Even with a dozen IJA conventions under your belt you have to be psychologically prepared for the Winnipeg Juggling Festival (WJF). Most festivals attract jugglers who have already spent several years in disciplined practice. Now imagine a noisy gym full of 300 9- to 12-year-olds, many of who are excited to distraction by their own collective energy!
It's not an environment for every juggler, but for those who want to see the future it may serve as a crystal ball. The youngsters are coming, and Winnipeg is leading the way!
It's Friday, a school day. Physical educators throughout the Winnipeg area are invited to bring up to 20 students each for a full day of workshops, contests and juggling games. Many physical education and classroom teachers have been at the previous two Winnipeg festivals, have started programs in their own schools and are returning to show of their proteges.
At any moment 100 scarves and hundreds of beanbags fill the air. Games not remotely related to juggling quickly erupt and quickly subside, relieving the frustration of learning to juggle "drop by drop." Those with more experience or self-discipline attend workshops and learn rings, clubs, multiplex and interactive pursuits requiring more structure than tag or target practice.
Since many of Friday's participants would not return for the public show on Saturday night, a street show was held in the gym that afternoon. It featured the Uniclowns from Saskatoon, Mark Pomrenke balancing everything in sight on his chin, Marcel on the devil stick and Jeff Jenkins with scarf juggling from outer space. A Big Toss Up, relay race, juggling games and joggling races rounded out the afternoon.
On Friday night, junior and senior championships were held using the IJA scoring system and seven judges, three of whom were non-jugglers representing other art forms or from the media. The juniors winner was 11-year-old Tanya Wolfe, whose bright-eyed smile and sophisticated formal attire accentuated a ball, club and ring routine backed up by the music of "Puttin' on the Ritz." Tawny Ross was second with a comedy patter routine and third went to Ryan Boone.
The seniors champ was Ed Lamont, whose year on the streets of Europe gave this Winnipeg native a style and stage presence hard to top. Second went to Bob Palmer, half of the Flying Debris juggling team from Saskatoon, and third went to Jeff Jenkins from Edmonton. Prize money totaled $700, with trophies and equipment as additional reward.
Saturday featured workshops and numbers and balance competitions. Sheppy Coodin won round after round in the numbers contest by sustaining a five ball juggle longer than everyone else combined. Pomrenke won the balance contest handily, even running a "victory lap" with a 20-foot bench on his chin. The festival wrapped up that evening with a two-hour public show that included juggling, unicycling, mime and magic. About 500 spectators packed the gym.
The cost of the event was just right -- $5 for two days of camaraderie. Costs were kept down with the help of dozens of volunteers and local sponsorship of events. The $1 cost of the public show went down easily with the many family members who attended. A food booth netted $200 in income and t-shirts produced another $100, as well as making good gifts for VIP's and volunteers.
Pre-event publicity keyed the resounding success. The festival organizers, school teachers Perry Rubenfeld and John Matas, appeared on several local and national children's television and radio shows that originate in Winnipeg. The WJF was the media darling of the weekend for TV and print. Every station sent a crew, and the Friday night news brought flying objects into the living rooms of millions of Canadians.
Dave Finnigan, "Professor Confidence" of Jugglebug, was flown in as a special celebrity guest. Rubenfeld and Matas said his name was used productively in pre-convention publicity. Students, many of whom were familiar with Finnigan, made banners to greet him and brought copies of his books to be autographed.
Rubenfeld said, "He helped organize our juggling games, served as a judge during the competitions and appeared three times in the public show. I believe he doubled our attendance from 250 to over 500, and gave us all plenty of inspiration for next year."
Sunday morning, Rubenfeld and Professor Confidence presented a post-event report during Rubenfeld's third appearance on the popular local show, "Switchback." They were accompanied by two young jugglers, Tommy Alexander and Dwayne Eley, who had written in telling why they wanted to learn to juggle. They were selected before the convention and trained in order to show on TV that Sunday what could be learned with a few days of practice.
Convention organizers are already discussing improvements for the 1988 festival. They plan to create two separate environments. One will be a crucible where struggling beginners can improve their skill, and the other will be a playground for serious practitioners who have earned the right to practice in peace.
Another 1988 innovation will be a certification and coaching program for jugglers who wish to attempt to obtain the achievement awards detailed in "The Complete Juggler." More extensive workshops for adults will be held in 1988, so that while youngsters are learning to juggle, the teachers can learn ways to organize and sustain juggling programs in their schools.
What does the future hold? The crystal ball may say that years from now Winnipeg may stand as a strong model for bringing physical education teachers and pre-teens into the ranks of recreational juggling. For mobilizing the educational system, creating a motivational environment for youngsters, and capturing the imagination of the populace, this crew of volunteers created a successful system that could be replicated by enthusiastic physical educators or classroom teachers everywhere.