Fidelity

I write most of my blog posts in trains, many in cafes, and some in aeroplanes. I am in the train now, travelling from home in Cologne to work in Freiburg. I was there yesterday already, and did my rehearsals and so on, but then decided to travel home for the night, to return today for our first two shows (at 4pm and 8pm). That means I got home last night at 10pm, and left again this morning at 6am. Why would I do that?

My first juggling clubs were Spotlight European classic-long, with oil slick European style decoration. This particular model of club was pretty much the standard in the UK at the time (1990 or thereabouts), and so they were easily available and well suited to buying in case you wanted to pass with someone else. I chose the decoration because one of my heroes at my local juggling club had them too.

One of my major inspirations in my early juggling life was the Dutch juggler Michiel Hesseling. The company Oddballs had released a video of his club juggling, and I fell in love: with his Converse high-top shoes, his smart button-down shirt, his juggling, and his clubs. Red metallic Die Jonglerie Stage clubs with white handles. Beautiful creatures they were. Resplendent, slim and elegant. A trip to the juggling wholesalers Butterfingers in Bath took place, but alas, these clubs were not to be found. But, the American manufacturer Todd Smith had just released his Satellite club! This was a gorgeous creation, well proportioned, solidly built, and clad in a never before seen deep purple metallic decoration. Also, the Russian juggler Sergei Ignatov had apparently given them his blessing. I bought a set.

They were great clubs! They had a couple of idiosyncrasies that needed to be adjusted to, but otherwise, mighty fine! I juggled them for a couple of years, until I finally took the step to special order the Die Jonglerie Stage clubs after which I had always pined. The decoration I chose was more subdued: two simple bands of silver wrapped around the pure white bodies.

At this time (1995ish) I was heavily influenced by the video tapes being released by the International Jugglers’ Association (IJA) of their festival held in America each year. Many of the jugglers I respected and attempted to emulate were using clubs from the American manufacturer Renegade. In the UK, a very small group of people used these clubs, but they too were people I looked up to. Almost impossible to find in any UK juggling shop, I ordered a set directly from Renegade, and waited with anticipation for the package to make it’s way through customs and into my eager hands.

Finally, they arrived. As I was expecting, they were heavy, they were solid. This was the first time that I understood that props are tools. Built for a purpose, built to last, by craftsmen, for artists. Add to that the romance of Californian built clubs, assembled in a small workshop by the founder of the company, rather than mass produced playthings constructed in an anonymous factory.

They were heavy, and soon I removed the silver decoration I had ordered, and let them fly naked through the air.

A heavy club has always been good for me. I am naturally a fast juggler, and heavier props help to keep me grounded and calm. Especially on stage, I find a heavier club incredibly beneficial. My experience with passing with Renegades has also been great: it’s like throwing a small, laser-guided missile. Where you throw, they arrive. Other clubs always seem to include a slight vibration, an uncertainty of their exact position or speed. Renegade clubs for me have always contradicted Heisenberg’s famous principle.

Over the next years, I tended to use standard Renegade clubs for passing, and the slimmer variety for my solo juggling. I also occasionally switched to other clubs (Henrys’ Pirouettes or Delphins), but after a few weeks (or after my first show with the new clubs) I would always return to the standard, undecorated Renegade club. I could trust them.

On my recent trip to Stockholm and Portugal, I happened to juggle briefly with Delphins, from German manufacturer Henrys, and PX3s from Italy’s Play. My issues with each of these clubs would take a whole extra post or two, but I did notice how little effort I needed to juggle them, due to their slimness and light weight, and I began to doubt again my commitment to Renegade.

I had three days at home before starting rehearsals in Freiburg, a contract where I will be performing around thirty shows. The perfect opportunity to try some new clubs! I ran around in Cologne from juggling store to juggling store warehouse, and put together a set of six brand new clubs: Henrys Circus Classic, with red metallic decoration and silver handles. Beautiful, beautiful creations. My training with them was great, and I made sure to bring only those clubs with me to Freiburg.

Yesterday was my lighting rehearsal, and, for the first time I can recall, I had major problems getting the lights how I needed them. I have always considered myself to be extremely flexible and easy with my lighting requirements (something that jugglers are normally famous for not being). I have even turned up at rehearsals where the technicians have told me that they had heard I can juggle in any light, but yesterday it was basically impossible to build something that allowed me to see my own juggling patterns on stage.

My new clubs looked glorious from the audience, but I tend to prefer it when I can see them myself too. Was it the decoration? Was one reason I have always been easy with lights the white clubs I have used for so many years? Perhaps yes, and, given the choice between seeing and not seeing, I would take seeing every time.

But how to know for sure?

And so when rehearsals were over yesterday (in addition to my juggling act I am performing three magic pieces with the MC, Ken Bardowicks), I more or less ran to the train station to jump in a train back to Cologne. I packed my Renegades, fell into bed, and woke to my alarm clock.

And now I find myself in a train again, travelling back to Freiburg, annoyed with myself, but mostly just shaking my head at my own stupidity. I will try my Renegades in my light, and see if there is any difference. But I think I know how this affair ends. Every couple of years I try a fling with some new club, but I always go back to Renegade…

Thank you Tom, thank you Iman.

www.variete-am-seepark.de
www.renegadejuggling.com

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Prop Stands

After my prop building post I thought it might be nice to look at prop stands in the context of juggling routines, they are often over looked but can dramatically change the structure of an act.

I thought it might be interesting to analysis some routines to see what kind of prop stand they use and note some of the positive and negative aspects of their stand. If you know of any interesting examples or points don’t forget to add a comment below.

Before I get too deep on this subject it’s probably best to define what a prop stand is. I’m defining it as an object created for the purpose of holding a performers props, allowing them to quickly or elegantly transition from one prop to another. Fairly simplistic but I think it’s a workable definition.

So first up I’d like to look at Donald Grant’s diabolo act.

http://juggling.tv/1798

I love this act; it’s well choreographed and full of character, one of my favorites. In the act Mr. Grant transitions from using one diabolo to two. His prop stand is either the floor or sometimes an assistant brining on the second diabolo. It works because it’s simple, it doesn’t distract from the performer and gives him a quick transition from one piece to another. The drawback is should you have an act with more props, the stage could become unworkable and if the stage is not level then it could easily cause problems.

Having said that a few months ago Jay Gilligan and Wes Peden released a video called “More Fun Than Visiting a Zoo Volume 2 – Instant Prop Stand” in which they explore the concept of using the props themselves as the prop stands.

The set up required for some of the tricks is slightly mind blowing but besides the practicality it produces some very nice and original work. You can buy the full video download here (and no I’m not on commission!).

Kris Kremo is another favourite of mine so let’s have a look at his work with regards to prop stands.

Kris uses more props than Donald but works around the problem by having his props on a convenient table or ledge usually off stage. This way Kremo avoids having a distracting prop stand on stage, he also doesn’t have to worry about having his prop stand set correctly. The only draw back is he must exit the stage momentarily to change props. However this also helps in the structure of the routine, for a moment the audience doesn’t know if he will return to continue or take his final applause. It’s interesting to note in this fascinating interview with Kris Kremo he mentions his farther, Bela Kremo who taught him much of the act. According to Kris, Bela liked to use a chair as a prop stand because (like the props in his routine) it was an everyday object that the audience was familiar with.

Gandini Juggling, who I occasionally work for, use many different props and have simple methods to store their often large number of props on stage.

For standard small balls they have simple buckets which stop balls rolling about the stage. The only draw back is that it’s difficult for more than 2 performers to access the balls at once. The Gandini glow club stand solution is extremely elegant, the props and stand are displayed to the audience rather then hidden away and are particularly atheistically pleasing. I think this is a great example where the prop stand adds to the routine rather than distracts from it. On a practical note the only downside I know of is that they weigh a fair amount and do not fold down.

http://juggling.tv/633

Dieto another gentleman juggler that has a particularly interesting prop stand. Parts unfold revealing small characters presenting props, very unusual and well crafted. I like that a visit to the prop stand is as entertaining as the juggling and manipulation (which I also really like). Some people will say it’s too gimmicky but personally I love this act and would love to have a prop stand as equally as eccentric!

http://juggling.tv/343

The god father of technical club juggling, Alexander Kiss had some amazing tricks and some very impressive props that bordered on the line of prop stands. My favorite of his was a device which fired clubs into the air (he then perform a trick which has become a measuring stick for many of today’s jugglers; 5 club backcrosses). The magical quality in which he is given his clubs makes you question if he is also just some kind of ingenious machine built in one of the circus workshops behind the Iron curtain in the 1950s that surely existed. Given the tricks that he and his sister (Violetta) performed I would not be massively surprised to find out they were both robots.

http://juggling.tv/163

Evgeni Biljaure (Or Ewgenie/Evgenie Biljaueis depending where you look on the net) is another juggler who pushed the limits of what was thought was possible. 2 ball head bouncing, 5 club forward rolls, 7 rings with a balance, an amazing juggler. In his routine props were thrown to him from all different directions, props flew in from all around the ring. This kept the audience guessing, used the space well and kept the energy of the act up. The only downside to using faceless assistants is you have to trust that the ring boys are paying attention to your act and waiting for their cues, otherwise you might be waiting for that 3rd ball for an awfully long time!

http://juggling.tv/1516

Bert Garden a comedic gentleman juggler, has a automated moving case that appears to interact with him. At one point Garden is even handed a ball from an arm that protrudes from the case in a comical manor. I’d say the main draw back with this particular prop stand is that the performer has to bend over each time to get a new prop. Bending over looks a little unsightly and doesn’t seem to fit well with the character of a gentleman. However I like the idea of the prop stand having a mind of it’s own, it reminds me of ‘The Luggage’ from the marvelous Disk World novels by Terry Pratchett.

More recently Christoph Rummel uses a club firing device in one of his routines. Interesting to have the workings of the device on display, it seems more robotic and less magical, I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing.

I’d say there is still so a lot of potential in using prop stands in creative ways but building interesting stands can be tricky. If you’d like to learn more perhaps reading this article about implementing a propstand into a routine written by the brilliant Steven Ragatz over a IJDB is a good place to start.

http://twitter.com/#!/CircusGeeks/status/55931704212324352

Props

I am currently in Seattle, USA, doing shows at the Moisture Festival: http://www.moisturefestival.org/

It is thusly named because of the rain… They didn’t lie to me.

In my big collection of VHS tapes back home are held many performers who appeared on the Paul Daniels Magic Show in the 80s and 90s. Two of the most inspirational performers to me from that era, and from those tapes, are Johnny Fox (sword-swallower) and Frank Olivier (juggler).

I doubt I would be doing this job if it weren’t for them. Really.

Last week, I held Johnny Fox’s hand in the curtain call, and last night a slightly drunk Frank Olivier jumped on a pull up bar and wrapped his legs around me.

Give me a moment, I am tearing up a little…

OK, I’m back…

Just before the show with Johnny, I was pacing around as usual, with my clubs in my hands. He asked me if he could check them out. Somehow, I managed to say “no”. Of course, he understood, and watching his prep, he clearly understands rituals and habits, but still…

I hate it when people ask to touch my clubs.

Although not uniquely custom built to my body and needs, ordering a 95mm, standard length, hard bodied, non-wrapped, extra light club in the colour of my choice (probably white) from Renegade gives me a good amount of personal connection to the club. I know the people who build them, and I have visited the small workshop where they are born.

I always do my final backstage warm-up with the clubs that I will use on stage. They need to get focused and ready too. It is their responsibility to make my juggling look good. Their weight keeps me slow and calm, and their solidity gives me one certain thing to keep hold of during my time on stage. Different stages have different heights, different lights, different floors. Even different audiences. But one thing is always the same: the clubs that come on stage with me.

I was working in the Krystallpalast Varieté in Leipzig, Germany, on the night of December 31st, 2003. Just after midnight, a fire broke out on stage. My partner at the time, Ilka Licht, was one of the first to see the flames, and, as audience and artists started to run from the burning theatre, she ran instead in the opposite direction, backstage, to grab our club bag. A little later the two of us and our clubs stood safely in the cold watching the smoking building. It never occurred to us that she perhaps shouldn’t have taken that risk…

http://twitter.com/#!/cubecheat/status/55025807067844608

Prop building

I’ve always enjoyed making routines that use custom props. I’m not sure if it’s due to an insecurity in my ability to create with ‘standard circus props’ or due to the fact that I come from a family of engineers.

I love thinking up improbable ideas (and then struggling to make them a reality) and think these ideas have gone on to be some of my strongest work.

Normally I come to an ‘effect’ that I want and then work out how it might be achieved, a little like how I imagine a magician might work. Then I take these collection of slightly random thoughts to my prop builder and get his opinion, argue about the detail and then help as best I can in the building of the new prop.

I’m really lucky, my Dad is my prop builder. He’s built me everything from skipping rope machines to fake iPods. Being an engineer by trade he often has his own ideas on my routines, most of which a pretty lame but sometimes he strikes gold.

I wonder if there was a USSR circus prop workshop back in the 1950s that made all the props for the acts back then? I wonder who made Alexander Kiss‘ club firing device or rising platform. Maybe his Dad?