This is a festival review I wrote for JUGGLE magazine, with some minor changes.---Bruce F.
What could possibly make five Michigan jugglers endure ten-hour drives each way to spend mother's day weekend in the Maryland suburbs of DC? To be honest, we all had ulterior motives: Cecelia and I both had mothers to visit; Andreas only had a few months in the US, and wanted to make sure he saw Washington, DC while he was here; and Bill, like Andreas, was looking forward to a little sightseeing.
I was looking forward to showing my friends around DC and to introducing them to the Congress of Jugglers, one of my favorite regional juggling festivals. But when we arrived Saturday at the University of Maryland campus, I realized my friends, and the approximately 150 other jugglers that attended this year, were going to be treated to another specialty of the region--heat and humidity. Indeed, the temperatures outside peaked just under 90 degrees that day, and it was no cooler in the gym.
Determined not to be vanquished by the early taste of a Maryland summer, I extracted clubs from my luggage and found some people to pass with for a while---as always, the club passers were agreeable, and I enjoyed myself. But despite the occasional relief provided by a powerful fan at the gym entrance, I eventually had to admit defeat and sit down. Fortunately, I couldn't imagine a better place in the world to be sitting down than in the middle of this particular gym; the other jugglers seemed less affected by the heat (or perhaps they just weren't as lazy as me), and there was a lot to watch.
Footbag freestyle champion Peter Irish is in himself sufficient reason to attend a DC-area fest; no one should pass up the chance to witness his intricate footwork in the gym. Heather Hackett, Darin Marriott, Peter Kaseman, and other monster passers were a marvel to watch simply for the shear density of material in the air. The open gym was entertaining enough that I didn't bother going to most of the workshops, but I did see Kit Summers put a large group of jugglers through their paces in his 3-club tricks workshop, and I also listened to Ben Schoenberg when he stepped out from behind his vendor's table to dispense his numbers-juggling advice.
The public show that evening was in a ballroom packed with about 400 jugglers and non-jugglers. Bill Allyn set the tone for the evening by addressing the audience from his couch at stage left, where he (and his kids) sat watching the rest of the show while Mike Rosman did the work of MC. As in most of the festival shows I've seen, there was a wide variety of performance styles. The delightfully understated Peter Irish represented one extreme--who needs a fancy script if you're naturally charming and you've managed to prove it possible, in a miraculous combination of footbagging and juggling, to maintain cascades with both your feet and your hands simultaneously? At the other extreme was a meticulously polished routine filled with perfectly timed sight gags, by "Slapstick and Lipstick", better known to most jugglers as Dana and Donelle Tison. (Perceptive audience members noticed there was also another (future) family member on stage.) In between we were treated to acrobatics and unicycling by the Oak View Academy Unicycling Club (whose giraffe unicycles barely fit under the ballroom ceiling), tennis-racquet juggling by John Nations, hoop juggling by the versatile Ben Schoenberg, an audience-pleasing magic show by Robert Strong, and more.
Throw together such a wide variety of acts and the result should be chaos. But Rosman's MC'ing was excellent--his between-act fillers could have made a complete show on their own--and somehow the combination of his unlimited energy with the comfortable presence of the Allyn-family couch made the whole thing work. Everyone, juggler and non-juggler alike, seemed to go home happy---my mom liked the show as much as I did.
So much for Saturday at the Congress of Jugglers. What about Sunday? How were the games? If past experience is a guide, everyone had a blast--I have fond memories from the 1998 convention of making my first attempts at club-gathering and soap-juggling while watching the Unicycle Lady wheel-walk her way to a distinguished last place in the Unicycle Obstacle Course. I'm told that this year Dana Tison awed the gym with a display of numbers juggling pyrotechnics. But I missed it all--my friends and I had taken the Metro into DC, and were gawking at the monuments and museums amid the periphery of the Million Mom March.
So there are lots of reasons why an out-of-towner might want to go to the Congress of Jugglers, and no-one will blame you if juggling isn't the only thing on your mind. On the other hand, you couldn't be faulted if it is; you win either way.