But the winner was 22-year-old Philadelphia local boy Kyle Driggs, a product of the juggling hotbed that the City of Brotherly Love and the Philly Fest have become. But the foreign exoticism was not false, having been earned by three years at the National Circus School in Montreal.
“I just got my diploma; it was exactly the right school to study at to do the work I want to do. When I got in, 600 had auditioned and only 23 were accepted. The audition lasted a week. We did acrobatics, dance, flexibility, strength tests, acting and only in the last two days did they see me juggle,” Kyle explained right after his victory at the festival in Bowling Green, Ohio.
Asked how his parents felt about his running off to a circus school, Kyle said they were with him all the way.
“They are artists. My mom draws, paints, does jewelry; my dad is a writer, does computer design, and plays music. They are creative and were happy to see me follow a similar path, and they were happy to see me stick with something, especially after my short career as a skateboarder. I made money as a juggler in high school, so when I said I wanted to go to circus school, they said, ‘Go for it!’”
Kyle’s mother found him the Philadelphia Jugglers Club, and Kyle has been a friend of club eminence Jackie “Mr. E” Erikson for 13 years. Then, when he was 15-16, Philly juggler Greg Kennedy – two times IJA champ and now touring with Cirque du Soleil – opened his mind, heart, and studio to him.
“He really took me under his wing. He is more than a juggler; he is a creator. I saw his studio; it was life-changing. Then, Greg’s wife Shana, founding director of the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts, integrated me into the school, where I studied from about age 16 to 18. And local juggler Sean Blue became one of my best friends.”
Philly and all its juggling energy launched him toward Montreal: “It was the most intense three years of my life. I would often be at school from 8:30 am until 8 pm, five or six days a week. There was a lot of competition, both in school and after school. Montreal is a hotbed of circus arts. I learned French, and my creative processes ramped up to more than 1,000%!”
Kyle is now working on four or five projects that he hesitates to talk about as they are mostly works in progress and he does not want to jinx them. One of his biggest current projects is the founding of a new contemporary circus company with four of his friends from the school in Montreal. The company is entitled ‘Cirque Ceans,” the latter word being an old renaissance French word meaning “here, now, in the present moment.”
Another project is working next year with the Montreal circus group, Les 7 doigts de la main (the 7 fingers of the hand), a twist on a French idiom about how the five fingers of the hand are different but are tightly united in moving toward a common goal. The name comes from the company’s seven founders.
And there is of course pursuing his solo act – the one that blew away Bowling Green – as well as writing his own show with friends.
Bowling Green was the first time Kyle had performed for what was essentially an audience of jugglers: “To have this number so well received by the juggling community really shows that the hard work paid off and a great success!”