While sitting at a table at the 2015 IJA Festival in Quebec City, I looked out at the gym floor and saw a wonderful mix of young jugglers standing right next to those who have been attending festivals for decades. As I saw this diversity of age and experience, my mind floated to my earliest memories of attending IJA conventions (yes – that was before we called them festivals). I thought about how much things had changed, but likewise about how much has remained the same. I decided to pose some questions to some of the long time attendees to get their thoughts on the IJA then and now.
For my survey, I chose 5 jugglers who I know have been attending since the 1970s and who rarely (if ever) miss a festival. I chose:
Andy Ford is a ring juggler and ball bouncing guru better known as DrewBob with the Atlanta Jugglers. Click here to see him juggle a bit.
Arthur Lewbel is the chair of Economics at Boston College and a longtime expert on the subjects of juggling history and the mathematics of juggling. Click here to see him pass 9 clubs with Jack Kalvan.
Craig Barnes served as the Championships Director for a long while and was a pioneer in Numbers passing.
Bob Nickerson is a legendary and unique performer and purveyor of fun and puns. Click here to see Bob juggle.
Martin Frost, a computer systems pioneer at Stanford and master of complex passing patterns. Click here to see Martin competing in the 2004 IJA Team Championships as part of the Stanford Juggling Research Institute.
Even though my experience doesn’t reach back quite as far or cover quite as many conventions, I thought I’d share some of my insights over my 30 year span of IJA fests as well.
1. What was your first IJA convention?
Andy Ford – 1979, Amherst, Massachusetts
Arthur Lewbel – 1977, Newark, Delaware
Scott Cain – 1985, Atlanta, Georgia
Craig Barnes – 1977, Newark, Delaware
Bob Nickerson – 1979, Amherst, Massachusetts
Martin Frost – 1976 – Los Angeles, California
2. How many IJA conventions / festivals have you attended?
Andy Ford – 37 (all in a row)
Arthur Lewbel – 38 (only missed one)
Scott Cain – 18 (on and off for thirty years)
Craig Barnes – 38 (only missed one)
Bob Nickerson – 36 (only missed one – which was 1995 due to lack of funds (but not lack of “Funs”))
Martin Frost – 34 (1976, 1982 – 1984. 1986 – 2015)
3. What was your favorite IJA convention / festival and why?
Andy Ford – I’ll say 1997 in Pittsburgh. I was in the DeLuxe Vaudeville Orchestra, house band for the Renegade shows. Yes, it went overboard, and was the end of the on-site Renegade era, but it was great to be onstage for all that. I am proud to have been part of the infamous Poetry Incident.
Arthur Lewbel – Like most people, my first few were probably my favorites. 1981 was special, where the IJA first met Anthony Gatto, and Bobby May was there. I recall seeing Art Jennings give his last performance as Happy Dayze in one of those early conventions, maybe 1978. Winning a gold medal for numbers passing in 1994 was memorable. 1996 stands out, as I was championships director that year.
Scott Cain – St. Louis was very special. We had both Anthony Gatto and Sergei Ignatov there and performing in the big show and gathering large crowds in the gym. Trixie was a Special Guest and was a class act all-around. Doubble Troubble kicked butt in the Teams Championships. There were over 1600 jugglers there if I recall, including other legends such as Rudy Horn and Dick Franco. Steve and Carol Mills welcomed their son Tony into the world during the festival.
Craig Barnes – Santa Barbara in 1982 – It was the first year that it wasn’t sweltering; San Jose in 1986 – it was local for me and the theaters were great.
Bob Nickerson – Rapid City in 1996. There were a lot of personal things that made this one special for me. I got to entertain for 45 minutes at the end of the competitions while the judges deliberated, which was great. My daughter was there to see me do that too, which is a wonderful memory for us. Robert Nelson and I led the first ever heckler line workshop, which led to a lot of wonderful ideas and was a hilarious thing to be a part of. I remember that the people at Club Renegade were especially sweet and open that year, which made it nice. I won the People’s Choice Award that year, so again, it was personally a very satisfying convention. Also, the incomparable Bob Bramson closed out his career by performing in the Public Show.
Martin Frost – 2004 in Buffalo, because SJRI won silver with a fun routine in the Teams, on my third time entering Teams (after 1986 and 1991 – a planned 1996 entry fell through when one of my partners withdrew). I think I’m the oldest person to win a Stage Championships medal, and I probably also have the biggest span of years from first to last Championships performance. Immediately after the 2004 Championships, the IJA Board members served up ice cream to everyone!
4. What would you say is the biggest difference between your first few IJA conventions and the last few festivals?
Andy Ford – The skill level – I remember when a 5-club pattern would stop the gym.
Arthur Lewbel – The range of tricks and patterns people juggle now is unbelievably greater, and the average technical ability of jugglers is tremendously higher. This reflects the two biggest changes to juggling, possibly ever: the inventions of siteswaps and of youtube.
Scott Cain – There are so many more female jugglers and young jugglers than we had at my first few conventions.
Craig Barnes – More international participants and guest artists. Championships prelims are before the festival. Cascade of Stars lineup is setup beforehand, rather than cobbled together with whoever is attending.
Bob Nickerson – I used to be a better juggler back then! Also, we had movie nights, which was a really big deal since there wasn’t a youtube (or internet at all) back then.
Martin Frost – There was hardly any left-handed passing in the old days. I spent a lot of time spreading the gospel of passing with both hands at the IJA fest and the EJC from 1982 on. There are more shows now than when I first attended, and the fest is almost a week long instead of just four days. It used to be that the attendees voted at each convention to decide where the next one would be held. That’s not practical now as we need to confirm facilities more than a year in advance. The games were added, with the idea copied from the European Juggling Convention (an offshoot of the IJA, started in 1978 by IJA members in England).
5. What is the primary way they have changed for the better?
Andy Ford – The skill level is so much higher.
Scott Cain – more family friendly; better organized; new events like X-Juggling, special guests
Craig Barnes – Air Conditioning; more female jugglers
Bob Nickerson – Air Conditioning – it used to be so hot
Martin Frost – Clearly, the jugglers have gotten much better. In 1982, the 7-ball competition was won by someone who managed to keep the pattern going for about 8 seconds. This year, an 11 year old “joggled” 7 balls for over 4 minutes.
6. What is the primary way they have changed for the worse?
Scott Cain – sometimes the event locales and accommodations are too spread out – especially for those without cars; many of the big prop makers no longer attend
Craig Barnes – All the kids can juggle more objects than me
Bob Nickerson – I really think that not having live prelims for the Championships at the festival is a step backwards. Some people might not have the technology available to submit a video, and it limits people who decide to attend at the last minute.
Martin Frost – Often, too many events are scheduled, with not enough time left for open juggling.
7. What is the most consistent thing about the IJA conventions / festivals from your first until now?
Andy Ford – The friendly and interesting people – like Bob Nickerson and Steve Rahn, who I miss very much.
Scott Cain – Great friends, inventive and impressive juggling
Craig Barnes – T-shirts and shorts
Bob Nickerson – It has always been SO MUCH FUN! Someone once told me that going to an IJA convention was like attending a family reunion. I said that isn’t true, because at the IJA, I actually like the people!
Martin Frost – The shared passion for juggling – and for talking about juggling. The theme of all of these gatherings is the same: a chance to meet – and juggle with – jugglers from all over.
FLASHBACK – So, with answers like these, today’s jugglers might have a better idea of what conventions 40 years ago were like. Luckily, we have video evidence as well, thanks to a series of vimeo videos from the 1977 IJA convention.