John Gilkey is doing a clever "tilt" juggling act with the Pickle Family Circus. The stage is set with a table and other props, all slanting at about 25 degrees. John is carrying a case and wearing a costume which are also slanted. With two balls in one hand and one in the other he finds himself slanting to one side, too, and only by juggling does he achieve balance. The three ball routine lasts about eight minutes.
The character is trapped in a world where everything is a bit off-kilter, slanted to one side - costume included - as the cuffs and the bottom of the jacket are cut at an angle. A large portion of the act is done on top of a table whose sides are cut at an angle, with a pedestal and small staircase also at an angle.
"I find myself in this angular world. I'm standing at this angle, leaning one way, set in an office. Another character, played by Diane Wasnak, comes along and tries to help me out, giving me a slanted briefcase."
Wasnak gets two balls out and puts them in one of Gilkey's hands, making him lean the other way. He throws them to the other side and then leans that way. Realizing that keeping 3 balls in the air straightens him out, he cheers up and begins a 3 ball act, using the entire set. It is a little dance oriented, choreographed nicely to music written for the act.
One popular trick occurs when Gilkey has a ball between his feet, and does a forward roll kicking the ball into the air. It bounces once, and as he is laying on his back, it comes down into a juggle done over his head. He has only been doing this routine for about a month, although he had done parts of it before. He will get a chance to perform it a lot this spring on tour with Pickle.
Gilkey is beginning his fifth year with the Pickles, and this is their first year of only indoor shows. This changes things for the better, as they get to control the lighting and environment, bringing a whole new quality to the show. This was a tough decision, as the circus was based on the concept of raising money for local organizations, and that entailed doing shows outdoors. Now they have different promoters, and no longer perform at day care centers and elementary schools who only had to provide a field of grass. Now that they require a theatre, there is a much bigger risk for a sponsoring organization.
Gilkey began with Pickle as a club juggler, primarily in group passing. In his first year he did a ball spinning and hat and cane act with Tash Wesp. The next year he did club passing with Tash, Joan Mankin, and Donald Forrest. His third year had him club passing with Joan, Karen Quest, and Noah Chorny in an act based on Pandora's box. But this year he wanted to do a solo act.
John says he has learned more than he ever could have imagined. When he was still in school, he had a couple of partners in San Jose, and did company picnics and shopping malls, but it wasn't steady work. He finished fifth in the U.S. Nationals Championship in San Jose in 1986.
Gilkey says this isn't a very technically challenging act, but he wanted to do something more artistic, with movement and style, creating this strange world his character exists in. He knew he wanted something almost normal, but not quite right. He was thinking twisted or slanted. and just went with the idea.
Pickle has a new director, Don Jordan, who helped make the idea work. Doing just three balls gives Gilkey a lot of room to play with character and movement - using the set pieces, his body and face, and 3-inch pink silicone balls.
This season's show is called La La Luna Sea, and runs through June. This is the first year juggling hasn't been the base element in the circus. Absolutely none of the old group passing is now in the show. Noah Chorny does some devil stick, and Noah and John are going to try to put 8 clubs in. There is a lot of acrobatics, featuring performers from China. When this season ends they will begin work on the next show that should have more juggling.