MIDDLETOWN, OHIO — When an exchange student introduced fourth-grader Thom Wall to juggling using four rocks, he was hooked. He buried himself in “The Complete Juggler: All the Steps from Beginner to Professional,” by Dave Finnigan, practiced with bean bags he got at the toy store, learned to juggle three balls, and eventually practiced with juggling clubs his grandmother bought him. Today, he tours internationally in collaborative shows including the “Dinner and a Show” show with Benjamin Domask, with circus artist Chloe Walier whose feature act is walking on champagne bottles, with big-name troupes including Cirque du Soleil (with whom he is currently trotting the globe), and as a solo act.
Recently, Wall and his wine glass prop from his mouthstick act were inducted into the Museum of Juggling History alongside his idols and heroes. “I was delighted. It is humbling and flattering to have my work recognized like this,” Wall said.
David Cain, curator of the museum said, “Thom is one of the brightest stars in the juggling world. He has a wide array of skills but what he is known for few people (jugglers) do.”
Wall holds a bachelor’s degree from Washington University in St Louis in Germanic Languages and Literatures, as well as a master’s degree from Drexel University in Nonprofit Arts Administration. He has been juggling professional since his graduation in 2009 from Washington University. His training at Brattleboro’s New England Center for Circus Arts’ Pro- Track program in 2011-2012 launched him even further asa juggling performer.
Wall’s comedic routines are a display of great stage presence, physical strength, sharp wit, incredible control and balance to amaze and amuse as he flips and bounces around a variety of props. Lauded the “Master of Modern Vaudeville,” Wall’s mouthstick act at the International Jugglers’ Association Seniors 2014 included props such as a wine bottle, a three-arm candelabra, one to six wine glasses, and even a balloon, all in precarious predicaments while intermittently pretending to almost drop one piece or another, raising audible gasps from the audience. He varies the mouthstick act by using a knife clenched between the teeth instead to balance the wine glasses on. A glass from this routine is the prop installed at the museum.
He has expanded his skill set to include forgotten juggling forms, particularly “gentleman juggling,” tossing everyday items like tea cups and plates and gentleman’s attire, infused with a comedy routine. According to Wikipedia, there are very few jugglers practicing “gentleman juggling” today. He is also pursuing contemporary ball technique and is now training with a Borzykine Pole — a 10-inch square platform balanced on a meterlong pole, balancing a ball on top while juggling five balls.
It brings the “Ed Sullivan Show” to mind doesn’t it?
Wall noted it is important to stay versatile. Wall has mastered these techniques in what he called a “learn-as-I-go” manner. He finds old juggling videos, does some reverse engineering to figure out how they did it, and brings them to his act, a process he described as, “Interesting and frustrating.”
His hard work has paid off, honored with an invite to participate in the Circus Arts program at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival’s 50th Anniversary, he has performed in Hong Kong and South Korea, toured with with Cirque du Soleil’s show Totem, where he juggled for thousands each night on tour across the United States, Canada, and New Zealand. He has won awards internationally for his circus performances, notably the 2015 “People’s Choice” Special Prize at the Riga International Circus Festival in Latvia, the Bronze and Silver medals at the International Jugglers’
Cain said, “I’ve seen Thom develop over the years from a standard comedy juggler with good comedy skills, but he has separated himself from the pack. I see the daily effort he has put into his act. Juggling requires the same skills as other performance arts, and Thom has put in the time in training. He is quality.”
According to Cain, the Museum of Juggling History is the only juggling museum in the world. Filled with vintage and contemporary juggling props, videos, and photos honoring over 150 jugglers and their acts, it takes days to see it all, and some people do, spending four or five days to look it over.