This was my first juggling gig. It was at a different college with a new crowd and no money on the line so I had nothing to lose. It was a really no worry deal for me, excepting that I might screw up in public and drop and a rolled newspaper on my face, with one end laced with flaming Sterno.
I spent the afternoon in anticipation, planning, and practice. I had decided that I would wear my clown outfit consisting of: basic black and white Chuck Taylor sneakers, tye-dye socks, huge blue jeans, red ribbed 70's button up shirt, red and white plaid suit jacket, and a shiny green tie. And, of course, my blue afro wig. By dinner time I was already into the get-up and out in the street in front my house trying out some new club tricks while riding my skateboard. I was thinking for a finale trick I might to juggle a basketball, a machete, and a torch will riding my skateboard across the stage. Scratch the b-ball, that might be too hard. Two machetes and a torch. After dinner, I continued to practice by passing clubs with juggler Jesse and checking out his amazing 5 club moves (he is is my mentor. The machetes actually belong to him). In the mean time, I was thinking of how I might put my act together. I got the idea that I could juggle a roll of toilet paper, pulling it out of my pocket after I dropped something else, yell "Oh, shit!" and keep going. Jesse recommanded the old rubber egg stunt.
I picked up a couple of apples in the cafeteria. I was thinking I could either dice them with the machete or perhaps eat one as I juggled. I worked on juggling some listening to "We're the Punks" by Slapstick on my ska compilation CD, thinking I might start of my routine juggling to that. It's fast and had a good beat and switched it up fairly often. I liked those qualities.
The time to leave was nearing, and I was about to make myself late because I was juggling in a dorm lobby. I rushed back to my house, grabbed some pumpkin bread, threw everything I thought I might want to use during the show, donned my blue fro and took off for the distant campus.
I had trouble finding the theatre but it wasn't my fault-- I only knew that it was called "the theatre" and I figured on a small campus it would be easy to find. It took me three tries. The event happening was the "Horace Cabaret", a variety show in honor of Horace Mann, the founder of Antioch. It was being hosted by my friend Jordan and co-hosted by a woman named Shanda. At Jordan's suggestion, they had given themselves the persona of Southern revivalist preachers.
"Good Evening Brothers and Sisters, welcome to our church. We got a great show for you tonight. Can I get an Amen out there?"
Some of the college kids had found the costume shop, so I wasn't the only one with a wig one, although the other crazy wig wearers had old man gray wigs and they didn't seem quite as fun. I got a few props on my outfit from the stage crew.
The stage wasn't what I had imagined. It was on ground level with the audience rising up from there. It was big enought for me to roll around on my skateboard, and I was stoked on that. I checked in with Jordan and found out I was slated to go on as the 9th out of 12 acts. I inquired if he'd gotten the camping gasoline as I had asked him to. They were on a tight budget, so he'd gotten Sterno instead. Sterno is not like gas. Sterno is purple and lumpy, perhaps reminding you of napalm. I had only juggled fire twice in the past, both times with gasoline (not recommended) and both times with homemade torches of newspaper and hospital tape (not recommended either). They were already a little shorter and misshapen from these previous uses. I was worried the chunky Sterno might fly off the torch as I juggled, either sticking to my face or finding it's way into the audience and leaving permanent burn scars. That would be bad.
Jordan suggested I try them out back stage before I go on. I thought it was good idea and mentioned a water bucket might also be a good idea. When the water bucket arrived, I dipped a torch in Sterno, lit it and proceeded to flip it over casually several times it my hand, for the benefit of the Theatre Manager who had now arrived. Each of the first 3 tosses I dropped the torch on the floor.
"I do better with 3" I explained to the onlookers. Happily, the Sterno didn't fly off in flaming chunks and I trusted that it wouldn't happen during the show either.
I wanted to do some kind of finale trick riding my skateboard, although I had never tried to ride it while juggling machetes or flaming torches.
There was a large backstage and I practiced riding around backstage juggling 3 machetes with satisfactory results. Good enough to do in the performance, I thought. As for the 3 torches, I wouldn't get to practice with them it until I was actually on stage.
I had brought my CD to play, but Jordan had bungled the CD player. However, there was a kind of house band consisting of a pianist and a guitar player that was willing to back me up. Cool.
So, I had some time to kill before I went on stage. As nonchalantly as a blue afro wearing, plaid suit sporting kid could be, I made my way to the back row of the audience to watch the first few acts. I still didn't have anything specific to made up to do for my routine, but I felt chill about it, just kickin' back and watching the first few acts. They happened to be a pianist, an opera singer, and a poet. During the 3rd act, I was getting jittery about my routine. Between acts, I slipped backstage to see how far away I was from going on. I practiced some more.
I didn't pay much attention to the other acts until I went on myself. I familiarized myself with the innards of the theatre, finding the all the hanger outers, including the drunk musicians corner, the dark pot smokers den, which was emitting sounds reminiscent of paint being huffed from a bag, although it was probably just a special bong, because when the happy stoners later emerged, they had none of the tale tale signs of paint smudges around their mouth and nose. I also found the pot smoking chillin' NYC hip hop boys, seeming too cool and hang with anybody else, or maybe just not knowing anybody else, or maybe just wanting to get away to smoke their weed. Realizing my attire, I didn't try return their hard bloodshot stares, but smiled my best clown smile and juggled as I walked by.
One of the women backstage wanted me to teach her how to juggle. She's trying to pick up the juggling clown I reasoned. "Sure I'll show you". I gave her the five minute tour of how to juggle, which is never enough for anybody to learn, unless they are phenomenal. She starts to grasp the essentials, but soon returns my hacky sacks I had loaned her.
I'm nervous about the show, and go over to my gig bag and lay out what I think I'll use and what I think I won't. I copped out on the rubber egg gag. There were one or two acts left, and I went back to audience to check them out, not being able to walk around nervous anymore. Jordan finally announced me, in his increasingly realistic drunken southern revivalist preacher persona. The intro was: "And next we've got some circus craziness. straight from Barnum and Bailey, he got kicked out for being a drunken clown--MARK STOSBERG". That was not true.
So now that I'm finally up, I'm in the audience instead of backstage. So I unstylishly emerge my blue from the crowd cross the stage to backstage, holding up my hand in the universal "1 minute" sign. I had to get my gig bag. Some southern revivalist co-host was following me backstage telling me
"your on, your on". Like I didn't already know.
I grab the bag, stride to center stage and set it down. I talk to the musicians and ask them to start. A jazz rift appears.
I wave my hands up. "A little faster.", "Faster".
"Oh, so you want a punk rift", the early thirties guitar player says.
"Yeah, that'd be great".
He starts in and the piano player joins. It's fairly fast, it's got a beat, and it's repetitive. Good for juggling.
One reason I didn't rehearse lines and witty comments was because then I'd have to try and remember them, which I wouldn't. I'd stumble over my obviously rehearsed lines. So I just went with whatever would come naturally to me. I knew it wouldn't be much.
"I've got some spontaneous juggling for you tonight". That was my opener and about all I ever said, except for "Thank you" at the end. The rest was nonverbal pointing, gesturing and expressions.
I grabbed my 3 stage balls out of a plaid coat pocket and went to work. Forget a buildup, I just jumped it with the craziest shit I could do, crossing my arms back and forth all the time, and trying to throw in ever trick I could remember (that I could pull off on most tries). As I predicted, I dropped a ball a few times and forgot the tricks I thought would forget. Applause for the crazy cross armed stuff and juggling under the leg.
I dropped a ball once more and didn't bother to chase it. I was keeping up this fun, confident, laid back stage persona, and I liked it a lot. No nervousness now.
I rummaged through my back quickly for my next stunt. I pulled out a small basketball and threw that in the pattern to replace the one I dropped. I didn't have any real basketball tricks worked out, so soon I tossed it over my shoulder and went back to bag. minor applause. Rubber egg? no. Bouncy balls? no. Apple? ok. I hadn't even thought about doing the eat-the-apple trick on stage. I went right into it, starting to take bites out of the apple. Apple under the leg. another bite...Ok! next trick. Apple down. Applause for the apple.
I grabbed the clubs. Nice big shiny. I started working them. double spins, triple spins, floaters, under the arm, a few chops back and forth. None of the craziest stuff I could do, cause I wanted to keep it smooth.
Looking down, "oh shit!", I still had the toilet paper in my other pocket. I meant to throw it in with the balls, but this would have to do. drop a club and pull out the TP and let in fly. Wahoo! It unravels everywhere the air. I throw it high, keeping it going until I can't see for the paper. I'm feeling a good vibe from the crowd.
Keeping the pace up, I toss the toilet paper and go back to the depleted bag. Machete time! I pull out the 3 big army surplus knives each in their own sheath. I pull one out. murmurs in the crowd. I pull out the other two and smash/rub them together. "SHINGGG, SHINGGG". they make that loud metallic knife sound. It feels good. Gasps from the crowd. I hold two in one hand, one in the other. I shake the one, nervously, toss it once over in my hand. I give a small pause and exhale, as I if where a tennis layer before the serve. toss. toss. toss.
I'm in the pattern. These are real machetes, not shaped or weighted for juggling and they kept spinning awkwardly, making each catch uncertain. 10 or so tosses and I finish flawlessly. Applause.
Again, I give the "one minute symbol". I disappear backstage, this time with the drunken revivalist co-host yelling "fire! fire!" at me. I don't respond. I grab my skateboard from behind the curtain and bring it out, showing it to the audience. They understand. "ohhh" they collective respond. I move the mat off the stage and kick off some residual peanut shells from a previous act. I take the machetes and the skateboard to one side. murmurs in the audience.
There is no turning back here. I push off and start juggling the machetes. I float across the stage. on the far side, I stop my skateboard, catch the machetes, turn to the audience and bow. Big applause. Yeah.
Back to the bag. Out come the torches. Noise in the audience. the punk riff continues. It's speed gives an urgent feel to my movements. Jordan appears on stage. "hey man, get the Sterno and matches now", I say.
He disappears and I tell the audience "1 minute" again with my finger as I wait for Jordan to get back.
My decaying newspaper torches look pitifully homemade, although very real. They are made of rolled up newspaper with an extra layer for 4 inches on one end. They have been completely wrapped in hospital tape (it was what was handy) and the bulb on end on each one is burned down, each a little differently, from the 2 times I had tried this stunt before.
Jordan arrives with Sterno and matches and dips each torch for me, lights them and hands them back. Sterno makes lousy flames. The flames were small and they were overpowered by the lights on the stage. That was all ok, the better for me to see them.
I could almost see the anticipating smiles of the audience through the lights as I held two torches in one hand, one in the other, and contemplated my fate. I have never burnt myself with these, but I DID have to drive a stick shift home.
Smiling, my stage persona, I start the pattern. nothing fancy. straight shit. I feeling like I need a finale, like just straight juggling fire ain't enough. I decide to try a double spin. this is an easy trick with clubs, but definitely harder with funky torches, because the spin is less accurate AND faster, and the importance of catching the right end of the club must be emphasized. I go for it. SHOO, SHOO. the flame gushes as it spins twice through the air. SMACK! The handle hits my hand hard and I continue a single spin pattern. Relief. I catch two torches in one hand blow them out and take a bow. Great applause.
I gather my bag and skateboard, and head off stage left, gathering my thrown basketball on the way.
It's over. I did it. My first juggling gig. Nothing mind blowing, but I did good stuff and got good applause. Yeah. Good feeling. I spent the next act back stage chilling and then went back to the audience for the last acts. They end and I return home, alone, as every clown must.