Juggling Clubs 2017 is a combined Juggling and Magic Convention which was held at the University of Lancaster from Friday 30th June – Monday 3rd July.
The name derives from their logo which depicts a juggler who is juggling clubs from the suit of a deck of playing cards. The convention was open to all enthusiasts regardless if they were a member of a university juggling society although there were rules on under (insert age here)’s being allowed to sleep overnight on University property.
(ALL of the Photos used in this review are courtesy of Jess Renyard and Alex Hunter)
Travelling to Lancaster and registration
Google maps tried to persuade me to take the M62, and to simply nip round the Manchester ring road and then drop onto the M6 for an easy straightforward 1hr 37min trip to Lancaster. I found this a wildly optimistic notion for a Friday night so instead I joined the A59 close to Kettlesing Bottom and followed it all the way to the M6 at Preston. I have not been on this stretch of the A59 before but can thoroughly recommend it! The scenery was great, the road was varied and exciting, the police speed traps added an element of danger but the major selling point was the complete lack of other road users! Everyone else must have been parked round Manchester…
We arrived at the university which is a short stretch by car outside of Lancaster proper. We entered campus at a different entrance from the one planned so we wiggled our way through the campus towards the parking closest to the juggling hall. Lots of car parking spaces were available, all of which were free for the duration of the convention. I believe they were free from 6pm Friday through to 8am Monday although you could choose to pay and display if you desired to stay longer on the Monday (or presumably arrive earlier on the Friday … I digress). Parking was good.
We didn’t spot much in the way of signage once we were on site although we did spot a club duck-taped to a railing pointing the way to the reg desk. After a short episode with an automatic door we came to the fully manned registration desk and were efficiently registered and issued with passes. We also got a useful map filled with information which I promptly hid in a pocket, which meant I only found it once I got home after the convention (other copies were available). The lobby of the building had a high ceiling and was a nice well-lit chill out space as well as being a juggling space. There were plenty of tables and chairs and some comfy sofas and there were already lots of board games apparent.
We scrutinised the workshop board and found a good number of both magic and juggling workshops and also magic lectures, I saw a few I wanted to go to. Then we went into the main juggling hall. Blimey. It was huge rectangular hall, very well-lit but the lights were not obtrusive, one side of the complete length of the hall was windowed which let in a lot of light and offered a nice view of a grassy area. The ceiling was criss-crossed with lower beams and lighting rigs but there was ample room to juggle around these and in fact very high ceilings.
We got our sleeping paraphernalia from the car and took it all to the sleeping hall which was a bit of a walk from the juggling hall. We were checked by a security man before we were let into the sleeping hall, a good sign. We set up camp well away from the doors to the room as I had already detected that they were quite squeaky and bangy, I recognised Lizzy and Jamie’s camp beds so we set up next to them. One airbed pumped up later we headed back to the juggling hall.
Friday evening and Fire/Glow
The hall was empty except for maybe four of us so I set myself up and started off with some headbounce practise. It was a good session, I managed a couple of very short runs of six balls and a couple of seven ball flashes with the bounce. I also had a couple of nice runs with seven and a club balance. Jenni rolled around on the floor with her hoops and then got sleepy and tired. She retired to bed to read and call it a night while I stayed on to have a bit of a juggle. There was a fire and LED session which took place outside on a paved area which I could see from my spot in the hall. It looked well attended and I could see plenty of stuff happening but I was having a good session so I stayed inside.
I was involved in some club juggling when Ed and Greg came back to the hall (a few people had materialised by then), so we engaged in a bit of Champi. Not quite full flow car wash but we were definitely hosing it down. We all met Joe Fisher who was in the UK for a bit of a tour and was performing the Gala show on Saturday night. He was a really lovely chatty guy, possessed of some ludicrous juggling skills. Greg caught me staring at a five club singles pattern run solidly at head height, very pretty. Seven clubs also looked quite easy and straightforward. These kids, eh?
The 24 hour hall closed up around 11pm-ish but we were all able to juggle in the lobby until the morning should we so wish. A few of us kept juggling but quite a few board games took place, I retired to bed and midnight as I was getting quite weary by this time.
Bedtime (and the case of the forgotten toothbrush!)
I walked into the sleeping hall to collect my shower stuff and was very surprised to find the lights still on, blindingly brightly. As I crept through the hall I saw about six people lying in bed with half closed eyes all trying forlornly to sleep. I think it had reached that stage where nobody wanted to be the one to turn off the lights (or nobody could find the switch) but I was tired and didn’t want to play that game so I plunged the room into darkness before going on a shower hunt. We were told that there were showers available in the building of the sleeping hall, one shower on each of the three (was it four …?) floors. This was true but apparently they get locked at some point in the evening and are not 24 hours, which was a depressingly odorous predicament to fine oneself in at midnight after a heavy juggling session and a long drive. Imagine my further dismay when I found that I had accidently left my toothbrush and toothpaste in Leeds, grrrr. I just went to bed and hoped not to repulse Jenni. As it was she was too tired to notice, or perhaps I always smell that bad, very discouraging.
Saturday morning and Breakfast
I had a pretty disturbed night’s sleep as people came to the hall in dribs and drabs and rolled around in sleeping bags but when I woke at 8am I didn’t feel too tired, I just had dog breath. The showers were still closed off so I took a walk through campus and found the Spar shop and bought a new toothbrush (medium) and toothpaste (Generic Colgate). When I got back I found Jenni outside the hall with her wash bag equally unimpressed to find the showers still locked up. Jamie and Lizzy emerged around this time too so we all trooped off to find some breakfast.
Just around the corner from the sleeping hall we found a buffet breakfast in full swing so we approached the counter to find out more. We were asked if we had our breakfast vouchers which came in our registration pack, I explained we hadn’t received our vouchers and were could we acquire them. This caused confusion (‘did you not get your vouchers with your keys?’ ‘ah, I think we are here for a different event. Please can we still have breakfast but pay for it?’ ‘Erm… I suppose but only if you pay in cash.’). I don’t know if the £5 per head ever made it into the till, nor do I care. We were able to indulge in an all you can eat feast including hot breakfast, pastries, fruits, yoghurts as well as tea and coffee and juices and milk. My mood considerably improved following our hearty breakfast.
The showers were finally open once we had finished breakfast so we all split between floors and got smartened up. The showers consisted of a single disabled toilet and shower suite in a lockable room, water pressure and temperature were good. Signage was poor. When we got back from our showers the security guy was just leaving. I didn’t understand the role of the security on the sleeping hall. The hall was guarded whilst it was full of people sleeping but was left completely unguarded when everyone was at the juggling hall and all our belongings were left behind. Curious. Needless to say we brought all our bags of stuff to the juggling hall and there they remained for the rest of the convention. We took a chance that nobody would steal our duvet and pillows.
Juggling and lunch
The main hall deserted apart from Nick who looked quite deep into a numbers ball juggling session, we remarked on the amount of room available to us. I worked my way up seven rings with the intention of getting the pattern back under control and I managed some semi pleasant runs of 30 catches or so. This is a pattern that is causing me a lot of aggravation. Quite a few more people arrived in the hall throughout the morning and I joined in with Ed’s beginners passing workshop.
There were quite a few food establishments open on the campus and we elected to go to ‘Noodle iin’ (correct spelling). Jenni had sweet and sour noodles which were just the right amount of sweet and sour, I had the Thai red curry which was flavoursome but just on the uncomfortable side of spicy for my delicate palate. I really enjoyed watching the two guys whipping up the noodles with their big woks, so much so that we ate there again later in the convention (Spoiler!).
After lunch I went along to Joe Fisher’s workshop and really enjoyed playing with arm rolls, tap backs and hits with three clubs. These are techniques I don’t really explore in my own juggling so it was nice to spend an hour working on them all. I particularly enjoyed Ed’s boisterous tap backing and how dynamic moves worked better for him than static ones.
Following from the workshop Jenni and I gathered together some of or things and headed over to the Great Hall to get ready for the show.
The Gala Show
The tech crew (who I believe were part of the university but not the convention) arrived really late and took lots of time to set up. This meant the acts were not given much time to adjust the lighting or juggle on the stage to get a feel for the lights. Once the show was running they did a professional job but they needed to have set up much earlier in the afternoon. The show started late as a result and everyone was kept waiting in the foyer for a traditional amount of time. Pizza was present backstage for all the performers to enjoy (thank you!) so the time passed pleasantly enough.
Andrew Jenkins (El Presidente) was our host for the evening’s entertainments. I thought he was both confident and competent. He got a lot of extra marks from me for bringing a child on stage for us all to laugh at (there was a card trick involved…).
I performed a very imitable ring juggling routine which felt like it was a drop fest so I came away a little disappointed. However, having seen footage of the routine afterwards (thank you Callum!) I actually felt much better about it. The drops do not matter as I have a wonderful (and glamorous) assistant/ring firing machine in the form of Jenni. Available for bookings.
Kevin Cunliffe was our first magician of the evening and I heard a lot of different feedback about the performance. Many people found it strange that there was just a backing track with no real audience interaction. Indeed, having spoken to one of the stage assistances they reported to me that they had no idea what they were meant to be doing on stage at times. I enjoyed the performance but was a little sad to be able to spot how some of the magic was achieved. I enjoyed the levitating table although it was much more amazing when I was watching him practising with it in the empty hall before the show. Nevertheless I found it very entertaining and there were tricks there which I had not seen before. His first assistant on stage was far more glamorous than Jenni. I would have been a bit put out to have performed after Kevin as there was quite a bit of water and tissue paper all over the stage by the time he finished.
Austin was up next performing the staff routine which he performed at Lestival earlier this year. Now then … I really did enjoy the act at Lestival; I found it funny and skilful. This time round though there were a few changes which didn’t work for me. The cat mask was present from the start which (obviously, it is a mask) hid the character’s expressions. I felt that the set up at the start needed expressions from the character or bigger hammy acting so that we could tell what the character was thinking / feeling. It wasn’t so obvious to me that he was fishing this time (the low stage didn’t help) and the diabolo string was not a good idea (resulted in an awkward tangle later in the routine). Perhaps the fisherman can find a cat mask in his bag and become the cattyman staff spinner, and at the end of the routine catch a fish and eat it up cat style? Perhaps even removing the mask and being revolted at eating a live fishy? Anyway, the staff spinning itself was very good but a lot of people in the audience had switched off by this point. It worked much better at Lestival. Excellent stage exit.
The interval happened and I foolishly left my note taking book on my chair which meant Miark was able to write things in it, it is becoming a serious problem (something about the candyfloss resembling a ‘reverse tampon’, Jenni quote…). There was a lot of sweeping the stage which happened.
Elly Sharrock glided onto the stage as a spritely fairy with big sparkly fairy wings. After swooping around for a while the wings came off and she took to the pole and gave a stunning display. There were some amazingly difficult tricks and sequences in there, it looked really difficult! Cool music, lovely bow at the end. She should have left the wings onstage for the stage hands to retrieve after the routine rather than doing it herself. The last thing an audience sees should not be the performer’s rear as they bend over to retrieve something at the back of the stage (a surprising number of people do it at some point during their routines, it is a bug bear of mine). Anyway, good routine.
Rob Woolley was next on stage performing his ring manipulation and juggling routine. It was excellent! I really enjoyed it a lot. He had dispensed with the sinister section (see BJC review 2017) and arrived on stage in lively / orange mode (it was commented to me that a different colour t-shirt would be better, it was all very orange, I like orange but can see their point). The energy was great, the choreography was spot on and the isolations were brilliant. There was a cool through the legs trick. Nice five at the end. I am fairly easy on the subject of singing along to your own music, but it started to get distracting for me (but not as much as sticking out tongue). An excellent routine.
The Magical Mark Watson was our second magician of the evening and was booked specifically to perform his rendition of the classic cups and balls routine. I LOVE IT. I could watch this performance 10 times in a row and still love it. Mark is an excellent showman and magician. Mark smells. He performs the routine with great skill but it is the presentation as much as anything which makes the routine. My favourite routine of the evening although the headline was awesome…
(I put a little something in there for when Mark copies and pastes this section of the review into his quotes document to use on his promotional material, teeheehee).
Joe Fisher was the final act for the show and he performed a flawless club juggling routine. Starting with three clubs and filled with loads of signature club hits and tap backs and hits, building to four and then five clubs. Finishing with a lovely seven club run at the end. It was very tightly choreographed to the music and executed with flair. There was one drop on the seven club run, but he got it on the second attempt. Astonishing.
The curtain call was a little scrappy despite a rehearsal. The compere who is introducing the acts for the curtain call needs to stand aside or at the back of the stage to let the acts get to the front of the stage unhindered and to direct the audience’s attention to each act as they come on stage. They can ‘magically’ appear when it is time to bow (in the middle of the line does work best for directing the acts, thanks Luke) but they should keep out the way. Otherwise, not a bad curtain call, I doubt anyone except me noticed anyway …
Following the show I got changed and gobbled some more pizza before gathering our belongings, saying goodnight to Mark and having an awkward goodbye session with the Fever peeps (you know when you say goodbye but then keep seeing them again … awkward!).
I played some multiple ring silliness with Lizzy, Jamie, Ed and Greg but it did get rather silly so we turned it into a game of Atlantis. I drew the first game on points with Ed but was awarded victory as I had saved more individual lives than Ed. Lives ARE more important than efficiency after all. I was the ultimate target for everyone’s aggression during the second game after my earlier win and I got completely decimated. The renegade show began whilst we were in the final death throes of the game so afterward we headed through to watch the show.
The renegade was actually lots of fun and not just a place for hecklers to hang out. I particularly enjoyed the beer can unicycle and also Polly-Anna singing us a song and making people cry. Also noteworthy, eight ways to mount a unicycle, foot juggling and some hat juggling. Ed, Greg and I also tried a rendition of Champi but with extra soap suds. I suspect that slightly too much alcohol had been consumed so it didn’t run as well as it could have, nevertheless, it was good fun. I desperately wish to perform the full car wash complete with all dance moves in the not too distant future. Watch this space! I also did an improvised three ball routine to a music track Ed picked out, it was quite fun but somehow more nerve racking than the performance earlier in the evening.
The renegade wound up at about 3am so I went off to bed and woke Jenni up by jumping onto the air mattress. Heh heh heh.
Morning = shower + breakfast. Jenni and I went to the same place as yesterday, we managed to get in shortly before it closed, and were able to buy another dodgy cash in hand breakfast. I found Mark in the main juggling hall and so we had our after show discussion and recap which I enjoyed very much. I followed this with some ball juggling and club practise.
I helped out in Ed’s steal and replace workshop which aims to teach the component manipulations of scrambled V and perhaps have groups trying it at the end of the session, this was pretty much achieved. Some groups managed a few shaky rounds of the V which was lovely to see.
I went along to Joe’s setting juggling to music workshop and it was really interesting to hear how someone else approaches choreographing juggling to music. We all juggled to ‘The Big Bad Wolf’ and came up with an interesting mini routine. I liked his thoughts on emphasising different parts of a trick in order to get different images of trick.
The games were held out the back of the main on the before mentioned duck poo encrusted green grassy area. It was a bright sunny day which turned out to be a hindrance for some of the games. Ed and I demonstrated exactly how not to do long distance passing. Entirely my fault, I juggled the wrong pattern despite agreeing verbally with Ed about one second before we started juggling just which pattern we would do. Sorry …
I won club balance endurance and Simon says but only when it went to three up pirouettes. I entered handstand endurance and proved to myself that I had not magically become able to do a handstand, accidently banged my hip on the ground and gave myself a bruise for the next week. Six club endurance was actually ‘who can launch six clubs’ but it was convincingly won by Joe. Surprising number of entrants though. Five club endurance also went to Joe, cursed wind.
Human surfing was especially funny when a surfer’s foot got lost down the back of the carrier’s trousers. I bombed out midway through the juggling limbo. Came second in five ball endurance after fluffing a transition.
I enjoyed watching diabolo in a box as it was mixed with unicycle gladiators which took place around the box. It was pretty amazing nobody got seriously hurt, very entertaining. This was followed by poi Simon says and three club gladiators. Rob beat Joe in the final match, both played very well. That was the end of the outdoor games, although we all went into the hall to watch the long distance card throw which was pretty neat.
Evening food and farewells
After the games I went to Marks magic lecture in which he demonstrated and discussed the methods used for the cups and balls illusion. I really enjoyed it a lot, very informative (great handout!) with plenty of demonstration. I enjoyed hearing about all the presentation choices which have influenced how Mark performs the trick. There was a wealth of information provided for people to take away and look into the routine further. I think everyone found it entertaining and illuminating.
We took another trip back to the Noodle iin and got ourselves some tasty noodles. This time I went for the sweet and sour noodles and they were lovely. Most people were leaving around this time so we said a few farewells. Particularly sad for us to have to say goodbye to Greg and Karen as we wouldn’t see them again before they returned to Canada. So sad, we feel like we have known them both so much longer than we have.
We gathered our things and packed the car and took to the road. On the way out we saw where the sports centre was which had some showers in for use by convention goers. It was a long walk away. I was amazed to find that there were no roads closed on our journey home and we arrived back home without incident after another lovely run along the A59.
What a lovely convention! Thank you ever so much to the Lancaster Juggling and Magic society for putting on the event. It was a really lovely chilled out and well organised affair. There were some niggles around security and shower availability but the venue was excellent and it all just worked. I really hope the convention returns to Lancaster in the future and if it does I will be the first to sign up! I will hope to see you there.
Thank you to our organisers! Photos are courtesy of Jess Renyard and Alex Hunter