There's always a first time. The first Kaskade you see, or the first work-shop you attend. I Imagine it is quite a shock if the first thing you see is a convention in full flow, without knowing how it got that way. Every year new people arrive, and the wel-come has been warm for both jugglers and friends, so it has continued growing. Perhaps it is harder, now, for a newcomer to feel involved, with so many people in one place at one time. Here, for the last time (1 promise), is my own, inaccurate, oral history of one of the threads of the story.
Next time that you are with a dozen people, playing or practising for a day or two, remember that the first "convention" was just such a small gathering, and grew in eleven years to what is now the EUROPEAN CONVENTION.
A juggling movement, the I.J.A., had existed in the U.S. since 1947, when it was a breakaway group from a magicians' convention. It blossomed for a while, then faded, with maybe 25-30 people at the conventions. In the mid-seventies it suddenly began to grow again, and at this time there were a few scattered IJA members in Europe, mostly unwilling to travel to America, and so very interested in the idea of a European get-together.
Lynn Thomas arranged the first European convention In Brighton. England. in 1978. Eleven jugglers turned up for the weekend, and performed a lively show to pay for the hall. There were people from five countries (and their friends and relations), and a man who came to video the event, who then turned into juggler Tim Bat while editing the tape.
Lindsay Leslie (then European Di-rector of the IJA). had organized a juggle-in in London as early as 1976. Seeing the response to this first convention, and its public show, he offered to take charge of a second convention. In Scotland in 1979, so establishing it as an annual event. At this time the meetings were held In the springtime. This was the only convention I have missed, so I can tell you little about it; there were rumours of 20-30 people.
The third convention was In London in 1980, thanks to Tim Bat's effort and enthusiasm, and we met in a church hall which had a small theatre attached. Maybe 60 people passed through, including drop-in visits from professionals Yuri Grldneff and Rudy Horn. With a separate theatre space we could rehearse the public show a little, set the lights and so on, but It was still a one-off show, a tumble of people's acts and improvisations, with a great live band. Most of the audi-ence were jugglers and friends, so the show did not cover the cost of the hall. Tim Bat was willing to continue as organizer, but not to bear the cost again, and we all agreed that every-one participating would pay a share in future.
With workshops by now running regularly in London, it was obviously worthwhile to continue with this an-nual meeting. The fourth convention (named after Rastelli) was in London in 1981, but now moved from a spring date to September, which has since become fixed as the traditional month. Now there were over a hundred peo-ple, and the public show, In an inti-mate space, was a great cabaret. There was a lively street band called Pookiesnackenburger, our regulars like Tim Bat and Lynn Thomas, Vent Fou from France with a fakir routine, speedy Richard del Oro (a professional circus juggler), Stuart Fell's young son Alan with a pogo stick, plate spinning, clubs, hoops, unicycle, the lot; Jim Carter did a wonderful drunk magician act (a reminder of how much of entertainment is effective ACTING); Waldo and Didier, Moonbeam with his original Teddy Bear routine, and much much more.
By 1982 the U.S. convention had swelled to a meeting of 600 people, and the IJA magazine had a circula-tion approaching 2000 worldwide. The 5th European Convention now moved to the continental land-mass. Something over a hundred people, from several northern countries, gathered in Copenhagen. We did a street parade to publicize the show, there was a daily newsletter issued to all participants, the public show was the last informal one, more like what is now the cabaret show. It included Dr. Hot, Klapps Kallis Keulen Kompany with their hats, and me too. The five-ball marathon was held at the end of the first half - on stage. Among the mu-sicians were Vent Fou, Danny Avrutick and one Gene Jones.
Gene Jones was the president of the IJA, which was booming in the States, and he had flown in to investigate this new phenomenon, the European (to him} mini-convention. On the Sunday he called a meeting for those interested, attended by 29 people. It was already obvious that the gate-crashers had taken over the party iIn Europe, and that, although the IJA had been a springboard for the first meetings, now non-members outnumbered members at the conventio-n, and everybody paid the same share of the costs. Since then the IJA has been peripheral to the developments In Europe. At this meeting, too, we had to decide between two alternatives for the first time. France was chosen by 12 votes to II in preference to Germany. L'Institut had offered a chateau as the site.
This plan had to be changed later, but In September 1983 we arrived in Laval for the 6th convention to find huge a sports hall that easily accommodated us all (about 200 jug-glers). We did the parade, and public games as a publicity stunt; the games included juggling a round cheese, a French loaf and a plastic bottle of water, and balancing a raw egg on the top of a broom handle balanced on the face, as well as joggling, etc. The public show was in that huge hall, with a large audience of local people. This was the first slick-looking show, and it was excellent, if a little long. Tim Bat did his routine with yo-yo, bowler hat and umbrella; Moshe did cigar boxes and torch swinging; Francois Chotard spun balls and Cot-ton McAloon did three torches, and there was mime, magic and clowning, etc.
In 1984 the Autonome Jonglier-gruppe Wiesbaden added a day, mak-ing it a four-day event, and the first copy of Kaskade was produced in time for distribution at the convention. This, the 7th, in Frankfurt. Suddenly there were about 400 people, slightly flooding the practice space, but all somehow housed privately in the city. We remarked on the growth in European-made props, on sale along-side the established American goods. Workshops were now beginning to be formally organized. but the numbers of people led to the passivity of a demonstration rather than the hands--on learning of impromptu gatherings. 43 seconds won the five-ball contest, and prizes for all the games were "pocket juggling sets." German and U.S. television were present, and we had viewings of archive footage from Karl-Heinz Ziethen's amazing collec-tion, which has been a feature at many jugglers' meetings. Of the public show, for which the training space was transformed into a theatre, I can only say "you had to be there," and refer you to Kaskade No.2 for details. It was the most electric show I have seen, with a high technical level now evident (Martin Schwietzke was re-laxed and flawless with a beautiful five-ball routine} but still with room for a friendly, family or street at-mosphere to pervade.
Attendance figures are always a little vague, but by 1985 the U.S. convention and the European conven-tions were more or less the same size. Just like the IJA, we now found our-selves housed In a university, with use of a large sports hall, a spacious foyer with late bar, but remote from the town or local culture. The highly organized street-parade was In the centre of Brussels, however, followed by busking in pitches marked around the big central square. The great toss-up took place with over 600 jugglers! The big show (called the public show, but always containing a huge partisan group of jugglers. of course} was splendidly displayed in the hall, with a very high level of skill including Allan Jacobs and Popovitch from the Moscow State Cir-cus, who stunned us all.
There were two offers for the following year. It seemed hopeless to put the case to 600 people in an echoing hall and a confusion of lan-guages (remembering the frustration of the meeting in Lava!}, so I called an impromptu committee of current and previous organizers, with Bill Giduz from the IJA and Paul and Gabi from Kaskade. After some haggling we decided to let the Spanish experiment be the 9th. in the following year, leaving L'Institut's efficient plans one more year, to celebrate the decade in grand fashion. This was presented to the assembled jugglers as decided (an admittedly unsatisfactory process},' and Eddy Krzeptowski, who had orga-nized the convention in Belgium, felt we C9uld not continue without for-malizing the organization. A European Juggling Association was suggested, to collect our knowledge and experience, and help with decision-making, bookkeeping, etc.
Not enough people joined the A.E.J. that year to make it a viable repre-sentative body. A slightly puzzled Bill Giduz described Europe as being run by a kind of council of elders. We may disagree on whether jugglers should become involved in external political activities, but as our own community has grown from a party to a village there has been a certain amount of internal politicking in-volved, in deciding which plans come to fruition, and what the overall style of the event is.
From as early as 1983 I had been reporting
an undertow of opinion pre-ferring to avoid the sports image,
and to keep it cheap and informal, a gathering rather than a display,
like the IJA 'picnics' of the
Fifties. This combined with my own preference for the convention to be a new travel experience each year, reaching, eventually, all the European countries (by any definition of Eu-rope).
The event had become a large thing to organize in a city, finding housing, transport, training space, social spaces, a theatre, etc. Now, for the first time, we were invited by non--jugglers, the Cultural Association of Castellar, to gather in and around their village. We outnumbered the villagers two-to-one (about 350 of us) and they rose to the occasion well, improvising happily, after months of disbelief about the numbers likely to arrive. The 9th convention in Castellar was a many-faced event, with some of the problems arising from trying to find a place for all the traditions. Our innovation was a show for the local prison in Algeciras.
As hoped, the Tenth Convention was a peak, with all L'lnstitut's ac-cumulated knowledge and experience on display. They were lucky with the weather too, which was perfect, and led to a split between the camp-site and the hall as places to play. Most Kaskade readers (except the new-comer) must know about Saintes, a brilliant tour-de-force in a beautiful place. We had games in a Roman am-phitheatre, a huge sports hall, river-side gardens, a swimming pool, and even a beach to go to afterwards. Only the show seemed a little dwarfed by the 2000 people in a vast hall. Even the cabaret, with nearly a thousand jugglers in the audience, was hardly a place for informal an-tics.
The difficult task of following this magically sunny week in Saintes was not immediately picked up by anyone. By now there were several smaller conventions during the year, to keep up the connections. Still, the Bradford Jugglers took up the challenge, and added shows in schools. The weather was very unkind, but it's hard to be sur-prised in England in late September. Camping was hazardous and difficult, and juggling was mostly confined in-doors. Perhaps thls was your first convention? A great atmosphere pre-vailed in the miraculously surviving cafe-bar marquee, and in the large hall. They found an excellent site for the cabaret, where it was possible to get into the pit and watch the show, or sit back and watch videos of international stars on a big screen (remember the hula hoops, Tim?), or wander to the bar, play in the open space or talk to the Jugglers for Peace. The show was in a nice old theatre too.
So, here we are. There is another attempt to form a European Juggling Association, over and above the Kaskade subscribers. Do we need a steering group? I have described how the various traditions evolved, but do we need to perpetuate them all? It may be important that we set some minimum standards, because more people means greater risk and re-sponsibility; we have to consider the one-in-a-thousand health hazards (how much can happen in a village in a week?), as well as the financial risk, of being the first large conven-tion to lose money, for instance.
We have always been a mixed group. Even the original 12 came from 5 countries, ranged from 14-50 years old, slept on floors or in hotels, wore suits or casual clothes, had home-made props or professional routines with taped music, etc. Does a con-vention need all the traditional ele-ments? How much do we have to ad-just to local culture, weather, licens-ing laws, etc. ? There are now many smaller meetings, and no-one knows which contains the seed which may develop in the next ten years. Per-haps we will see more specialized conventions, gatherings of New Cir-cuses, sporting events, expeditions, with different atmospheres for dif-ferent sub-cultures.
There will always be some problems. Jet-lag
and nerves can make you drop in the public show; housing, be-longings
and health; the weather.
Can you plan and organize for up-ward of 1000 people for a week? APPLY NOW.
"May it never rain on your parade."
© 1989 Toby Philpott, London