all this new-school amazing stuff is never going to take off.  I recently spoke to Erik Aberg who has created an entire body of work surrounding a simple 1 club body move that very few other people have used.  He first performed this club routine at RIT in America where it was well-received as the final piece in the show.  Suffice it to say that the entire audience was made up of jugglers and their friends.  While the piece was really cool and might do well in a modern dance production, I could totally believe Erik when he told me that he’s working on a new frame (routine) for the research which, as he said in his own words, is more “accessible”.  Erik admitted that his pieces need to be financially successful for him as well so I can only guess that he is encountering the same road blocks that I am – how do you take your “nerdy technique” (another Erikism) and make it mainstream/cool?

 

                In many ways, I think comedy and audience inclusion (different from interaction or participation) are the answers.  I’ve seen flashes of it in the past.  Jay Gilligan has two memorable moments from very artistic routines that connect to any audience, juggling or non-juggling.  In his three different sized ring routine, he ends up with the small one on his head at one point and in a quick little hiccup move, “tips” his “hat” to the audience.  It’s a small move and yet even for me, it’s the most memorable moment of the piece, whether he means it to be or not.  The other Gilligan comedic moment that people love is during his three ring manipulation routine when he all of a sudden, after a long string of quick placements, becomes “stuck”.  We see one of his hands struggling around his neck to juuuuuuuuust grab the ring in enough time to keep going.  It is a moment in which the non-juggling audience feels some sort of a connection to this post-modern juggling – a moment of “struggle” and a moment of “howdoyado?”

 

                Probably the best full show that employs comedy with post-modern/chapter 2 juggling is “Pol and Freddy” by Sander and Brom from Belgium.  I saw the show on a hillside at the EJC and it was absolutely incredible.  I’ve always loved Sander’s juggling and it was so surprising and refreshing to see him taking all that skill and tying it up in a fun, playful ribbon instead of a badass, look how cool I am ribbon.  The show is about two goofy clown-like friends who arrive in a car two sizes too small and goof around with each other, often creating juggling routines that look more like rube Goldberg devices with volley clubs.  (I wonder if they’re the reason so many people bought them this year.)  (I also wonder why Sander looks so much like Orlando Bloom). 

 

                Even Rhys Thomas found a way to tackle club legos in his comedic job as emcee at RIT.  He said something to the effect of – “Only Rubik’s cube enthusiasts could have come up with this trick” and proceeded to do a simple, RCN-era club lego.  He was the only comedic juggler I’d ever seen do a lego as part of his set.

 

                So, in other words, I think we can bring new-school “chapter 2” juggling to the American market but we have to coat it a bit with what works in this country so well – comedy.  If we can swallow our pride just a little and allow ourselves and others to find the humor in some of these new –school tricks, maybe we can ease the American audience into our passion.  It’s great to be respected and heralded by other jugglers.  I’d certainly feel honored if Jay or Wes found one of my videos or routines “fresh” but at the same time, I also have an entire world out there to entertain, a world that doesn’t care about the difference between a romeo’s and a rubenstein’s.

 

                Let’s lighten up a bit and finally bring new school juggling out into the limelight it deserves – with a smile instead of a stare.


Posted by Michael at 5:32 PM EDT
Updated: Sat, Sep 20 2008 5:35 PM EDT
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Sun, Aug 17 2008
The Delphin Club
Mood:  spacey

So, for those of us who use Henry's 'Delphin' clubs, I have an important announcement that hopefully affects only me.

I have been saying "Delphin" wrong, with the accent on "Del".  Delphin, a German word meaning "dolphin", is actually pronounced DelFEEN, with the accent on "-phin". 

So, as Americans, we need to either use the German and call the clubs delFEENS, or call them Henry's Dolphins.

Take your pick.  During the tour of the Henry's Factory during the EJC, our tour guide, a German speaking English, called them the dolphin club.


Posted by Michael at 11:04 PM EDT
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Mon, Aug 11 2008
The Hug Catch
Mood:  sharp

If you haven’t bought and downloaded Wes and Jay’s latest video, please do so.  20 minutes of brand new 3b material can only do you good.  You can buy it from wespeden.com

 

Anyway, the entire video is great but there are three ideas in particular which I really like.  Today I’m going to talk about the first of three – the hug catch.

 

Since I am a veteran of the ‘old’ internet, I will explain the move using text.  Give it a try!

 

Basically, a “hug” catch (as I’m calling it) is a crossed arm reverse backcross.  What???  Yeah.

 

If that doesn’t do it for you, let’s take it step by step.  Put a ball in your right hand.  Throw it over your left shoulder so that it lands behind your right hip.  Cross your left arm around your waist and catch the ball blind.

 

Here are the time stamps of the 3b video in which Wes and Jay can be seen doing hug catches.

 

Wes: 8:27, 9:28, 12:01, 15:26-15:36

 

The best montage of hug tricks is with Jay and Wes, and it falls between 14:34 – 15:00. 

 

I really like this idea of taking body throws and finding the crossed arm equivalent of it.

 

Hug catches can be accomplished somewhat easier if you roll the ball across the back, but it’s even more impressive if you don’t. 

 

Since it is a crossing throw, it is possible in theory to do a cascade of hug catches.  This trick isn’t featured on the video.  Wes and Jay – if you’re reading this, I’d love to see one of you try it.  It would essentially be the reverse of what Jay flashes between 14:21 – 14:31.  Good luck!

 

UPDATE:  I actually spoke to Wesley at the EJC and he informed me that the trick I describe in the paragraph above was one of the few tricks that he and Jay tried and tried and yet never were able to flash.  Look for it in the future.


Posted by Michael at 6:38 PM EDT
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Thu, Jul 31 2008
I'm not as good as a 13 year old...thank goodness.
Mood:  accident prone

                   I’m not going to apologize for the length between this post and my last because if you value good writing about juggling and you know me personally, you know that I’m in it for the long haul (barring any unforeseen accident) and the Karasel will always be around for your perusal.  Visit the blog with patience and you never know when something new will have popped up. 

 

                Speaking of the “long haul” (I’m a sucker for segues), I just recently finished watching a documentary entitled “My Kid Could Paint That”, an expose of young artist Marla Olmstead who took the world by storm when her abstract paintings began selling for thousands of dollars at the age of four.  Apparently she just began painting on her own one day with very little coaching by either parent and before she knew it, was receiving worldwide attention and money for her work.  The documentary is very revealing and is worth watching.  Whether she’s actually the artist behind most of her work still remains very much in doubt, since the only two paintings she’s done from start to finish on camera look extremely different from her other, more ‘mature’ work.  The obvious suspect is the father but, as with all good documentaries, it leaves you with the evidence and lets you decide for yourself.

 

                Prodigies, the film suggests, are an interesting product of our society.  The film likens them to some sort of ‘magic trick’ – it’s funny and heart-warming to see little miniature versions of ourselves compete or even surpass adults in any field.  Often these prodigies are forced to grow up long before their time; grown-up talent is expected to mix with grown-up maturity, an often deadly assumption.  If there’s anything better than a celebrity, it’s a celebrity scandal.  If there’s anything better than a celebrity scandal, it’s a young celebrity scandal.  Just watch the South Park episode where they realize that for the good of the world, Britney Spears must die.  Once dead, they turn to their next target – Miley Cyrus. 

 

                The juggling world, which I have inhabited and studied for the past seven years, has prodigies of its own.  I can’t speak for all eras, but certainly the most successful prodigy of the generation before mine is none other than Anthony Gatto.  From the very beginning of his career, you had to be a fool not to realize that he was destined to be one of the best.

 

                One of the reasons for Anthony’s success is that he had such an amazing coach – his dad.  Juggling history is rife with examples of young jugglers coached into greatness by their fathers.  Even Wes Peden, the most popular juggler of my generation, had a dad with whom he juggled from a very young age.  I doubt Jeff trained Wes with the same fervor as Nick Gatto, but the results of the father-son juggling relationship are clear – it worked then and it’ll work again.

 

                Say what you will about Bob Nickerson, but the guy has a knack (read: obsession) for IJA history.  So, among other dates and drop counts, he remembers when Anthony was a regular attendee of IJA festivals.  He speaks very highly of the wunderkind, as most people do, and equally marveled over the years at how the young whipper-snapper showed up his older colleagues.   One thing Bob told me though was a bit disheartening.  He told me of a time he overheard the young Anthony speaking to another young juggler.  It could’ve been Vladik but I don’t remember correctly.  It was basically another young prodigious juggler.  Anthony, in a genuine tone, asked, “Do you like juggling?”  The tone implied by Anthony (at least according to Bob) was one of concern over the fact that he didn’t necessarily in that moment.

 

                This is just one example, but it underlines a philosophy that is very important to me, and that luckily I have had the ability to experience.  I make no assumptions about Anthony or any other young juggler, but I find it easy to believe that somewhere in the world, young men and/or women have been pushed and pressured by their parents to train in juggling.  Maybe even sometimes despite the fact the kid wanted nothing to do with juggling.

 

                The term ‘Benji-bot’ has often been applied to young male jugglers trained by Benji Hill.  The ‘bot’ refers to the fact that, like robots, they are trained by Benji to construct an act that involves similar costuming and similar stage-filling movement.  Benji’s boys are very predictable, and often (in my experience) seem to have a monopoly on 2nd place.  Do all these boys have the same love of juggling after they’ve been trained to compete, or do some of them begin to question their love of throwing stuff?  I don’t know because Jason Garfield’s prevalent anti-Benji mentality has convinced me to stay as far away from the Benji operation as possible.  I’ve never been approached by the Benji machine, which means that I suck.  And I’m okay with that.

 

                Yes, it is true to some factor.  I spent the recent 61st IJA lamenting and rejoicing in the fact that I suck.  5 club singles, 5 club 3-ups, and 7 balls are all performed with ease now by most up and coming 13 and 14 year old jugglers.  Cate Emily made the joke at Renegade one night that, having trained extremely hard in Quebec City, she was finally as good as a 12 year old.  Funny as hell because it’s true. 

 

                I often tell people at these events how I always wish that I had started earlier.  I started at 16 and am now 23.  However, because of the internet generation, young teenagers can now be as technically proficient as I am in a matter of months instead of years.  And my prediction is that it will only get more ridiculous.  If the 13 year olds now feel at 23 what I do now, I can’t even imagine what yet the next generation will be pulling off. 

 

                However, the thing I am most proud of every day is that I juggle because I want to.  I am essentially a hobbyist turned professional because of personal love and personal dedication.  My parents could care less if I juggled or not.  I don’t have a coach or a sponsor.  Every day I juggle and work on things related to juggling because the act of juggling speaks to and resonates within me.  In many ways, it is a form of expression, because it supplies me with confidence that I lack in any other medium.

 

                Perhaps that’s why I’m not as good as I could be.  No one ever pushed me.  I pushed myself – hard some days, easy others.  For me, it was never about training for a competition.  It was about achieving that wonderful feeling I got when a new pattern, understood only on an intellectual level, all of a sudden unfolded in my hands, real and vibrant and magical all at the same time.

 

                Watching “My Kid Could Paint That” made me realize the delicacy of childhood and innocence.  If we were to believe that Marla didn’t in fact paint half of her paintings, what does that say about the parenting she received?  She was manipulated to accomplish what the parents never could.  Very Glass Menagerie.  Most juggling sons of juggling fathers surpass their teachers.  No surprise there.  They take a lifetime of knowledge and cram it into their brains in a fraction of the time it took to accumulate in the father.  Then what?  Greatness?  Sure.  A prodigy?  We love prodigies.  But then what?  It will be interesting to see what happens to the Benji-bots and prodigies of our generation, the young dream team of IJA 2008.  Are they in it for the long haul?  I sincerely hope so, but I have my doubts. 

 

                It’s like the secret of life.  As a human and an intellectual, I like to think of the secret to life as a grandiose answer, requiring an eternity to digest.  I don’t want life to be a mistake, to be random, although it may be.  With juggling, a lot of what I see in young American jugglers is an endless diversion of siteswaps, spinning, and standing still.  If that is really what juggling is all about, I couldn’t do it anymore.  For me, juggling is not an end in itself.  It can’t be, or I’d stop doing it.  For me, juggling has to be a medium in which I can express other things.  Not necessarily emotion – people think artistic jugglers are concerned with expressing their emotions.  I think people couldn’t care less about my emotions.  Half the time, I’m barely even concerned.  When I say juggling is a vehicle for expression, I’m suggesting that I’m using juggling to create unique artistic experiences that couldn’t exist with any other medium, or through any other juggler.

 

             I always thought that if I had a child, I’d teach him to juggle at a very young age.  Now I’m not so sure - sometimes the natural course of discovery is a lot healthier.


Posted by Michael at 5:22 PM EDT
Updated: Thu, Jul 31 2008 5:33 PM EDT
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Fri, Jul 11 2008
Shane Miclon
Mood:  surprised

So sometimes you're surfing YouTube and you click on a video that you're pretty sure is going to suck...and then it doesn't.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=liKqo1eVnm4

 An amateurish juggling video with some surprising creativity.  I like what I see so far.  Kudos to that guy.

Watch it and encourage him.  It's something other than the same old drivel.


Posted by Michael at 11:06 PM EDT
Updated: Sat, Jul 12 2008 1:12 AM EDT
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Thu, Jul 10 2008
Shoebox Tour Update
Mood:  a-ok

Just to let you guys know, the Shoebox Tour America juggling show with Tempei Arakawa and me is really shaping up.  We're continuing to book dates and for those of you who are interested in attending, I've put up a new page on my website that lists all the venue, time, and ticket details.

www.michaelkaras.net/shoebox.html

Keep watching for more updates!  This is not a show you East Coasters are going to want to miss!


Posted by Michael at 11:22 AM EDT
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Fri, Jul 4 2008
Wind Rings Update

Thanks to Paulie for reminding me - the wind rings being marketed by Mr. Babache are nothing new.  They've been around for ages.  A juggling friend of mine, Kathy Doutt, showed me an old set of wind rings back when rings used to be made using a heavier, less bendable plastic.  These were the types of rings that could shatter.

So these wind rings aren't new, but they don't apparently hold up to their name.  Strong winds can still easily affect them apparently.  Thanks to Paulie for the reminder. 

I like being corrected because it means you care and I'm learning.


Posted by Michael at 11:58 PM EDT
Updated: Sat, Jul 5 2008 12:09 AM EDT
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Tue, Jul 1 2008
There's Nothing New...
Mood:  down
Now Playing: Damp Rabbit Productions

There's really nothing new.  I am currently working on a ring routine where I have a section devoted to grinds.  I'm no expert, but at one point I did something that I had never seen done before - doing two grinds in one hand.  Basically, the left hand is holding the ring parallel to the ground and it is accommodating two grinds, one at a time.

 I thought this was mildly original.  Nope - Bob Nickerson lent me the 1981 IJA DVD by Damp Rabbit tonight and some juggler on there - no credit was given - was doing the exact trick.  We're talking 1981 folks.  Twenty seven years ago, people were doing a trick I thought was original.  Three years before I was born, a juggler was doing two grinds in one hand.

What the duck!??  I thought I had something new there for a second.  Juggling sucks. 


Posted by Michael at 10:51 PM EDT
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