East Portland hosts international juggling fest

Find out what kinds of people love to juggle, just for the fun of it. And, see a world-famous outer East Portland professional juggler teach an unusual skill  …

Jugglers practice their moves in the Reed College main gym between workshops.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The Portland Juggling Festival – one of the largest regional juggling festivals in the United States – returned to Reed College in Southeast Portland on the last weekend in September, and attracted practitioners of the art from around the world.

“This marks our 21st annual festival,” remarked 2013 Portland Juggling Festival Director Michael Klinglesmith. “I moved here 15 years ago, and have come to the festival every year since.”

Sarah Gurman of Richfield Washington and Portland’s Joshua Coxwell get to know one another by “passing clubs”.

Klinglesmith said his juggling joy comes from “passing clubs” – in which bowling-pin shaped clubs are tossed between or among other jugglers.

“I come to juggle every Wednesday, here at Reed College – to ‘pass clubs’ with others who come to the ‘No Problem Easy Pickup’ Portland Jugglers group in the school’s gym. There are usually 30 or 40 people in here every week.”

While many people who come to the festival look forward to learning new skills and techniques, Klinglesmith said, “It’s mostly about having fun. Some people go to many festivals every year, and enjoy seeing friends.”

Most jugglers say they took up this physical art form after seeing others do it. “You say to yourself, ‘Hey, I want to do that, too!’ Klinglesmith explained. “If you enjoy the process of practicing and learning, you become a juggler.

“Some people go beyond being a hobbyist, and become a ‘performing artist’, paying their bills by doing juggling shows.”

Continuing to master juggling five rings is Matthew Knight who resides in the Foster-Powell neighborhood.

By day, Klinglesmith said, he works for Intel as a computer architect. “Those in the juggling community who ‘do it for fun’ are predominantly engineers, scientists and mathematicians.

“I think this is because, more than any other hobby activity or sport, the way the mind works to solve problems in engineering and mathematics is the same thing that attracts people to the problems of learning to juggle.”

Demonstrating the three phases of learning to juggle: a student picking up dropped boxes, another student getting the knack, and mastery by instructor Rhys Thomas.

At one of the sessions during the festival, world famous pro jugglerRhys Thomas was preparing to give a class when he spoke with East Portland News.

“I am a professional juggler, and have been so for 20 some odd years – most of them very odd,” Thomas said with a sly smile. “Although my family lives in East Portland, I perform at international festivals, and aboard cruise ships. I also present shows in science museums, like OMSI, presenting ‘Science of Juggling’.”

Thomas said he’d just taken a workshop, “Variations of Four-Club Juggling” – taught by Bekka Rose, a graduate of the Québec Circus school. “It was very challenging even though I’ve been juggling for decades.”

His students formed a ring around Thomas as he began his class, “Cigar Box Bash” – learning to manipulate rectangular boxes. “It’s kind of like Jinga for hyperactive kids, popularized decades ago by W.C. Fields in motion pictures.”

Portland juggling pro, Rhys Thomas, demonstrates the fine art of “Cigar Box Juggling” during the 2013 Portland Juggling Festival.

At the start, these students spent more time picking up fallen boxes than juggling. “It’s all part of the deal,” Thomas said.

That evening the Juggling & Vaudeville Extravaganza attracted a standing-room only crowd to the college’s Kaul Auditorium. The audience was treated a dozen professional acts, showcasing precision and comedic juggling and other allied arts, including hand balancing.

The ongoing, year-around Wednesday juggling group welcomes folks of all ages. For more information, see their website: CLICK HERE.

© 2013 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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