Saturday, February 10, 2018

[Reflecting on 20 Juggle Jams] The Early Years: Juggle Jams 1–5

The cast of Juggle Jam 1
Venturing off on my own after 6.25 of childcare management was bittersweet. On the one hand, I had more workday flexibility and tuition percentage as a contractor of Edina Schools; on the other hand, I had no adult support staff (other than Wendy, working full-time as a graphic designer) and I was only beginning what proved to be a 4.5 year circumstantial depression arising from our infertility news in May 1998. So yes, I “loved my work” and was “living the dream,” but the struggles as a new small business owner seemed legion.

But I knew the show must go on! Despite my personal and professional challenges (including a 50% pay-cut when I left Wise Guys), I showed up Monday through Saturday at my seven weekly clubs. In Winter 1999, with sights set on our revamped show and our 4th IJA Festival trip, I led a campaign among my 50 jugglers to re-name our company. Our top three choices were “Edina Youth Juggling Company,” “Juggle Jam,” and something Wendy proposed: “Jugheads.” Whereas the older kids preferred the suburb-specific moniker, the younger Rec.-level kids overwhelmingly voted for “Jugheads,” and that name stuck. The 3rd option was adopted to re-name our show.

That April, I took Wendy to an all-star figure skating show for her 30th birthday. Right out of the gate, the pros appeared on the ice in solos and groups, performing samples of their most difficult and entertaining moves. Earlier that year, I had purchased a CD by The Brian Setzer Orchestra, and his big band revamping of “Rock This Town”especially grabbed my attention. With less than two months to go, I used that song to create our first Juggle Jam grand opener. All 50 Jugheads juggled together along club-based lines with intermittent solos of our top performers. That year also began my director’s cold opener, preceding “Rock This Town” by introducing JJ’s 1-5 as Jesse Ventura, Rod Serling, Jed Clampett, Gandalf, and Elwood Blues.

In addition to our cold and grand openers, JJ1 saw Wendy greatly upgrade my vision of an awards ceremony set to Rudy music as seen in ‘96 & ‘97. With the help of parent volunteer Scott Harr, she took portraits of each Jughead, typed in my awards, and created a presentation (including group shots and candids) underscored by “Rudy: Main Title” by Jerry Goldsmith and “Stay Gold” by Stevie Wonder. This solved my emotional inability to read the awards live, and even adults with no Jugheads in JJ1 cited the Slide Show as a highlight.

I have tried to instill patriotism in my Jugheads from the start, before it was either cool or controversial. I choreographed “The Stars and Stripes Forever!” for The Performance Team in JJ1 which we took to the MN State Fair Amateur Talent Contest Semi-Finals. I repeated that routine in the wake of 9/11 with JJ4’s re-named Ultimate Club. (FYI: P.T. in JJ’s 1-3 was audition-based; U.C. is standards-based.)

In 2000, I formed my first SLT to help plan the show. The SLT felt strongly to trace our new-and-improved show’s numerical name to our JH independence, not to our trilogy of W.G. shows. Hence, Juggle Jam 2000 (aka JJ2) graced two evenings that May, wherein we had 3rd graders for the first time. It wasn’t until JJ3 that I finally moved our shows to a Fri.-Sat. night tandem, less concerned with families who had cabin conflicts or other seasonal duties. As far as rosters, we jumped to 70 kids in JJ3, 100 in JJ4, and 120 Jugheads in JJ5!

An especially heart-warming aspect of those early Juggle Jam years was the number of kids who started with me as Wise Guys and continued several years as Jugheads, steadily expanding our age range: 9th, 10th, 11th. Next month, I’ll feature the joy of running the gamut of high school, fueled by hearty rosters, international awards, persistently involved parents, and the depth of our members’ commitment, fulfilling my calling and dream of self-employed, mentor-based youth work.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

[Reflecting on 20 Juggle Jams] Emerging Traditions: The Wise Guys Prequels

Introduction. There is something special about multiples of five in celebrating birthdays, careers, and marriages. This six-part monthly column series celebrates this double-deca-milestone in our annual Juggle Jam tradition. I’ll start by crediting our three “prequels,” the childcare-based Wise Guys Youth Juggling Shows (1995-1997).

Part 1: “Emerging Traditions: The Wise Guys Prequels”
Anyone familiar with the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas knows that the central plotline is that Charlie Brown attempts to direct his Peanuts peers in their Christmas play. He dives in head first but hits many roadblocks, including much criticism for his emphatic choice of a rather pathetic Christmas tree. Even though the show doesn’t depict the end product of the Peanuts’ play, Charlie Brown found the true meaning of Christmas and a supportive community.

Like other pop culture references in my own life, I resonate with Charlie Brown in many ways. When I succeeded in teaching three 4th graders to juggle in July 1994, I had no plans for any future shows let alone successful clubs. Those three initial kids yielded 10 in Fall ‘94, forming a weekly elective club commitment within Wise Guys (the older childcare program of Edina KIDS Club) to learn and develop as jugglers and friends.

When we grew to 24 kids by the winter of ‘95, I decided (somewhat reluctantly) to put on a formal show at the end of the school year. We scheduled the old South View Little Theater for the Wednesday after Memorial Day. Fittingly (perhaps a subconscious nod to my animated directorial predecessor), I chose “Linus and Lucy” (Peanuts’ jazzy theme) as our opening song. The choreography was very minimal (up to one ball each) and our finale was also quite humble: kids entering the stage one at a time to show their best juggling to “Sweet Home Chicago.” We had emcees, a dance specialty act, and special pro guest Craig Carlson performing juggling, magic, and acrobatics.

A year later, 39 Wise Guys Jugglers from two clubs graced the old Edina Community Center Auditorium. In addition to a much more spacious stage, our upgrades included seven specialty acts (with yours truly, prodded on by the kids), our first rendition of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to send off our inaugural group of kids to an IJA festival, and our first version of an Awards Slide Show in which I read all the kids’ names and awards as they walked onstage to Rudy music. We reprised “Sweet Home Chicago” for our finale on a lone Wed. night.

In 1997, we were up to 53 jugglers in three clubs with production values trying to keep pace with the company’s success. This was the first year with no “outside” guests (the Twin Cities Unicycle Club performed in ‘96), but we invited non-jugglers from Wise Guys to perform: the Danceline Club and the Drama Club. World-class juggler Jay Gilligan choreographed a routine for our IJA Club (now Elite), and we ended the show with “Reach” for the first time with the same basic theme and structure that has lasted for 20+ years.

I didn’t direct a show in ‘98 for two main reasons: my Wise Guys Asst. Manager/Asst. Coach, Carrie Proctor, was on maternity leave, and I was burned out from six years of intense management duties (including expanding the juggling program to Saturdays, gigs & festivals). Also that spring, Wendy & I were diagnosed as infertile; that summer, I resigned my manager post to coach youth full-time.
Next month, I’ll highlight our new name, further upgrades, and continued efforts to reach for youth development through a spring variety show which celebrates this supportive community.