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Jugglers, acrobats to gather at MIT

Susan Saccoccia
Susan Saccoccia
Jugglers, acrobats to gather at MIT
Paris, a.k.a. the Hip-Hop Juggler (Photo: courtesy of http://www.hiphopjuggler.com)

Bringing together juggling aficionados, first-timers and fans of all ages, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology hosts JuggleMIT 2017, a three-day festival of juggling and kindred circus arts, from Sept. 22-24.

Tickets for the JuggleMIT Circus Show: $8, children up to age 12 & seniors 62 up; $10, students; $15, general admission.

A pass to access all JuggleMIT 2017 events, including the show: $15, children and seniors; $20, students; $30, general admission

For more information, visit: http://web.mit.edu/juggle/www/juggleMIT.html

The largest gathering of jugglers in the region, JuggleMIT offers a weekend of family-friendly events, including more than 30 workshops for all, from novices to pros, as well as two evening shows showcasing top local and international performers.

Friday night’s show presents 10 seasoned local acts, many from area colleges. Saturday night’s spectacular, the JuggleMIT Circus Show, features 10 world-renowned jugglers and circus performers, including its MC, comedian and acrobat Cate Great (Cate Flaherty), an alumna of the Quebec Circus School.

Held from 7 to 9 p.m. at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium, the show has a varied lineup, from veterans to newly emerging stars. Performers include the Red Trouser Show (David Graham and Tobin Renwick), a popular Faneuil Hall duo whose props include machetes and flaming torches; and Jonah Botvinick-Greenhouse, the youngest-ever Overall Champion of the World Juggling Federation, a title he won twice, first, in 2013, at age 14. Susan Voyticky, who performs and teaches at the Circus Warehouse in New York City, will orbit the stage in a Cyr wheel, blending acrobatic daring with balletic grace.

Performers also conduct workshops, held on Friday and Saturday in MIT’s Walker Memorial Building, at 142 Memorial Drive. Among the workshops are one-hour sessions in which beginners can learn to ride a unicycle or develop and perform a creative act with a partner.


Longstanding tradition

Sunday afternoon, juggling games take place in the lobby of Building 10, at 222 Memorial Drive, where since the ‘70s MIT Juggling Club members have met on Sundays for drop-in juggling sessions open to all. Their year-round tradition distinguishes the group as the oldest continuously operating drop-in juggling club in world.

Visitors have included the late MIT Professor Emeritus Claude E. Shannon, the founder of modern digital communications and information theory, whose feats also include building the first juggling robot. He constructed the robot with an Erector Set and gave it a head that resembles the great comedian W.C. Fields (1880-1946), who got his start as a juggler. (See Shannon introducing his robot at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBHGzRxfeJY )

JuggleMIT builds on MIT’s tradition as a hub of juggling enthusiasts and, now in its third year as an annual festival, the event draws participants from throughout the Northeast.

The first JuggleMIT, held in 2014, was a one-day affair that drew about 40 attendees. They braved a blizzard to take part in a one-trick show. Each performer spent about five minutes on stage.

But the small gathering struck a chord, notes JuggleMIT co-founder, Ian Chesser, MIT ‘16, now a Ph.D. student in materials science at Carnegie Mellon University. Chesser organized the inaugural JuggleMIT with Stephen McCrory, MIT ‘14, then-president of the MIT Student Juggling Club.

“We assembled a critical mass of jugglers in one place in the Boston-Cambridge area for the first time in a long time,” says Chesser. “We simply wanted there to be more jugglers in one place at the same time. There are lots of good jugglers in the area, but they are rarely in the same place.”

Word spread and the following year, JuggleMIT ‘15 drew 200 attendees over three days, including performers from New York and Philadelphia.

An epicenter

JuggleMIT ’17 organizer Cole Perkinson, a Ph.D. student in physical chemistry, describes MIT as “an epicenter of recreational juggling in the Boston area,” just as Faneuil Market is a hub for street performers. JuggleMIT fulfills a unique role by taking the lead in bringing artists together, says Perkinson, the current president of the MIT Student Juggling Club. “This event bridges the gap between street and recreational juggling and also extends to circus artists and acrobats.”

“Artists come from all over,” says Harlem-based Paris (a.k.a. “The Hip-Hop Juggler”), a Saturday night headliner who has performed on the “Today Show,” “Sesame Street” and at the White House. “We get to see what others are doing and after, meet and talk about what we like to do. It’s an all-in-one package with a great show plus workshops and games for people at all levels.”

Last year, at JuggleFest ’16, Paris led a workshop on juggling to music. “Each has its own timing,” says Paris. “You have to trick juggling out of its normal timing so that it works with the timing of the music.”

A 2004 graduate of Manhattanville College, Paris recalls getting his own start at age nine from an outreach program of the Big Apple Circus. “Performers came to my school in Harlem and taught us to use trapezes and trampolines. By age 12, I was juggling, too.”

On Sunday, some JuggleMIT games will take an MIT spin, says Paris, who recalls a challenge from last year’s Simon Says session. “Players were asked to juggle three balls and throw one under the leg as many times as the 8th digit of pi after the decimal point.”

But JuggleMIT is no nerd fest and plenty of activities suit newcomers. “JuggleMIT draws lots of bucket-list people who always wanted to try juggling but had no idea how,” says Paris. “Some of the best jugglers on the planet will be here to help you.”

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