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The Karasel of Progress
Tue, May 13 2008
Skateboarding > Juggling
Mood:  quizzical

Skateboarding owns juggling.  American Sports Data (2002) estimates that there are 18.5 million skateboarders worldwide.  I'm no census, but I find it hard to believe that there are 18.5 million jugglers in the world.  I do find it possible to believe that 18.5 million people in the world know how to toss juggle three beanbags or at least three scarves.  Like riding a bicycle, thousands of adults have repressed grade school kinesthetics that would probably enable them to manipulate three scarves.  But most of these people do not consider themselves jugglers.  And of course I don't count the people who can only "dwo two".

So yeah, juggling is a "subculture", a "niche", a "sideline hobby".  Wow, Michael, great discovery.  We all know that juggling is not on the radar screen of most people.  Our ugly word is mostly known to the human race as a way to describe having too much to do.  I simultaneously beam and shudder every time I see it used in a magazine article to describe the busy lives of celebrity moms.

Then we have skateboarding.  Phenomenon.  The lifeblood of the X Games and the only reason I care to watch ESPN ever.  In middle school, you either hung with the yo-yo crowd, the Pokemon crowd, or the skateboarding crowd.  I tried each one.  Unfortunately I seemed to like the people in the Pokemon and yo-yo crowds best but the girls simply flocked to the skateboarding crowd.  It's a sexy hobby.  In many ways I think it's like juggling but we'll get to that later.  Anyway, skateboarding is mainstream.  Cities now fund the building of skate parks.  Tons of video games are devoted to the sport.  Tony Hawk has a legit clothing line.  Reality shows and movies are successful just by having skateboarders in them - they don't even have to skate!  (Viva La Bam and Jackass).

And yet skateboarding is brand new.  The Beni Hassan tomb of skateboarding is a newspaper article in 1893 warning New Yorkers of a dangerous coasting device being used on a slope in Brooklyn.  And a little more than 100 years later, skateboarders are able to make a luxurious living off of purely doing what they love in front of gigantic crowds of adoring fans.

Juggling is not there.  A small percentage of jugglers make a living from their art and an even smaller percentage make anywhere near the living that skaters like Tony Hawk and Bam Margera make.  Clearly, in the eyes of America, skateboarding > juggling. 

The question is, are we jealous? 

My first thought is yes.  Why is juggling so restricted to the sidelines?  Shouldn't Anthony Gatto be a household name like Tony Hawk?  Shouldn't Jay Gilligan have his own clothing line?  Shouldn't Dube pay Wes Peden $3,000 a month just to be the best juggler he can be and to rock their equipment?   Shouldn't we have a reality show about Jason Garfield, Albert Lucas, and Chris Bliss living in a house together?  Hell, I'd watch it and I bet a lot of other people would too.  Juggling has so much potential but for some reason, there's just no sex appeal in it.  The reality shows go to stuff like skateboarding and the UFC (ultimate fighting).  What do these have that juggling doesn't?  Easy - violence and death-defiance.  Why do you think people always ask if you can juggle chainsaws?  Sure, it's an annoying question but it bites at an eternal truth.  People are more entertained if you're in potential danger.  Most people aren't like us.  They don't enjoy the inherent beauty and art in kinetics and movement.  A five club cascade isn't worth anything unless you drop it.  If you don't drop it, it pales in comparison to what they're sure a 6 club fountain will look like.

But, and here's the difficult part, we have to be careful what we wish for.  What if juggling did blow up?  Let's pretend it did instantly overnight become the next big thing.  Would it really be good for the art as a whole?  I suppose, it depends on how it fared under the lime light.  In other words, it depends who makes it popular. 

In the movie "Being John Malkovich" (highly recommended), there is an interesting plot twist - at the height of his career, John Malkovich decides to quit acting and instead devote all of his time and energy to puppetry.  In 2008, the person to do this would have to be McDreamy - good old Patrick Dempsey.  If McDreamy all of a sudden decided to become McJuggley, we might see the possibility of a whole generation of actors deciding to learn how to juggle not only to fill up resume space but to pursue it simultaneously as an art and as a physical discipline.  A celebrity endoresement is extremely powerful and Patrick Dempsey is in a position where he could initiate a possible Renaissance in juggling interest.

Of course there's also the possibility that juggling could become popular through the WJF.  In this case, people would be so used to seeing juggling presented as technical, competitive, and sportlike in nature that they'd see anything else as archaic and not quite as cool.  This isn't my ideal situation but others might really hope to see the WJF succeed in attaining this popularity.  I certainly applaud the WJF for bringing juggling to television.  I'm not sure of their future plans for broadcasting, but I hope they have plans to air juggling on TV in the future and I hope that someday, because of these efforts or others, we can see juggling in the Olympics.

In the worst case scenario, someone could drag juggling into the limelight by using "danger" as the bait.  I'm certain people would flock to this.  Chainsaws, knives, fire, and more.  Juggling's fifteen minutes of fame could involve a juggler who so wows the world with his control of (supposedly) "dangerous" props that our lives as "normal" jugglers could be scarred forever.

So, at the end of the day, although I'd love to see juggling significantly rise in popularity, it's important to consider the pros and cons of said "blowing up".  It's going to take the right person at the right time and under the right circumstances to really make it stick like skateboarding.  Otherwise it will be a flash in the pan that could actually have a detrimental effect on our hobby/art/sport.

Posted by Michael at 10:13 PM EDT
Updated: Tue, May 13 2008 11:01 PM EDT
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Mon, May 12 2008
Messy Post
Mood:  lazy
Now Playing: Not Paramore or Daft Punk

So I think this will be my first sort of messy post.  Up until now, I've picked a topic and for the most part, stuck to it.  I think it's okay for a blog to not always be so essay-like.  In fact, my guess is that variety will keep people interested more than a constant string of essays.  So, here goes - what's on my mind, juggling wise, this Monday, May 12.

First of all, happy birthday to Wes Peden.  He's finally 18.  I always joked about how he seemed to be 17 forever - well, he's finally gained a +1 Age UpGrade which makes him able to vote for Vova here in the US!  Seriously, though, happy birthday Wes!  We in the juggling world are so lucky that he is so good at 18.  I can't wait to see his skills post-Sweden.  And his performances, as I'm sure he's working equally hard on both.

Does anyone know that on YouTube you can subscribe not only to people but to TAGS?  That's right.  For those of you who don't know (THE SOURCE HAS A WHITE OWNER!!!), you can subscribe to words on YouTube.  Don't ask me how - I figured it out like a year ago.  Anyway, I've subscribed to the word "juggl" without the "e" because that means that "juggle", "juggling", and "juggler" all get sent to my daily subscription page. 

Anyway, I guess it's easier to criticize than to create, but honestly, there are so many juggling videos online these days that it's hard not to complain.  I'm no Oskar Wrango when it comes to film knowledge, but I'm getting seriously tired with the lack of creativity.  Screw creativity - just do something new.  Like Wes said in "what the duck", he doesn't even care if it's bad - just do something new.  I'm probably preaching to the choir in this blog but here are some quick guidelines to all of you juggling video-makers out there.  I'll keep it simple:

1)Don't use music by Paramore or Daft Punk.  Nuff said.  Also, please don't use juggling music that has been on another juggling video.  This pisses me off to no end.  Especially if the juggler who used the music first made a much better video than you. 

2) If you're using Windows Movie Maker, do not use the default blue background with white text for your intro.

3)Do not number your freaking videos.  Thomas Dietz is the only exception.  If you are not Thomas Dietz or are not making your videos as part of a series (ala Tricks of the Day, Karas Kwickies, etc.) do not put a number after your freaking name.  This will guarantee I will not watch them.

4) Trailers?  Really?  Like I said, there are exceptions.  I've been excited by trailers from the following people - Brett Sheets, Wes Peden, Thomas Dietz, Anthony Gatto.  Hypocrite?  Yes, I made a trailer to "Normal Like You" but it was mostly dancing.  If I haven't heard of you (believe me, I do my research), you do not need a trailer.  Just release the video. 

5)No more 744.  I don't care if you want to show the world you can do it.  So can everyone else.

6)Fill the frame.  If you're doing a low three club trick, what do you need all the space above your head for?  I'm watching a video for the juggling, not for the sky.

7)Don't say "thanks for watching" at the end of your videos.  It just screams amateur.  Put it in the description box or something.

I guess that's it.  I'm doing my best not to sound conceited.  I'm really not.  And I doubt this will have any effect on YouTube juggling videos.  I just wish that so much hard drive space wasn't wasted by the exact SAME juggling video, the only difference being, quite frankly, the juggler.

On a final note, adding to the long list of inspiration I received while attending the JAQ Montreal Fest: I've decided to switch to Russians.  I know.  This is a big thing for me.  I've been a diehard beanbagger for seven years now.  I've had my affairs with MMX and even stage balls, but I've always come back to beanbags. 

However, after seeing so much beautiful BBB stuff both at Montreal and in Japan Tricks Peden, I've realized that russians are the way to go.  Emmanuel had given me seven back in January at TurboFest and I finally shook the dust off them and learned BBB.  It's so much freaking fun, I'm a bit giddy.  Also, I've been mad experimenting with chin trap stuff and have a lot of new stuff that I've never seen anybody else do before.  Much of it is Japan and Aoki inspired.  So yeah, this may be another affair, but I agree with Julien that russians have so much "life" in them compared to beanbags and I love the fact that they do maintain their shape.  Also, they roll but not as fast as stage balls.  I've been able to do my 4b leg roll trick much easier with Russians.  I suppose in many ways, they're like cheating :-)

And last but not least,here's a Chassidic Juggling Show!  Enjoy, my Jewish friends:

Posted by Michael at 9:23 PM EDT
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Fri, May 9 2008
T-Shirt Bounce 2000!
Mood:  accident prone














Just add neck and wrists!

Posted by Michael at 7:53 PM EDT
Updated: Fri, May 9 2008 7:55 PM EDT
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Wed, May 7 2008
"I Can Rap to the Beat But I Don't Know How to Change My Ways"
Mood:  not sure
Topic: Routines

First of all, kudos to the first person able to tell me who said the lyric in this post's title.

What is style and how do we find our own?  Sometimes I think others tell you what your style is, and often it's not what you want.  Even in the small community that we call juggling, everyone's known for a certain 'thing'.  For Thomas Dietz to stop being the amazing numbers juggler that he is and switch to creative three club manipulation would shock us.  That's not what he does.  It's not his "style".  But like I said, people have often told me that I have a "style" or that my style has become more "developed" and honestly I'm not sure what they mean.  It could just be a comment that they think I want to hear.  Or it could mean that they have some idea of Michael Karas brand juggling that I haven't quite hit yet.

However, it's not like I'm clueless.  I do realize that many of my performances have common elements.  More than 50% of my pieces have been set to hip-hop music.  And almost 100% of my pieces have been tightly (and I mean tightly) choreographed to the music, so much so that a drop means the audience misses a boxcar or two while I try to hop back onto the train.

I really enjoy this style and I think my audiences do too.  But like Stevenson, I've reached a fork in the road, and I'm thinking about switching directions for a little bit.  Let me explain why.

I am really a mystery to myself.  If you watch any Michael Karas videos, you will notice that I have a minor obsession with PATTERNS.  I think all jugglers do, sure, but only on one video - Kineticut - have I bothered to attempt anything like a "sequence" on film.  I love symmetry.  I love ambidexterity.  I like clutter.  By "clutter", I mean that there's not a lot of air in my patterns.  To illustrate, 97531 has very little air whereas 94444 has a lot of air.  Siteswap "3" is so my friend that I've considered making a DVD completely dedicated to the exhaustive study of the cascade in all its forms.

However, if you've watched my work onstage, especially my ball work which is the most advanced of all three major props, you'll notice that pattern is almost absent.  Especially in my latest 3b work in progress (Kiss Kiss) I spend very little time with recognizable patterns, instead focusing on using the objects to visually enhance the lyrics.  You can find this routine here:

I focused so much on enhancing the lyrics in building this piece that I repeated the chorus sequence every time the chorus was sung.  This obviously made choreography go by quicker because I only had to choreograph the chorus once.  I have been very surprised to hear multiple (more than 5) people come up to me at conventions and tell me that my "idea" to repeat the chorus section was brilliant.  This has surprised me, but also makes me realize that I may be a pioneer in this idea.

Anyway, no one ever sees the hours of grueling work and discarded choreography that go into finally publishing a work like "kiss kiss" on stage.  I usually love the end product, but the choreography is such a pain-stakingingly slow process. 

So here is my conundrum: in practice and in making videos, I absolutely love working on patterns - repeatable, lovely little 'creatures' (as Sean Gandini calls them) that tickle my brain.  When it comes to making a routine though, I focus so much on illustrating music/lyrics that years of pattern research go out the window and I end up with a cool albeit totally different product that relies on sequences more than patterns.

Some jugglers do exactly as I don't.  They have a piece of music that is 8-10 minutes long.  They have about 7 minutes of material.  The music is such that it can be faded at any time.  Therefore they drop and then try the same trick again.  Novel idea, ain't it?  I'm sure this is actually probably the majority.  Usually when you see a juggler drop, they pick up and try the same trick again in order to "defeat" it. 

I've never built a piece like this, except when I'm improvising on stage but that's a whole different beast.  While talking with Francis Julien in Montreal, he told me that my "sort" of piece is one that allows no breathing room.  It's basically true.  As he described, you get out there, you do your 3-4 minutes right to the music, you drop once or twice, curse silently in your head, and then get off stage, breathing heavily and wondering what just happened. 

How much greater to create a piece that has breath?  That has room for error? I've never really tried it before.  Perhaps then, with a piece like this, I could focus on what my body tells me that I truly love - patterns and shapes!  Not that I want to create a piece that is literally a list of patterns that I show to the audience one after another.  But - that is a side of me (Pattern Boy!) that people see and love in my videos that is sorely missing from my stage appearances.  There's a real discrepancy between the two mediums in my opinion at this point, and I am considering trying to be consistently pattern-based, at least for a while.

Or, more importantly, even if I create a routine based very much on sequences, I want to try to allow myself some breathing room.  As Francis says, every routine can for the most part be divided up into counts of eight, like in dance.  These can then be applied to any song at any point within the song.  Just keep the beat of the song going constantly in your head and you can pick up from anywhere.  I must admit that hip-hop may not be the best music for this new direction.

Don't get me wrong - I'll always love creating airtight 3 ball sequences to beats that I love, but I can't get stuck into a "style" at the age of 23.  Not yet.  I can juggle a lot better than most people think, but I need to give myself some stage time.  Time for error.  Time for breath.  Time for surprise.  Time for recognition of the audience.  A race car ride instead of a rollercoaster.  Something without tracks.

Posted by Michael at 3:39 PM EDT
Updated: Wed, May 7 2008 4:22 PM EDT
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Tue, May 6 2008
The Bubbles
Mood:  loud
Topic: Trends

On the first day, Mr. Babache created rings and they were very mediumy.

Then on the second day, Mr. Babache created other new rings and they were both smallish and biggier than the rings he created on the first day.

Then on the third day, Oskar bought one of each from Mr. Babache and thought to himself, let me make something fun and spunky using these smallish, mediumy, and biggier rings.

On the fourth day, Jay met Oskar and liked very much the fun and spunkiness emitting from this new technique.  He thought that America would like this spunkiness and imported it into our culture, adding his own flair and tips of the hat.  Many liked this new technique and Jay was happy.  Many called him an angel when the smallish ring was on his head and Jay was angry. 

On the fifth day, Sean Blue and Jay Gilligan discovered that they could throw smallish and biggier rings together, creating a six ring layered cascade that looked very incrediblam and yet was ease-tastic.  The mediumy rings became sad and confused. 

On the sixth day, all the other animals saw this incrediblam pattern and thought it was good.  They all flocked to In the Spin Juggling to buy their own sets of biggier and smallish rings so they too could be cool like Jay and Sean.  Few in America knew of Oskar or his invention.  Oskar didn't care.  He only likes Trilobite anyway.

On the seventh day, Francis Julien was in Montreal doing the six smallish/biggier ring pattern and dropping a lot.  He liked the pattern and wanted to perfect its superbaru qualities.  Michael Karas showed him that it was actually ease-tastic with his own set of Mr. Babache equipment.  Francis Julien called the pattern "bubbles" and Michael thought this was the perfect name.  He didn't care if Oskar or Sean or Jay called the trick "the bubbles" because Francis did and he thought it the perfect name for this incrediblam trick. 

So on the seventh day Michael Karas wrote a blog so that everyone would know and love that this cascade of three smallish and three biggier rings is called "the bubbles" and it was good.  Mr. Babache rested because his business was booming.

The Bubbles are here now, like it or not.  Accept the bubbles.  Buy the bubbles.  Learn the bubbles. 

Then get over the bubbles and go and make something new.

Creative stuff happens.  Hit yourself for not making it up first, then learn it, and get back to work.

*UPDATE* I was informed that Denis Paumier was the first person to use the three different sized rings.  Whether this was for manipulation or for bubbles, I'm not sure.  Thanks Jay! *End Update*

Posted by Michael at 12:13 AM EDT
Updated: Wed, May 7 2008 3:27 PM EDT
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Fri, May 2 2008
Internal Tail-Wagging
Mood:  energetic

I am excited to travel to Montreal today for my first ever JAQ fest.  I don't speak any French and so really feel like an idiot when I go to Quebec for festivals.  This will be my second, after having experienced the fantastic TurboFest back in January.  Speaking of JANuary, there's a juggler named Jan Oving whom some of you American jugglers should research. 

Anyway, I asked back at TurboFest if I could be in the Montreal Gala Show and Pierre graciously gave me a spot.  I'm going to be doing two pieces Saturday night.  One of them is a piece that I've performed at Texas and RIT with a few minor tweaks.  The second is a piece I've performed at Philly and Boston but with a complete and major overhaul.  What's exciting for me as an actor and as a performer is that the two pieces are extremely different.  One's meant to be a crowd-pleaser.  One's meant to be a juggling experiment.  We'll see how they go.  You're not going to see either one online so if you're interested in the pieces, get thee to Montreal this weekend.

While I'm talking about shows at juggling conventions, I would like to mention one thing that irks me a bit sometimes.  For the most part, juggling conventions do not pay performers.  Many like Philly create great shows out of volunteers.  Others cover the performers' travel expenses and meals.  Unless you're a huge draw (Vova, Dietz, Peden, Garfield, Gilligan, Gatto), a juggling convention is probably not going to pay you for your physical act.  This is why I wish that more jugglers would use juggling convention shows to test new material.  I know that the EJC has open stages every night where a lot of performers try out works in progress.  I also think 531 has a similar night of unfinished works.  But I've been to almost every northeast US weekend juggle retreat this year and have often been disappointed to see the same act from the same juggler 2-3 times. 

Often I love these acts.  Vova's robotics.  Irish's footbagging.  Cate's handstands.  However, it gets to a point where your audience is largely made up of the same people and therefore why not bring out that new routine you're working on that's maybe "not quite ready" in your opinion?  Personally, I'd rather see something that's new and a bit droppy than the same old stuff that (even if I love it) I've already seen.  Juggling conventions are the places to push the envelope, to experiment with material before you unveil it to the general public.

My goal is this: to encourage the creative minds that are already out there (you know who you are) to use the supportive environment of the juggling convention stage to show us jugglers the depth and breadth of your work and research. 

I certainly don't pretend to be an amazing juggler by any technical stretch but I am very proud of the fact that at every convention I've performed at, I have shown something new to my audience.  My goal as a juggler is to be just as creative as I am unpredictable.  When an MC mentions my name at a juggling show, I want the audience to eagerly wonder what I'm going to do this time.  A simple and perhaps silly long-term goal, I know, but I've realized that this same air of anticipation and unpredictability is what I feel before performances by my favorite jugglers.

Internal tail-wagging.

Posted by Michael at 12:32 AM EDT
Updated: Fri, May 2 2008 1:02 AM EDT
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Mon, Apr 28 2008
The Silver Chair
Mood:  blue
"Even in this world, of course, it is the stupidest children who are most childish and the stupidest grown-ups who are most grown up." - C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair

Posted by Michael at 8:01 PM EDT
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Sun, Apr 27 2008
Big Announcement!
Mood:  lucky
Now Playing: Poster design by Allie Andreano

Posted by Michael at 4:30 PM EDT
Updated: Sun, Apr 27 2008 4:34 PM EDT
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Waiting for Gatto
Mood:  a-ok
Now Playing:

I am speechless.  I have finally seen juggling perfection and I almost want to cry.

Today I went to Hartford, Connecticut to see Kooza by Cirque du Soleil.  This is my fifth cirque experience, the other four being quidam, alegria, dralion, and varekai.  The show was good I suppose, but the majority of the production pales in comparison to what was one of the greatest moments as of yet in my career as a juggler:

I got to see Anthony Gatto perform live.

As much as jugglers tend to argue and debate about everything under the sun, it seems that we all agree on one thing - Anthony Gatto is the best juggler in the world.  What's funny is that I've been heavily involved in juggling for almost seven years and have witnessed and met many of the greats in the field.  Some of them are even my friends.  I've had lunch with Jay Gilligan.  Vova and I have exchanged jokes at conventions.  Thomas Dietz and I have spoken German to each other.  I shook hands with Viktor Kee after seeing him at Dralion.

 And yet I have never been graced with the opportunity to be in the same room as Mr. Anthony Gatto.  Until today, April 26, 2008. 

Anthony was in the second act of Kooza which made me sweat a little bit because I was banking my entire ticket price on seeing him specifically.  At intermission, I was nervous that maybe he was taking one of those precious few days off that you read about every now and again on Gatto Forums.  But he showed up about halfway through the second act and I strapped myself in for what I knew would be the most amazing and confident display of technical juggling skill I've ever seen.

He.  Was.  Dropless.  You always hear about people going to see Gatto perform and saying he was dropless.  But to actually see this man go through such difficult skill sets with the ease of tying one's shoe makes you wonder how one person can be so consistently precise.

7 ring 5-up 360.  9 ring to pulldown.  Double qualify of 5 club dub backrosses.  5 ring 5-up.  5b 5-up.  5 ring pancakes.  7b halfshower.  He didn't do 7 clubs and I'm not sure why but I didn't really care.  His entire routine was full of a love for what he was doing and an energy that radiated into his props.  My friend made the comment that he made the clubs almost appear liquid.  When I say dropless, I also mean to say that he was perfect.  There wasn't an errant catch.  There wasn't an extraneous movement.  Every trick was pulled off with such ease that it almost made me mad to know that 90% of the people in the room had no idea how hard his routine actually was. 

For any jugglers out there who haven't seen Gatto perform live yet, you owe it to yourself to do so as soon as possible.  Money is not an excuse.  See this man own you live.  You will feel simultaneously inspired to train harder and depressed at how inferior a juggler you are. 

I've always said that Gatto is the best because I believed it to be true.  Now I've seen Anthony perform and I KNOW he is the best juggler in the entire world.  Fuck whether juggling is an art or a sport.  Anthony eats amateur jugglers like you and me for breakfast.

I once took a three day workshop with Jay Gilligan in Buffalo, NY at the 2004 IJA.  On the final day, Jay sat us down and gave us ten provocations for creating new juggling material, based somewhat on Brian Eno's oblique strategies.  Three examples of these provocations include "take the longest route", "multiplex", and "back to the same place."  I will never forget however that one of the ten provocations was "Anthony Gatto", plain and simple.  Jay relayed this provocation to us with complete sincerity. 

Now I know why.

Posted by Michael at 12:47 AM EDT
Updated: Sun, Apr 27 2008 1:20 AM EDT
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Tue, Apr 22 2008
What the Duck!?
Mood:  don't ask
Now Playing:

"Bring me something new."

Wes Peden.  The future of juggling now.  Right?  I mean, the kid can do no wrong.  He doesn't even age, I don't think.  He gets better and better and better and remains 17.  It's really a sweet deal.  He was voted the #1 most popular juggler in the world in 2007 by rec.juggling which is the equivalent of world juggling president.  Gatto is the Pope.  Infallible.  Wes is the president.  The Wesident if you will.  The Manipulator in Chief.

As a result, this meer teenager wields a global kind of power over our niche community of several tens of thousands of jugglers.  A new wes peden video rivals a lunar eclipse in the juggling world.  We all wait with baited breath for his next installment of juggling goodness. 

Which is exactly why the juggling world has been thrown into a tizzy over his last experimental trilogy - Skull Candy, the Rooster is Dead, and Marshmallow.  To cover my thoughts on all these videos would take too long, but suffice it to say that the first two videos of this trilogy made people think that wes peden had gone off the deep end.  Personally, I didn't mind them and even found them interesting and thought-provoking provided they weren't just made as a practical joke to make us dumb Americans scratch our heads and lament our inability to "get it."  The third video was a schizophrenic return to what we love about wes - insane experimentation, crazy control mixed with high energy and more tricks than you can fit into a very large pickle jar.

Most wes fans took a collective sigh of relief when marshmallow was released.  After all, like eating a warm yummy marshmallow, our expectations were fulfilled again.  We got our fix.  Wes was juggling weslike again and we could relax.  As of tonight, "Marshmallow" has received about as many hits as "Skull" and "Rooster" combined. 

Then Mr. Peden did something unthinkable - he released a video without any juggling at all.  Entitled "What the Duck", it was a plea to the juggling world for the rebels to wake up and create.  What I like to see as an ultimatum.  Wes Peden, a role model that all of us look up to, sat us down (below grass level; notice how Peden looms above us in the video) and started asking us questions. 

Basically, this is all just a big lead-up to how I personally feel about the video.  Know that when I write this blog, I am basically "freestyling".  I don't plan out what I'm going to say ahead of time.  So I'm just going to go with the flow and see where it takes me. 

In many ways, I think "what the duck" is really an argument that wes is having with himself.  Many people felt like wes was unfairly chastising jugglers for not coming up with new material when in fact, my belief is that the video, just like the graffiti of "make something real" on the wall on the way to circus school, is a reminder to wes.  Some people think Wes comes off as cocky in the video.  I don't really see this.  In fact, I see the opposite.  I see a lot of selflessness and admission of failure and shortcoming.  Wes admits that he is scared, that he has fear, that he has made videos strictly to please an invisible audience or WJF judges, etc. 

In other words, "what the duck" is wes sharing an internal scolding that he has already had with himself. 

"What the duck" is a call to change and a call to think.  "Why" is the greatest question any artist can pose to himself and Wes uses this three letter word a lot in his video.  In the MRL DVD (which I may talk about soon on this blog if anyone is interested) Jay constantly reminds his students that we need to ask "why" in everything we do.  At least answer it.  The answer doesn't need to be long and convoluted.  If you juggle to impress Jason Garfield, at least admit it.  I would actually be super proud to see a juggler openly admit it.  In theatre, we learn that there is a motivation behind every action we do.  Every step gets us closer towards a goal, even if the goal is taking a shit.  How is a step different from a throw or a catch?  A throw is a part of a routine which is a part of a show which is a part of a festival in which people I'm hoping to impress/entertain/offend are sitting in the audience.  Who are those people? 

Wes is clearly a lifer.  There is little doubt in my mind that wes's life will be dominated entirely by the study, practice, and questioning of juggling.  So I think we should encourage the fact that he is putting down his props for five minutes to think about why he spends so much time doing what he does.  And luckily for us, he has shared these frustrations with others.  Notice that he doesn't offer a solution.  Nor does he say that he is following his own example.  He admits that he falls short of his own expectations.

If you are a hobby juggler with no intentions of performing ever, then I wouldn't worry too much about the video.  If you are a hardcore sports juggler who really only cares at this point about perfecting juggling technique and execution, I wouldn't even put this video on your radar screen. 

"What the duck" is a fire designed to burn under the asses of the rebels that are sitting on the fence at the moment, unsure of which direction to go. 

In as humble a way as possible, I would like to suggest that I am one of those rebels.  I feel this way because watching "what the duck" made me feel partly ashamed and partly inspired. 

Literally four hours after seeing "what the duck" for the first time, I performed at the RIT Open Stage using two routines.  One routine was a marshmallow - "Kiss Kiss."  People know that Michael Karas is fun to watch when he does hip-hop routines.  And this one didn't disappoint.  Tons of people came up to me and said that they loved the new hip-hop routine.  "It was so fun!"  "You choreograph so well to the music!"  Just the compliments I like to hear but...they are the same compliments I've heard before and I realize that I am doing something that people expect of me. 

Michael Karas: fun juggler with modest technique who specializes in three balls and green props and juggles well to the music.

Then I also performed at RIT a new routine called "Gravity" in which I explore the notion of "frustration" by purposefully dropping about 5% of the throws in the piece.  It is a piece that ends sadder than it began.  It begins with hope and ends with failure.  I got far fewer compliments on this piece.  It's not typical juggling nor typical michael karas.  A few people said they enjoyed it though and these were people whose opinion I really value. 

So, on a personal note - Wes, if you're reading this, thank you for making your video.  It re-energized me to think about why I spend so much time doing what I do.  It helped organize my priorities as well - do I really want to create pieces that speak to a panel of judges or do I want to create pieces that speak to the human condition, to beauty, or even to the beauty of object manipulation? 

All that being said...Wes, did you really lose your American dialect that quickly?  ;-D

Posted by Michael at 10:55 PM EDT
Updated: Wed, Apr 23 2008 1:15 AM EDT
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