I’m asked a variety of juggling history and juggling performance questions on a daily basis. One category of questions that I’ve received quite a number of times revolve around the old-school act of spinning a number of plates on a rack. If you don’t know what I mean by this, check out the videos below.
When asked about the details of performing this act, I have to confess that I’ve never done it, despite performing most forms of juggling and object manipulation. I usually give those asking the names of jugglers that perform such an act, like Albert Lucas, Bob Cates, John Park, Robert Baxt, David Burlet, Keith Nelson, Jon Anton, Daniel Gorski, and Ian Marchant. However, there is now a readily available resource that I can highly recommend. It is Sam Veale’s new book, Pottery in Motion: A practical Guide to the impractical art of plate spinning.
The book, which was recently published by Thom Wall’s Modern Vaudeville Press, is a detailed guide to learning rack plate spinning. Its 65 pages are broken into step by step chapters that shed light onto how to find the right plates, sticks, and rack, the proper technique for spinning and speeding up the plates, and how to deal with problems. Veale details his journey in discovering what works and what doesn’t so that readers don’t make the same mistakes he did. He gives exact measurements and detailed diagrams regarding the plates, sticks, and rack that would otherwise take a huge amount of time, effort, and money to figure out on your own.
Not only does the author describe how he created his system and props, but he also shares methods that others have used and gives the advantages and disadvantages of each method. The book is full of wonderful illustrations by Sorrel Sparks. There is even a glossary of terms and a risk assessment section. Veale also shares performance tips that would surely prove extremely helpful.
For me, the only part of the book that is lacking is its history section. There is no mention of famous rack plate spinning performers, although the Chinese origins of plate spinning and its move to the West a thousand years later is discussed, along with the use of plates by Gentleman jugglers. It just seems odd to me that jugglers such as Erich Brenn and Kumar Pallana weren’t mentioned.
One other small piece of information that I would have liked included is the common practice of numbering the sticks so that audience can yell out to the performer which plate needs to be sped up. Veale does discuss other common additions to the act, such as performing some quick trick after all the plates are spinning but before taking the plates down, but neglected to mention the common numbering aspect that gets the audience more invested in the act.
Nevertheless, this book is exceptional at what it intends to be; a practical guide at doing a very specific type of act. If anyone desires to learn a racked plate spinning act and doesn’t use this book as a guide, they are sure to waste an incredible amount of effort, time, and money. I highly recommend it for those who do want to learn the art.
Sam Veale is a British juggler based out of London. You can see his plate spinning act in the following video.