If you've been to any of the last eight IJA conventions, or any recent regional festivals, odds are you've noticed a thin man with a long, braided ponytail and a constant smile on his face working with boxes, spinning balls and a Cabbage Patch Doll.
Apart from the ponytail and smile, the most noticeable thing about Jeff Daymont is that he is a cigar box monster. His innovative moves draw the attention of fellow jugglers whenever he is around. The workshops he teaches are always well-attended and well-regarded. But most people don't realize that the man behind the boxes is an excellent all-around juggler as well. In addition to the three- and four-box tricks that are the forte of his repertoire, Daymont is an accomplished club passer, five club juggler and ball spinner.
Daymont learned to juggle eight years ago as a high school sophomore in a Chicago suburb. His school had a juggling club, which initially piqued his interest. After that, his social life helped him progress at a rapid pace. "I was pretty much a social outcast, so I practiced a lot," he said.
"Fortunately, I didn't see really good jugglers close up until I was prepared for it," he added. That exposure to "really good" jugglers came at the Spring Fling festival in Lake Forest, Ill., in 1983 and at the Purchase, N.Y., IJA convention that summer.
Daymont saw and learned a great deal at the Purchase convention, and decided to come back the next year and compete in the Juniors Championships in Las Vegas. He finished next to last. "I knew my routine wasn't that solid, but I had invented some box tricks that were unique, so I thought I'd just go out and have some fun and show off the stuff that might not have been seen before," he said.
Despite the poor finish, he enjoyed the experience. "It was really inspiring, because I got responses from other jugglers.... A lot of people remembered my whole personality, that I was positive and I didn't get frustrated when I dropped. That was because I knew I wasn't going to win!" He says many people still remember him from that competition.
The next year in Atlanta, he rose to a fourth place finish. But that was his last competition attempt - until this year. Daymont says he plans to enter the Seniors Championships at the IJA festival in St. Louis this summer. It will be an interesting opportunity for jugglers to see the talent he has developed while performing for a living over the past few years.
He has worked mostly at Renaissance Faires since he cutting short his college career after his freshman year. He was attending the University of Kansas in Lawrence when he made the decision to give full time juggling a try. "About halfway through the first semester I figured out I'd rather be juggling full time than be a full time architectural engineer, so I took another semester of theatre classes and stuff that was interesting to me and started performing at Renaissance Faires," he said.
It has proved to be a very good experience, allowing him to make a living and giving him ample time to practice and improve his show. He also likes the set-up of faires, what he describes as a "very sheltered street performance." There are seats for the audience, performers don't have to deal with passers-by or drunks, and spectators want to be entertained.
While the Renaissance circuit has been good to Daymont, he aspires to bigger and better things. "Now that my show has developed a lot more, I want to start spreading it to other places," he said. Last summer he worked at Universal Studios in southern California, and in the future he hopes to street perform in Europe.
He currently performs ring spinning and ball spinning in his act, along with juggling three to seven balls and cigar boxes. Perhaps the most interesting part of his show, though, is that which deals with Sergei, his Russian Cabbage Patch Doll "partner." Sergei does some impressive tricks during the show, including "leaping" up from Daymont's foot to a headstand on the blade of a dagger which Daymont holds in his mouth. Later, during the cigar box routine, Sergei is used as the third box after Daymont drops one. This certainly makes Sergei, who is named after Sergei Ignatov, the most versatile Cabbage Patch Doll performing today.
Despite Sergei's versatility, it is still Daymont's cigar box work that gets the best response from audiences. His style is more than just tricks in succession. He puts moves together in a flowing, moving manner - a style inspired by Charlie Brown, whom Daymont met at the Las Vegas convention in 1984. "Charlie Brown had just developed his own style of spinning boxes a lot, rather than the static, Kris Kremo style of standing in one place and switching boxes. (Charlie) did rolling tricks that I really admired. I had already developed some things in that direction, and Charlie's work enhanced my own," Daymont said.
It is this "new" style of cigar box work that Daymont teaches at workshops and informally at festivals. His advice to future box-monsters? In a nutshell - 1. Keep your back straight; 2. Use your legs; 3. Throw the boxes and see where they land when working on tricks; 4. Follow through ("If you do a trick, think of what would be a nice way to follow it up, to either keep that motion going, or reverse it."); 5. Use movement ("There's a lot of ways to move around a stage while you're performing with cigar boxes, and you don't necessarily have to stand in one place, just switching boxes.")
And last, but not least, try to CREATE.
For Daymont, creating smooth, moving series of tricks is the goal. "Usually I'll end up with several tricks that are unusual in themselves, but when you combine them, they lead one to the other," he said.
Creating new and unusual moves and routines is important to Daymont. "What Darn Good & Funny did in the competitions (at the IJA festival in Los Angeles) made me think, 'that's the kind of response I want to get from people, that's the feeling and emotion I want to get.' They created a nice looking picture."
In his own attempts at creativity, Daymont has found a unique, successful, and fattening method of creation. "I eat chocolate chip cookies, either the Chips Ahoy striped cookies or the soft-batch chocolate-chocolate-chip cookies, and sit back in my tent and think about juggling. And it's usually when I just start to fall asleep that I'll think of an image that's incredible.... Sometimes I'll go ahead and try it out in the middle of the night. A lot of them are physically impossible, but there are others that are just gems."
If all it took were cookies, we could all be great jugglers. But unfortunately it is not that simple, so people like Jeff Daymont rise to the top.
Dave Jones is a Juggler's World staff writer living in Altoona, Penn.
Pedro Morales is one of my fellow performers now on the Famous Cole Indoor Circus. He is working two acts in the show - hand balancing and foot juggling.
Morales, 44, began to perform in his father's hand balancing act at age four. His father, whose multi-talented family had produced as many as seven different acts, taught him the basics of foot juggling. By the time he was 12, young Pedro had framed his own act, which has remained essentially the same from that day to this.
Lying on an inclined "bed" that elevates his legs, Morales "pedipulates" (or is it "antipodates?") three differently shaped props which are handed to him in turn by his wife, Sheila. They are a long cylinder, a Maltese cross and a large, heavy barrel. He spins them in three different planes and turns them end-over-end solely using his feet. I have never seen him drop. Two things that are impressive about Morales' act are the large size of his props and the speed with which he causes them to spin and tumble. The effect is heightened by the sparkling decorations on his props.
Morales regards foot juggling as a second act, with hand balancing as his primary act. "Today there is only a handful of performers whose main source of income is juggling," he said. "That wasn't true 20 years ago. Today juggling is, for most circus people, a second act."
Among those who are earning their living solely from juggling, Morales most admires Rejean St. Jules "for his style," and Wally Eastwood, "for his speed." His friends in the professional juggling community include Benji Hill and Jerome Ellis.
Among other antipodists, Morales especially commends Australian Doug Ashton, who foot juggles two objects simultaneously, and Chester Cable, a Guinness record holder for his ability to foot juggle such large, heavy objects as a dining room table.
Though born near the end of the "Golden Age of Vaudeville," Morales waxes nostalgic about the period. With his father he worked hotels, clubs and burlesque houses all over the U.S. and Canada. "We could play a year of two-week stands in Montreal with no repeats," he said. This enabled the Morales family to live for extensive periods in Montreal, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. He now lives in Brandon, Fla., with his wife. His son, Paul, who used to perform with them, has decided instead to pursue a career as a boxer.
During his childhood on the road, Morales attended as many as eight different schools in a single year. His family also used the Calvert School correspondence course to educate their son. He is a Civil War buff, and visited many of the sites of that conflict during his travels. During a performing hiatus in the 1970s, Morales studied engineering at a community college. For a time, while his young son finished elementary school, he worked as a plumber.
By 1981 he decided to get back into show business, and was amazed to find that "what was, was no more." In the '50s, his father had begun branching out from vaudeville. The family worked fairs and television shows, including Circus Hall of Fame, the Ed Sullivan Show, Super Circus, Big Top and the Bozo Show. In the '60s they worked fairs and conventions. By the 1980s the only work left was on tented and indoor circuses.
In spite of all the changes in show business, Morales still loves it, and his enthusiasm is infectious. His advice to jugglers wishing to turn professional is this: "Work comedy. Today's audiences have been saturated with the unique and bizarre through television. It's hard to impress people with skill alone. Try to be unique, practice hard and hope to get lucky!"
Mariah Skinner performs with the troupe "Skin & Bones."