Golden Gate Park on Sunday afternoon is everything a big city park should be. For the work-weary it offers a respite from the 9-to-5 week-long hustle. The streets are closed to cars and people roller skate, bike ride, picnic and wander. All the usual things Sunday in the park is all about.
But in one compact meadow, tucked off by itself, something special happens on Sundays. Jugglers from all over the Bay area meet, just as they have for the past 10 years. They come, novice and professional alike, to hone their skills. It's a classroom without tuition or windows, instructors work without pay. The latest gossip is exchanged about who's traveling in what country, how many balls Anthony Gatto is doing, and what great jobs are opening where.
Marcus Markoni is a street juggler at The Cannery at Fisherman's Wharf. It's an enviable position and hard to get. The auditions are tough, so the act had best be hot. Mark is a Sunday regular at Golden Gate Park.
He started juggling three years ago in Hawaii where he was born. His TV set broke down and he and his roommate needed something to do. Neither had ever seen a juggler in person. They spent a lot of time at the beach practicing simple three ball tricks and seeing who could go the longest without dropping. One day he met his first street performer, the One Ring Circus. He was fascinated. Soon, would-be jugglers were gathering in a park at Waikiki. Jeff Napier and Adam Reid could both do seven balls, and they taught him how to pass. Somewhere he saw Robert Crossley's film, "Juggling," which showed San Francisco street performers. At the first Hawaiian Vaudeville Convention he met The Butterfly Man, The Renegades and Waldo and Woodhead. He joined the IJA. Golden Gate Park was mentioned in "Juggler's World" in the meetings section. It was considered THE place to go for jugglers to get together, play, practice and learn.
He flew over soon and hit the San Francisco streets. But shows that had wowed them in Waikiki totally bombed in San Francisco. The competition was quite simply a lot better. McDonalds counter work paid the bills for the next seven months while he practiced, practiced and practiced some more. It paid off.
He opens with a lot of schmaltz, balancing a chicken on his nose and then throwing it out into the audience with a shout about "poultry in motion." A second and third chicken are quickly added balanced beak to beak, and then, yeeech!... on his tongue!
After that it's into a ball routine. Three ball figure eight, a half-reverse under the leg... Oooh! behind the back... Aaaah! off the head the slow way (rolling one ball off the head) then the fast and easy way (three balls fast across the top of his head) and now the hard way (bouncing them off his forehead).
He moves into a devil stick routine done with a devil chicken. First it rests on his foot for a kick-up. He bats it back and forth, coming down to his knees for disco chicken. It falls to the ground and lands on its beak for "beak dancing!" This pause is perfect for a couple more "fowl" chicken jokes.
"It's torch time, ladies and gents!" The flaming, blazing, torches of death and human sacrifice routine where he can "make a complete ash" out of himself. This part consists of single and double flips, under the legs, behind the back and high into the air. He fire eats two torches one after the other. A real show-stopper. Pretending to eat the third, he blows it out instead.
Mark has come far from his simple beginnings on the beach. He has a cruise ship job lined up and is currently working with Tash Wesp of the Pickle Family Circus on a team show. She plays a twin sister who has him committed. They will be performing at the NightClub Trocadero.
Craig Barnes is a frequent Sunday in the parker, and one of the classiest acts around. A theatrical juggler, he performs as part of a dance and vaudeville revue. It all began eight years ago when he chanced upon a neighbor juggling three tennis balls. He was most impressed. In those days, the infamous Ho Chi Minh Park in Berkeley was a favorite haunt for all kinds of avant garde talent. Barnes found it was a regular Saturday meeting place for jugglers and was soon picking up tricks there himself. After a month he committed to attend his first IJA convention in Delaware, and hasn't missed one since. At the same time, he began jazz and tap dance as a way to improve his overall body movement.
Along the way he developed several routines to music, his favorite number being a three ball routine to a jazzy Manhattan Transfer number, "That Cat Is High." Entering stage left in a kind of collegiate 20's sweater vest over Arrow shirt, he opens with a roll down one arm, then a Mills Mess and into chops. Next come behind the back tosses and some fake up and downs to a bounce off the forearm and foot. He finishes with a neck catch and flip up.
From there it's some terrific hat and cane work in a white shirt and black suspenders. Balancing the hat on his nose, on the cane, then his head, down the arm, drop to foot, up to head and a balance on the forehead.
A quick change to the Russian Dance from "The Nutcracker" and he flies across the stage in full Cossack regalia. The devil stick work in this section is amazing. High tosses for starters, coming down into right and left circles over one stick. He switches to his favorite devil stick prop that not many people use -- a baton that he whirls and twirls and balances on his feet, chin and hands.
All of his routines feature a lot of tricks that don't repeat themselves, and constant movement. A real crowd-rouser is a boogie-woogie number with three clubs to "Bugle Call Rag." In fact, club passing is the kind of juggling he likes best. He doesn't consider himself a solo juggler, so the highlight of each year is the juggler's convention. There he is reunited with "passing friends," like Barry Friedman of Los Angeles and Rich DiGiovanna of Virginia who join him to try 10 and 11 club passing.
As far as nitty-gritty performing experience, he did a four month tour of Japan and Taiwan night clubs. He going through a lot of changes now, recombining an polishing the tricks he already knows. He doesn't want to be a street performer since he's not much of a talker. Instead, his goals are to incorporate more dance and gymnastics into the act with Vegas as a future possibility. He's looking for a partner. It's lonely on the road alone.
A typical Sunday in the park. Lots of talent, lots of fun. A great place to share a pleasant day.