Every professional juggler must create a routine. And without a comprehensive framework, a routine quickly becomes a string of unrelated tricks wishfully held together by cuteness.
Robert Nelson, "The Butterfly Man," has observed that "cheap shot humor works better than art." This is true for those occasions in street theater where a fast draw from an arsenal of wit is necessary. But this philosophy has no place when composing a tight routine for formal presentation or competition. Those occasions call for a unified work of art, not individual flashy tricks or snappy patter.
For the artist, the discipline of sitting down at the drawing board and putting dreams to paper is frequently agonizing. Procrastination often leads to juggling rather than writing, with the mistaken notion that the patterns in the air will settle themselves into a well-structured show by themselves.
The juggler has a truly complex problem when it comes to creating a work of art. The juggler has to think like a visual artist, a writer, a composer and theatrical producer all at once. On top of this, the juggler must undergo thorough self-analysis, so the question of "Who am I?" is answered, giving the artwork emotional stability.
How to tackle this assignment? One solution is to approach creating a routine as a designer solving a problem. The chore is therefore depersonalized and follows a series of logical steps known as "the design process."
The design process is broken down into six stages. At every stage it is essential to write down your questions and observations, making lists and outlines so that you can study the problem easily.
1. Definition of the problem: The designer asks questions, "Who, What, Where, When, Why and How?" to define the boundaries of the problem and lay out the "materials" with which to solve the problem. Out of many questions there emerge solid answers and a clear outline for a routine.
Common questions include: "Who is my audience?" "What props can I juggle with confidence?" "What is my time limit?" "What am I trying to say?" "Is this trick suitable for my character and my audience?" "How do I make transitions smoothly?" "Where do I want laughs? quiet? applause? hat lines?" and "What happens when I drop?"
For every performance, these questions will have different answers. For example, the answer to "What happens when I drop?" in a casual private party may be, "Who cares!" so juggle what you will. If the routine is for competition, the answer may radically change the type of ball one chooses to juggle, thus determining the style and structure of a routine.
No question is too picky. Small details must be considered, especially in competition where unshined shoes, clumsy musical transitions or tacky prop cases suddenly become critical elements. This stage of "the design process" often takes several weeks.
2. Analysis: Exploration of alternatives, obvious flaws, clear-cut solutions and logical order.
3. Incubation: Meditation and juggling.
4. Illumination: "That's it!"
5. Execution: Construction and practice -- the dirty work!
6. Clarification: The critique and analysis from colleagues and teachers. The most important step of the process.
The design process has been briefly outlined here to serve as one approach to the often frustrating creative process. It is important to realize that "the perfect routine, perfectly realized," is a fantasy. Only God can create a perfect work of art.
For the designer -- the juggler -- the satisfaction is not found in the final product. The true joy lies in the process of creation itself, and the learning of one's beloved art form.