"The IJA has been a catalyst to the growth of juggling around the world." That statement by Art Jennings, the first IJA president, helped kick off the 40th Anniversary Convention in Akron, Ohio, held July 13-19.
Jennings remarks took first-night conventioneers back to 1947 when the organization was founded and set the stage for a mixing of old and new that remained constant throughout the week. About a dozen IJA old-timers were among the 900 jugglers who assembled on the campus of the University of Akron for the week of activities. They included four founders -- Jennings, George Barvinchak, Bernard Joyce and Eddie Johnson.
"The Old and New of Vaudeville" show on Wednesday night demonstrated the historic theme, featuring a number of acts in the classical juggling vein with modern ones.
Jay Green and Johnny Lux represented the golden age of juggling in performing traditional balancing and plate spinning, among other things. Daniel Holzman showed that the lessons had not been lost on younger jugglers in his manipulation of hat, cigar and cane. And Andrew Head reflected Bobby May's lively personality in innovative demonstrations of hat and milk stool manipulation and club juggling.
The 1987 championships were remarkable displays of skill, finesse and personality. The final performer of the evening in the U.S. Nationals, Benji Hill, won the first place medal and $1,000 check in outdistancing his nearest competitor by more than 11 points. Other championships stories can be found throughout this issue of "Juggler's World."
One of the most exciting times for jugglers was the Pepsi-sponsored Field Day. The university athletic fields were the site of a variety of activities -- men's joggling races, the first-ever women's joggling races, the Big Toss-Up, a softball game against the Cleveland Force professional soccer team (we lost, 14-9) and attempts to set a Guinness world record for juggling 16-pound bowling balls.
Members of the general public came by to learn to juggle and enjoy shows on the Pepsi stage. The eventual winners of the People's Choice Award, Bounce & Mlle. Oo-La-La, bolstered their popularity with an outstanding show during the afternoon.
As usual, workshops were scheduled every hour not occupied by major events. More than 30 workshops covered a diverse group of topics that included non-juggling areas like magic, balloon sculpture, physical comedy, rope spinning and baton twirling.
The most popular workshops concentrated on more traditional skills -- three ball juggling with Daniel Holzman, rings with Robert York, cigar boxes with Jeff Daymont and advanced club passing with Martin Frost. Mike Stillwell and Michael Kass led a kickups workshops attended by nearly 300 people!
Speaking of popular attractions... what do conventioneers do at midnight? They go to Club Renegade, of course! The nightly stage show sponsored by the Renegade Jugglers features unscheduled performances by anyone brave enough to take the stage. From midnight to 2 a.m., jugglers played music, jugglers parried verbally with the audience, jugglers did magic, and, of course, jugglers juggled. These R-rated evenings of fun were definitely crowd-pleasing.
While the scheduled events were the backbone of the convention, the real meat of the week was open juggling in the cool, cool gymnasium. Both the main floor and balcony areas stayed full from early morning until the maintenance crew swept people out the door at 4 a.m. daily. The following highlights were observed on the floor:
Add to these highlights some other impromptu events -- like late-night combat juggling and five club joggling races (the winner managed 20 yards) -- and you've got a week of non-stop excitement.
Rounding out the week was the annual public show, "Juggling, And Other Delights." Staged in the Akron Civic Theatre, a restored vaudeville palace, it was a perfect showcase for the multitude of convention talent.
Art Jennings acted as Master of Ceremonies and Miss Tilly directed the Mosquito Lounge Band -- a smorgasbord of musical jugglers playing such instruments as saw, washboard, tuba, kazoo, accordion and trombone.
The program included the club passing and takeaways of newly-crowned Teams Champions Manic Expressions, mime from Randy Judkins, acrobatics from Benji Marantz and Cyrus Koski, and the World Emergency Circus (who performed every chance they could!) Soozie Shireman choreographed a balloons-and-glitter production number that featured a cast of 60.
At an awards presentation prior to the public show, champions received their medals and volunteers got certificates of thanks. In addition, IJA affiliates presented their own awards. Edward Jackman, U.S. Nationals MC, won the second annual Atlanta Jugglers Association "Wild Style Award," while The Jest Jugglers from Ohio presented their first "Best Jest Award" to Lane Stuart for a samurai cigar box routine.
As everyone packed up to leave for another year, they were counting down the days until the 41st convention next July 12-17 in Denver, Colo. Thanks go to 1987 convention coordinators Kevin Delagrange and Tom Bennett for an outstanding job, and wishes of good luck to Tricia Allen, Denver coordinator. See you there!