By: Afton Benson
Photography by: Alex Hoffman of St. Louis, MO
The 8th annual 2015 St. Louis Jugglefest was presented by the National Prestigious Society of Collegiate Jugglers’ (NPSCJ) of Washington University in St. Louis, MO. Justin Finkel, Reid Schur, and Arron Kruse were the key players who made this festival happen. Jugglefest is a small festival with many of the friendliest jugglers you’ll find.
Friday night included a renegade show hosted by Thom Wall and Chloe Somers Walier. The bubbly duo ran an efficient and hilarious show, in which Brian Koenig included a bit of audience participation: the individuals balanced Solo Cups on their foreheads and whoever caught 3 ping pong balls in the cup won the grand prize of $5.00. The remainder of the evening featured an improvised version of an audience member’s life from Chloe and Benjamin Domask, as well as a taste of Thom and Chloe’s duo act Paddleballers, their acrobalance paddle ball wielding routine! Thom displayed an awesome classic Daikagura balancing trick, where a ball is balanced on a pedestal on his chin and then tipped back onto a pedestal on his forehead. (Check out David Cain’s article on eJuggle.) Former NPSCJ President Dylan Giggs played a rockin’ acoustic folk style song, Eli Portala did a few card tricks, and Chad Lunders presented his unique talent of storytelling with string art. Copper Santiago presented a beautiful diabolo routine filled with smooth manipulations, weaving the diabolo around her arms, legs, and body. Last up for the evenings renegade show was Michael Karas, who began by juggling a tire iron, jack, and the crank for the jack – an odd but delightful mashup of items. He made his way through some club juggling, including what he calls “Knitting,” (Wes Peden’s popular trick of flats over the wrists into penguins) and a variation on Rubinstein’s Revenge which he has named Romeo’s Revenge. Rings rolled in next with a few ear to ear face rolls, Bramson rolls, and an impressive multiplex throw into a 3 ring stack balance.
The festival hosted workshops and discussions from all the showcase performers. On Saturday, Thom Wall hosted a club balance workshop, Chloe Somers Walier held a flexibility and stretching session, Benjamin Domask presented movement and juggling, and Christ Jost did a workshop on Eric’s Extension. On Sunday, Michael Karas led a workshop featuring tricks for 3-5 balls and 3 clubs, and Jacob Sharpe did a question and answer session. I decided to see what Chloe’s workshop was all about and it was fantastic She was an attentive instructor and was able to clearly explain and assist everyone on each move, even though there were at least 20 people in the workshop. We did a variety of stretches and worked on handstands with partners. All in all, a really great workshop that built confidence and trust between the jugglers in attendance. The space for juggling was a little small, but everyone seemed to make it work well. It was also a beautiful weekend and there was joggling and volleyclub outside. A unique part of the gym on Saturday was Hiroshi Tada, a St. Louis street performer who specializes in tops! He had a variety of tops and truly enjoyed sharing and teaching people about each one.
‘Graham Chapel’ was the location for the Jugglefest showcase. The chapel is a lovely space that has all the ceiling space a juggling show would ever need. Benjamin Domask was the evening’s emcee, and the show never ran into a proverbial wall. Benjamin specializes in corporeal mime and demonstrated some of his skills throughout the evening.
Thom Wall got the evening rolling with a teacup routine he developed at the Celebration Barn Theater. You’ve never had tea like this, though. Cups were flipped, balanced on his forehead supported by three spoons, and sugar cubes were stacked. This was not your Grandma’s tea!
Michael Karas’ routine held a bit of everything. He began with a ball routine that held a mashup of factory style tricks, traps, and body rolls from his head, arms, and neck. Michael knows his way around all of his props and displayed a beautiful array of multiplexes using a variety of ring sizes and colors that was wonderful to watch. His routines were calculated out in such a way that they stayed on beat with the songs that he’s using, which is an added treat to observe.
Thom was back with his mouth stick routine that won him Bronze at the 2014 IJA Individual Championships. This act features balancing and flipping both a bottle and a glass on a variety of mouth stick apparatuses. One of the most impressive balancing feats included stacking 6 wine glasses while balancing them on a dagger that was held in his mouth. The highlight of Thom’s routine was both shocking and awe inspiring; he balanced a balloon on a dagger with a candelabra on top, and then the balloon bursts and the candelabra falls perfectly onto the dagger as if the balloon had never been there, showing that Thom has become a master of modern vaudeville.
Chloe Sommers Walier brought a small sample of her unique bottle walking routine, where she walks in sparkling high heels across the tops of bottles. Though the routine was short, it was quite impressive and Chloe’s bright personality continued to shine as she scooped up her bottles and playfully exited the stage.
The evening’s headlining act was Jacob Sharpe, who made you think that he was born with juggling props in his hands. Jacob swept around the stage juggling 4 balls which held multiplexes with claw removals, arm stalls, and a 3 ball multiplex backcross. During his ball routine, he brought out the classic juggling apple (insert juggler groan). No, it’s not what you think – performers get hungry, too, people! Jacob ate part of the apple calmly and then tossed it to an audience member for safe keeping. He then preceded to do a 6 ball half shower, and wowed with an 8 ball cascade. The audience got to hear a rendition of ‘Tomorrow’ by Jacob, from the musical ‘Annie.’ To wrap up the evening, he broke out the diabolos and rocked the stage with his unique flowing style. There were behind the leg catches, wraps that twisted the diabolo around his legs and torso, and tricks where the diabolo sticks seemed to chase after each other to contain the diabolo. 4 diabolos brought a great deal of applause, but uproarious applause came from his 4 up pirouette with the diabolos and closed the show for the evening.
This was my 3rd year attending the St. Louis Jugglefest and was one of the best years. A few tips for attending this festival:
- Talk to people. This is one of the most engaging group of jugglers and everyone is happy to help and give suggestions on a place to grab food.
- Take a workshop. St. Louis had some amazing people leading workshops.
- They always have peanut butter & jelly sandwich supplies for everyone. It’s St. Louis’ unique gym feature.