Madfest 2013 Review

Line of clubs inside the gym.

Line of clubs inside the gym.

The perpetual “47th” annual Madfest took place this year on January 18-20th 2013, at the MATC gym, in its home of Madison, Wisconsin.

As is customary at the festival, the gym practice space was free to enter. The inside was very spacious and provided an excellent juggling area for all the jugglers in attendance. The back end of the gym was partially sectioned off to allow a separate practice space for unicyclists and those wanting to try out the German Wheel.

Madfest goes classic comic book!  The 2013 T-shirt design.

Madfest goes classic comic book! The 2013 T-shirt design.

The vendors at the festival provided a diverse array of goods for festival goers to purchase. The Complete Fool sold poi and various jester/renaissance hats, Madison’s own Mr. Tricks sold various used magazines and equipment, Pass the Props had assorted new props for sale, Sportco Juggling sold their signature beanbags as well as other brands, and Superior Performance Juggling had chainmail balls available for purchase.

There were a handful of workshops scattered throughout the weekend. Doug Sayers taught a workshop on backcrosses, Thom Wall instructed on three and four ball traps, and headlining man Jay Gilligan taught a workshop on two ball multiplex theory, which redefined multiplexing as two events happening simultaneously, rather than the traditional definition of two or more balls being thrown from the same hand at once. Additional workshops included beginning poi, learning to juggle three balls, and a special signup workshop to learn the German Wheel.

On Saturday, the public show took place at The Barrymore Theater. The venue provided a very good stage setup, but was far from ideal in terms of capacity and walking space for the packed house.

Mark Hayward served as the master of ceremonies for the event. Between each act, he made various jokes about the weather in Madison as well as various other one-liners.

The Madison Unicyclists opened up the show, with a large number of unicyclists weaving around the stage in various patterns. At one point, several of them rode across the stage, piggyback, two per unicycle, before the group finished up their act.

Thom Wall was up next, reprising the routine that earned him second place in Individuals at the 2012 International Jugglers’ Association Festival. During this act, he portrays an awkward, yet playful character, who walks out and stares at the crowd while probing balls around his body. Shortly thereafter, beatbox style music starts and inspires his character to launch into a routine of various ball juggling patterns with body throws and body traps, occasionally exiting  to toss handfuls of more balls onto the stage. After the music stops, Wall (in character) shyly greets the  audience, then does a kickup into a brief seven ball juggle while loudly exclaiming “Annnthony Gattoooooo” during  this finale.

Madison is of course known for their club passing, and that’s just what Clean Sweeps did for their act. A handful of the Madison jugglers took the stage and weaved in and out of various intricate club passing patterns. While it was indeed an impressive display, some of the three dimensional patterns where lost from the vantage point of the audience, and because of the advance level passing, the drop count was rather high. Nonetheless, it was still a fun display of obligatory large pattern club passing.

Partner duo Bob & Trish opened up their act with a pure acrobatics segment, before introducing clubs and then going into their trademark acro-juggling poses. The climax of the routine came when Trish did an unsupported shoulder stand on Bob while they both juggled.

Marquee at the Barrymore Theater

Marquee at the Barrymore Theater

Contact juggling was represented by Peter Peculiar (a.k.a. Peter Schoeder) who engaged in a very technical single ball contact juggling routine, utilizing a lot of arm rolls and full body movement. At one point, he executed a neck stall while maintaining a handstand on stage.

Andrea Noel provided one of the more atypical performance pieces of the evening with a balloon routine. Noel, camouflaged in black, walked out manipulating a small man twisted out of balloons. On the stage, there was a standard red balloon and a wooden chair. The movements of the small man were incredibly executed, and the performance oddly moving, as the small man climbed the chair in an attempt to grab the balloon, only to eventually acquire it and float away.

After a brief intermission, Josh Casey performed a short and strange comedy act. Casey took the stage to an epic movie-style score while carrying two large balloons in hand. After a moment of posing to the powerful music, Casey began frantically hitting the balloons with his hands, as they rebounded back and forth on elastic, like a human paddleball. He then went and retrieved two more, affixing one to his leg and one to his head, and finished his routine by putting all four in motion at once, one on each arm, one against his foot, and one pounding against his face.

German Wheel Workshop

German Wheel Workshop

Given that the German Wheel was so prevalent in the main practice space, it was highly appropriate that the next act was Helena Wheel, performing a German Wheel act on stage. Wheel had a macabre theme to her performance as she emerged, dressed in dark corpse-like attire, blowing dust off her limbs, and climbing into the wheel to spooky music akin to what you’d hear in an old horror film. She then rolled back and forth on the stage, doing various rolls and acrobatic maneuvers within the confines of the wheel.

The hip Marcus Monroe was up next. Unlike the previous acts, Monroe spent much of his performance talking on the microphone, doing standup comedy and joking with the audience. Towards the end of his slot, he rode a giant unicycle across the stage, after climbing up a couple willing volunteers. He then closed his act by juggling knives to “Gangnam Style.”

When the curtains opened for headliner Jay Gilligan’s act, the stage was completely covered in juggling props, many set up in intricate ways. Gilligan himself walked out on stage juggling five clubs, and after a moment hit two of them out of his pattern with one of the other clubs. This quickly became a motif, as he then began knocking other props up in the air on the stage, only to hit them out of his pattern and across the stage with other props. At one point during his performance, he began executing solo versions of some of the tricks he performed at the 2012 Shoebox Tour with Wes Peden. For these moves, he began alternating placing various parts of his body through a single ring, and juggling a three ball cascade through them, building up to more contorted and ridiculous combination sequences until a basic cascade was just barely manageable. With rings, Gillian would occasionally throw a handful of rings into the air, and let them fall to the stage, watching as they split beautifully into the air. During one segment, he invited audience members to throw them around his neck while he continued to juggle. Towards the end of his performance, a horn and drum player took the stage to add a live musical element to the performance while he juggled objects in artful ways, picking away at the heaps of props on stage.

In an odd move, it was announced mid-show that an “open mic stage for jugglers” (Renegade Show) would be held in the same venue as the public show, only one hour after the public show’s conclusion. Many jugglers waited around and moved up to the stage, while the packed venue cleared out to just a few dozen people.

The Renegade show was MCed by Marcus Monroe along with some additional assistance by Kendama enthusiast Joe Showers. Acts included Doug Sayers and Jack Denger each doing a quick impromptu technical juggling routine, a hula-hooping duo, some diabolo action, an elaborate card trick, and a strange act involving a seemingly angry juggler yelling, throwing things against the stage, and rubbing himself down with hand-lotion.

One of the running themes of the Renegade Show was Monroe and Showers conducting a “Juggler’s Fear Factor” with three audience members between acts. The first challenge involved trying to execute a neck-catch with a coconut, which got messy pretty quick. The second was juggling two balls and an onion, and seeing who could eat the most onion while juggling. Lastly, was razor-blade juggling, where the remaining contestants had to see who could juggle a cascade with three razor-blades the longest.

The Big Pattern

The Big Pattern

Monroe really excelled as an MC for the Renegade Show, telling jokes and often playfully heckling the performers as they took the stage. At one point, he even used his star-powered cell phone to call John Wee of the Passing Zone to leave a message while on stage. Allegedly, he even got a hold of David Blaine at one point and (while on speaker phone) wished him well in all his magic and endurance pursuits.

The games were held Sunday in the gym space. They included five ball endurance, seven ball endurance, quarter juggling, juggling Simon says, and more. Doug Sayers won several of the events, and for five ball endurance, juggled a 97531 pattern for the first minute of the competition while everyone else juggled a cascade.

The Big Pattern event also took place on Sunday, which saw an organized attempt at a giant pattern involving well over a dozen jugglers passing clubs. It was fun to watch, but with something that big and moving, it was difficult to coordinate without drops happening immediately at every attempt.

Shortly after the Big Pattern, they had a silent raffle. There seemed to be a good number of people with raffle tickets, though the number of prizes offered was very small, and many of them were either used prop donations, or small non-juggling trinkets.

The festival seemed very successful in 2013, with a great turnout and excellent entertainment. Though the weather was cold, there were no snow storms to impede travel. Hopefully this success continues to remain with Madfest for many more years to come.

Jay Gilligan and Doug Sayers passing rings.

Jay Gilligan and Doug Sayers passing rings.

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Nathan is a juggler from Southeast Michigan. He first learned to juggle in college, and has written for the website He previously served as Chairman of the IJA and also held various officer positions. When he is not frantically trying to learn new manipulation skills, he enjoys producing music, acting, and watching horror films.

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