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2014 IJA Festival HLGBCS

For those who aren’t familiar with the term HLGBCS, it is a traditional way to review a juggling festival. You list your highs, lows, goals, banes, crushes, and surprises to sum up your experience at the fest. Having just returned from this year’s IJA Festival at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, here is mine… It mentions a lot of people; I’ll try to find the time to tag them/link to their pages.

Highs
Helping backstage at the championships. This was my third year acting as contestant liaison, helping in the green room, and making sure things run smoothly between the green room and stage. It is always a rewarding experience, but this year in particular provided a few wonderful moments. Seeing Jack Denger finally win juniors after a few tries, and seeing some of the other contestants genuinely happy for him and cheering for him. Seeing Delaney Bayles kill it, and remind me so much of Jack his first time around. Give her another try with the experience of having done it before, and she’s going to be scary good. Similarly, seeing Galen and Ellen win Teams after a few tries. I love them as people, and they are really gifted jugglers. I’ll confess I haven’t always fully absorbed their act in past years; I thought this year was indeed their best yet. More accessible, and really creative. Seeing my friend Thom have the courage to try something so off the beaten path in the Individuals, and be rewarded with a medal. And I’m not sure I’ve ever seen unbridled joy like I did at the moment when Kota was announced as the winner; if they could bottle up that moment and market it to people having a bad day, they’d make millions. SO much fun.

The Michael Karas 3 ring workshop. I only managed to sneak out for a couple of workshops, but I’m really glad this was one of them. It was listed as a way to learn 10 tricks, but he probably covered closer to 15 tricks during the hour he had. Most were very accessible and interesting; I have lots to work on now that I actually get to juggle.

When the week gets so busy with workshops, it is easy for me to focus on how little juggling I get to do, and lose track of how much quality time I get to spend with friends. Too many to list, both old and new. Ross Berenson. Thom Wall. Warren and Bekah Hammond. Emmanuel Boisse Pinard. Sofia Noethe. Erin Stephens. Sam Malcolm. Geoff Marsh. Jen Slaw. Ken Mallon (welcome to your 1st fest!). Cassie McKenney (nice to meet you!). VivecaGregoryBenjaminNoelCodyChelseaSeanKevinKatDominiqueCurt. And on and on and on. I may not have juggled much, but I laughed a ton.

I don’t do much juggling that really talented jugglers really care about. But I do a 3 ring trick people like; a slide to a balance. For a while now I’ve been trying to figure out which world class ring jugglers can do this trick reliably, but I haven’t been finding anyone. I went to IJA assuming Patrik was the answer, but he joined the list of people who said the trick is too unpredictable. Michael Karas as well. By the time the fest ended, the only person left to check off the list is Joe Showers, because I’ve heard he is good at it. But I also was so inspired by what I saw at the festival that I went from, “Whew. So I guess it isn’t possible to do it reliable, and I can let myself off the hook.” to “Cool, so perhaps I can actually do the work to be the only person who can do it reliably.”

Lows
Missing the busking competition. I had a really nice dinner Friday night (see below), but it led to me missing the busking competition entirely. I have a soft spot for the busking competition after running it in Rochester, so I was really bummed not to see how this one turned out, especially since I knew all 4 competitors and the organizer.

Renegade acts are always a crapshoot. But this fest in particular there was way more ‘crap’ than ‘shoot’. There certainly were some good/fun acts, and all 3 hosts did their best to make something of a rough situation. But people are using really poor judgement with regard to what other people will want to watch. Many of those same acts lack the judgement to know when to bail out and pull the ripcord.

I’m disappointed in the visibility/publicity of the workshop schedule. It was supposed to appear in the program, but somehow fell through the cracks. I tried to publicize the schedule and the mobile app via the Workshops table, but it didn’t work well enough. Even at the end of the week, I was still meeting people who didn’t know how to figure out what workshops were happening, or about the mobile app at all. I think the mobile app was at least as good as in past years, but we had significantly fewer users of it than last year. Discussions were had, lessons were learned.

And the elephant in the room. The whole Steve Mills situation was awful. Good, kind, hard working people were made to feel unsafe, unappreciated, and unhappy at a juggling festival, of all places. Too much has been said of this situation, particularly in public, particularly by people who are making assumptions based on rumor or inaccurate information. But I am going to say that crap like this takes away from what should be a fun-filled escape for attendees, and it gives people an excuse to regurgitate dated, unfair, inaccurate generalizations about the IJA. I don’t want to talk about this at length, but I want to say in no uncertain terms: Cody and Erin were in the right in this situation. I’m proud of them for being unreasonably patient in trying to make the situation work, I’m infinitely grateful for all the work they did and the nonsense they put up with to try to put on a good festival, and I’m really sorry that they were unable to properly enjoy the festival for the party it is.

Goals
Compete in XJuggling. Check! I competed in 3 rings, actually hit my trick, and got lots of good feedback. While I didn’t realize it at the time, Bill Barr actually pointed out that I was almost surely the oldest competitor. Rawr.

Attend Richard Kennison’s special workshop. Check! I left the workshop table long enough to attend both days of this, and it was well worth it. Richard gave advice that might actually help my juggling, but more importantly gave me lots of food for thought as a juggling teacher. He also assured me that my juggling form is really quite good, which makes it all the more baffling how I manage to drop so much :-)

Run a successful workshop schedule. Check! Signups started slow, but by the time the dust cleared we had 66 instructors and somewhere around 120 workshops. The space wasn’t optimal, but people made the best of what we had. I of course couldn’t have done this without the help of so many others; thanks!!

Respectable performance in Games. Failed miserably. Dropped 5 balls within about 10 seconds. Got distracted and missed a Biz Says very early on that was not even tricky. Did tolerably well in 5 ring endurance. Club Balance is usually my best event, and I managed to mess up on the first trick. I know I have trouble balancing on one foot; why didn’t I practice it beforehand?

Lead my third panel discussion workshop on How to Make a Living Through Juggling. Failed. With so much to do before the fest, this just never popped to the top of my to-do list.

Banes
5 clubs. Late in the week I realized that I’d been so busy with workshops I hadn’t even touched my clubs. So I took them out, and 10 or 15 minutes later put them back away in frustration. I understand I don’t practice enough to make rapid, steady progress, but I really am stunned how little progress I make on 5 clubs.

Dining options. This was definitely an achilles heel of this particular fest site. But when I added in the constraints of running workshops, dining was really rough. After being up late most nights, I really had to get up to get to the dining hall by 8:30, despite it being mediocre food and surprisingly expensive. Without a car, most other options would have required a good 40 minutes of round trip walking, and I had to be in the gym in time to prepare for 10am workshops. I did manage to get a few interesting or decent meals, thanks to friends with cars.

Crushes
Patrik Elmnert. I probably could have told you this one before the fest started. He’s one of my favorite jugglers, and the act he did in CoS is pretty much my favorite act. I had asked him earlier in the week if he was doing that particular act, and due to some miscommunication he said no. So when the curtain went up and I saw that prop setup, I lost my mind. Beyond just his incredible juggling and artistry, he’s a super nice guy, and I heard nothing but positive feedback on his special workshop, even though I know he taught it while sick and feeling like crap.

Gena. Our paths hadn’t crossed before. Aside from being an incredible juggler and performer, and a lovely woman, she turns out to be incredibly charming, helpful, and a lot of fun. Her workshops was entertaining and educational, despite my lack of ability. The time I spent hanging out in the gym after CoS with Gena, Ross Berenson, Jen Slaw, and others was full of laughter, and one of the highlights of my week.

Emman. I hadn’t seen him since Turbo in 2011, but even with his hands all jacked up, he still casually did ring tricks that were absolutely killer. He kept apologizing for winning the 3 ring XJuggling. Dude, you’re a better ring juggler than me in your sleep. I’ve got no problem losing to someone better than me; if I don’t like it, I should practice more :-)

Surprises
Vladik. I somehow didn’t know much of anything about Vladik going into the fest, other than smarter people than me were very excited to see him. He jumped right into his workshop before I located him; it was very well attended, he had a smile a mile wide, and it was really well done. When I later saw him in the gym running 6 wooden clubs in various unlikely patterns, and then running 7, my jaw dropped. Knowing how much I love Patrik’s act, it would have been easy for me to tune out once it ended. But Vladik’s CoS act was *so* energetic and skillful, it definitely kept me on the edge of my seat. A great way to end a great show.

Luna Breeze. Many festivals I’ve attended have included a hooping act in their show, and while I like the idea, I’ve been almost uniformly disappointed. So I wasn’t optimistic going into the CoS, but Luna’s act was a breath of fresh air. Very professional, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Renewed my faith.

Friday night dinner. I was invited to dinner at a steak house with a somewhat large group, some of whom I knew well, others of which I didn’t know at all. I gather this is something of a tradition, but one I hadn’t taken part in before. It was a really nice break from the lackluster dining of the week. Good food, and good company.


Thanks to everyone who made this a memorable fest. For anyone who hasn’t been to a Turbo Fest, they know how to put on an amazing party up there in Quebec City. Combine an IJA fest and the Quebec City Turbo experience, and that’s some serious wonder twin powers activation. Get your passport, save up, and get there next year. Hopefully I’ll see you there!

Kyle Driggs: 2013 IJA Individuals Champion

I was backstage for the 2013 championships, and this routine completely floored me. I was familiar with a few of the incredible acts that were competing, and I wasn’t familiar with Kyle going into the competition. I sure am now. This routine emphasized a point I’d been realizing for some time: circus school really matters. I know many jugglers who have not attended circus school, and some who have. While I know great jugglers of both kinds, those that did generally put together much better routines, whether or not the juggling itself is better. The choreography, the mood, the theme… just beautiful.