One of these evenings, when you're sitting in front of your television set scanning around the dial with the remote control, don't be surprised if you come across The Passing Zone throwing nine or ten clubs.
But, even though I warned you, many people will still be surprised when they see it, because Owen Morse and Jon Wee have somehow gotten a reputation for being convention-only partners, a team that exists only within the confines of a juggler-packed gymnasium. This is very far from true. And there are witnesses across the country who will verify the Passing Zone's existence as a performing team, and a talented one at that.
Morse and Wee have only been performing together professionally since the spring of 1988, but in that short time they have developed a solid comedy show that is playing to more and more appreciative audiences every day. The two men first met at San Jose in 1986, when they were introduced by a mutual friend. Both were into passing nine clubs, and the first part of the foundation was laid.
Although they corresponded a few times during the following year, they entertained no plans of teaming up until the 1987 IJA convention in Akron brought them together again. In Akron, they started discussing "throwing something together" when they got to Denver in 1988 and competing in the Teams Championship. Wee added, "But we also got into some conversations a little bit about just where we were in college and what we wanted to do when we graduated, and we were in similar situations. We both liked team juggling but didn't really have somebody that we were planning on working with."
Over the course of the next year, Morse and Wee expanded their thoughts of partnership to include not only the 1988 Teams competition, but also performing together after they graduated from college. It was decided that Wee, who was to graduate from Luther College (Iowa) in the spring of 1988 would move to Southern California after he graduated to join Morse, who would graduate from the University of California at Irvine the following spring.
Morse thinks that he and Wee were very lucky to find each other when they did, and to have been in a situation which allowed them to team up. He said, "It's not easy to find a partner...to find someone with basically the same skill. I can't think of a single other juggler who I could work with as well as Jon."
The Passing Zone's show combines many of the tricks which took them to the 1989 IJA Teams Championship, while including other routines based on each man's solo abilities. They start out with Wee juggling four balls that make a variety of noises when they hit his hands. Following this they begin passing, which is their specialty. During the course of the show, Morse and Wee pass six clubs with a plethora of tricks, seven clubs with tricks, seven clubs back-to-back, and up to nine clubs. They also pass six machetes on six-foot unicycles.
The show, which also includes three and five ball routines by Morse, a devil stick routine by Wee, and cigar box work by both men, builds to a "towering inferno" finish. In the finale trick, the two juggle torches while Wee stands on Morse's shoulders as he stands balanced on a rola bola.
While the level of the Zone's juggling is incredible, what makes or breaks a performance like this is the comedy. And although Wee and Morse are pleased with the comedy element of their show, they want to make it even better. Right now, they see people as appreciating the show in terms of the juggling first, and the comedy second. Ultimately, they would like to see those rankings reversed. "We'd like to get to the point where people say 'those guys are really funny, and they're great jugglers,'" said Wee.
Performing has been good to the Passing Zone. While most of their work has been in southern California, they have done renaissance fairs around the country, and in January did shows at several colleges in the Midwest. Both men enjoy working together, but they also enjoy the basics of performing. "I think there's nothing more exciting than being on stage and doing a show that really kills, when you have a whole crowd just going nuts. We often just realize that we can't think of anybody who has a better job than us. We love what we're doing," said Wee.
But performing is by no means new to either of the two. Wee has been performing since he was about 14 and had been juggling for only a year and a half. He and two friends in his hometown of Northfield, Minn., became "Three of Clubs" and worked at the Minnesota Renaissance Fair. "We were really pretty bad, but they thought 'we'll let them in,'" he says.
After a few years, he and Kaj Fjelstad continued to perform as "Two of Clubs." Wee also performed for two summers with Tuey Wilson before teaming up with Morse.
Morse, on the other hand, always worked solo before he met Wee. He began performing as a sophomore in high school, when he worked up a 15-minute routine to music and got work through a Hollywood entertainment agency. The routine had a sports theme, and for Morse, it was more than just a juggling victory. "I think of myself as being quite shy, and it was a big step to get up in front of people," he said.
That show got him work at shopping malls and similar venues around Southern California for several years. In 1986, he began working at Disneyland, a connection which has continued to pay off in appearances for the Passing Zone. But now that the two have gotten together, their focus is on the future. Although their ultimate goal is to be on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Morse and Wee are presently just working on getting bookings and improving and expanding their show.
It is in this search for new material and routines that they are forced to think not only about what they would like to do, but also about what the viewing audience would like to see. And they are quick to note that the audience is not necessarily fascinated by the same ideas, or even the same objects, as are jugglers.
"Although we jugglers like to do the balls, rings and clubs stuff, most people don't relate too well to those objects because they're especially made for juggling. Your average person thinks it's neater if you juggle something like tennis rackets or chainsaws or something they can relate to," said Wee.
As they look toward their future, the two men are obviously excited about what is to come. You can tell by talking to them only briefly that they are pleased with the way their career is going, and confident that it will continue to rise. "At this stage, we're really ready to take off and do great things," says Wee. And when you turn on your television set that night, and see them performing, don't say we didn't warn you!
Dave Jones is about to graduate from Grinnell College and come to either the IJA convention in Los Angeles, or the European convention in Oldenburg.