Drexel University 40 under 40!

Judging Juggling in Guadalajara

This year, the International Jugglers’ Association (IJA) invited me to officiate their regional competition in Mexico.  The IJA is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of the artform through stage competitions and a variety of other programs.  I have a history with the organization, having served on their Board of Directors, producing their annual Video Tutorial Contest, and competing in a variety of their events for the past ten years.  When we were on the Board together, Erin Stephens and I devised a way to export the stage competitions to circus events beyond the IJA’s main festival.  Four years after the first IJA Regional Competition (IRC) was held, it was my turn to represent the IJA at the event.


This June, the third edition of the Periplo International Circus Festival took place in Guadalajara, Mexico. Run by the same organizational committee as its predecessor, the Barullo Circus Festival, the Periplo Festival hosted the fourth annual IJA Regional Competition in Mexico.  Friends, Periplo is an absolute triumph.

The festival took place across two main venues – “El Foro;” a new training and thrust performance space owned by Periplo, and “Larva;” the Laboratorio de Arte Variedades, a giant theater space owned by the Mexican Government and their council for the arts. Periplo’s organizers fought to have the event’s first edition at Larva, and they were skeptically given permission by the Government. Juan Mendez Rosas (the festival producer) and his team must have impressed the coordinators at Larva, though, as he was called and asked to make it an annual production just after the event’s final gala show curtain closed. This year marks the third year of the festival, and the third year of their relationship with the Larva space.


Entrance tickets to this week-long festival was limited 100 jugglers, acrobats, hoopers, and aerialists. Juan explained to me that Periplo is working to differentiate itself from Cirkonvention, the annual circus festival just outside of Mexico City. Cirkonvention is an outdoor camping event on the same scale as the European Juggling Conevention, with attendance in the thousands. “Cirkonvention is great – it’s a big party,” Juan explained, “we want Periplo to be more about learning and workshops, though – it’s a festival where people train hard and focus.”

This ambition took fruition in the festival’s structure. Periplo is a week long event, with the first three days dedicated to special intensive workshops with invited guests. Cyrille Humen (contact juggling, Switzerland,) Marianna de Sanctis (hula hoops, Italy,) Jorge Reza (clown, Mexico,) and Jade Zeron (corde lisse, Mexico) were this year’s special workshop instructors. Other artists offered workshops throughout the rest of the week, with an extremely wide range of disciplines. The lineup included artists such as Chloe Walier (static trapeze, USA,) Leo Zevira (handbalance, Venezuela,) Nano (theatrical lighting, Mexico,) Rodrigo & Solene (hand to hand, Mexico,) and others – if you’re interested, you can see the full lineup here.


One of the festival’s main draws was the IJA’s Regional Competition (IRC), which was held on Thursday night. A field of eight entrants from Mexico, El Salvador, and Germany presented acts vyying for the gold medal (uh, gold embossed acrylic. Have you seen the IRC medals? They’re taking the IJA to the space-age.)


Although I was familiar with the IJA’s stage competition rules, this was my first time on this side of the judge’s podium. The IRC stage competitions are scored according to the 2014 IJA stage competition rules.  There were some changes to this year’s World Chmapionships scorecard, apparently, due in some part to my mouthstick act being awarded a bronze medal in 2014.

The IJA competitions at the organization’s annual festival in the USA and Canada, have traditionally catered to the more “traditional” juggling formats of balls, clubs, rings, and diabolo – not to more esoteric forms of manipulation.  The new scorecard includes points for “Representation of Juggling,” allowing judges to assert their own philosophies about what is or isn’t a juggling act – something that’s way more politically charged than folks outside of the juggling world might realize.  I’ve got my own opinions, but I’ll leave that soapbox for another time!


Here’s the 2014 rubric, which is still used at the IJA’s Regional Competitions:

Execution: Focuses on how well the competitor performs the routine from a technical standpoint. High marks should be awarded for completion of tricks without hesitation or difficulty. Competitor’s form and technique should be considered.

Entertainment Level: Overall appeal of the act.

Degree of Difficulty: Difficulty of tricks performed, as well as the inherent difficulty of the prop used. Degree of difficulty is determined by the type and number of objects juggled; the speed of the juggling; the types of throws, catches, balances, or other object manipulations; the complexity of combinations of juggling tricks; and the transitions between juggling tricks.

Theatrical Framing: May include but is not limited to overall routine, costume, music, speech, comedy, use of props, and staging. High marks will be awarded for successfully using theatrical elements to enhance an act. Low marks should be given if theatrical elements are detrimental or distracting to the act.

Creativity: New tricks, props, approaches to performing, and novel presentations that are performed well will receive high marks.

Element of Risk: The chance of a drop or mistake, and the difficulty of cleanly recovering from a drop or mistake.

Stage Presence:  Ability to command an audience with confidence and an impressive style or manner.”

     – From the 2014 IJA Stage Competition Handbook

Each one of the categories is given a score between 0 and 5 points, and is then multiplied according to a rubric (some categories are weighted more than others.)  The figures are added up, and a final score out of 100 points is awarded.  The scores end up being roughly 50 points for technical difficulty and execution and 50 points for appeal of the performance and showmanship.  In the old days of the IJA (2015 marks the organization’s 68th birthday,) competitions were settled with judges arguing in a back room.  Any attempt at scoring art “objectively” will have problems, but this model is more streamlined than the old one.  The 2015 updates are another attempt at improving on this model.

Here’s a rundown of the event:


First up was Jafet Padawan, a 16-year old hotshot juggler from Toluca, in the outskirts of Mexico City. His act was technical and at times poetic, drawing heavily on inspiration from Jay Gilligan’s work. He ran cleanly through the act, finishing with a six club multiplex cascade.


Ana Morales, a Guadalajara native and coordinator of the local hoop festival, graced the stage next. She presented a modern hooping number full of delicate balances, contrasting fluid movement with sharp, twitching manipulations. She was a crowd favorite and a strong contender in the competition.


Balbino was the first import, coming to the festival all the way from El Salvador. Balbino is a seasoned traffic light juggler who blazed through an act showcasing his headbounce, balance, and unicycle skills. His finale was five clubs on a giraffe unicycle, he achieved it on his third try, much to the audience’s delight.


Ricardo Lopez presented an elegant club juggling number, demonstrating mastery of one, two, and three club contact juggling. His act set a tone similar to Florent Lestage’s number with a club and cane – eerie, beautiful, and full of gorgeous, uninterrupted sequences. For Ricardo’s final choroegraphy, he swung four clubs attached to a chandalier as pendulums, dancing the objects around himself and towards the audience. It was a lovely number.

If you’re interested in pendulum juggling, there’s a great article by David Cain on the IJA’s eZine about the discipline.


Ivan, a 22 year old contact poi juggler was up next. He presented his act accompanied by dubstep and the adoring screams of a sign-waving faction of the audience. His act had some errors in execution, but had nice movement and character. Watching it, you could see he’d been taking notes at Cyrille Humen’s special workshop in the early days of the festival.


Frix Elting, an expatriated German ball juggler, performed a completely bizarre and riveting number after Ivan. Covered in bandages and an arm stained with blood, she created an act full of improvisation, contact rolls, and good humor. She was accompanied by a guitar player on stage right, and playfully blamed him for more than one of her errors at the beginning of the act. Frix encountered several wardrobe malfunctions throughout her act due to the nature of her bandages, but this master improvisor took her exposed breast as an offer, rather than a problem to address and ignore. With this number, Frix took the silver medal.


Next, came Braulio Lopez with an eccentric gentleman juggling act. He swaggered in from off stage in a lime green suit, juggling right away – deftly paddidling an attache case on his finger. A flurry of activity had him juggling from one to six hats, balancing them on umbrellas, and running like a madman across the stage. Braulio’s act had an incredibly personal feel – the kind of performance style he’s honed on cabaret stages across Puerto Vallara, a resort town a few hours to the West of Guadalajara. His number was awarded the gold medal at the IRC by a landslide.

The trick he’s doing in this photo was really spectacular.  The hat spins on the umbrella, the umbrella spins on his head… after the image was set, he pulled the umbrella down towards the audience and folded it up in one smooth motion.  The change in space was incredibly dramatic, especially considering how simple the effect was.  (Talking about images – that’s a great example of a “postcard.”)


Closing the competition was Dennis Vertti, a juggler coming from a traditional circus family in the Mexican countryside. An easy crowd favorite, Dennis wore a tight, bright, sequined costume and performed an extremely technical routine that brought the audience to its feet. He was traditional circus personified. Highlights from his act included a three ball one-up front handspring, a five ring ultimate pulldown, a flash of seven clubs, a seven ring breakdown (a la Anthony Gatto, fanning himself with a ring in his hand,) and a nine ring flash — so breathlessly perfect that he stood and waited until the final ring was about to hit the floor before catching it. Dennis won the bronze medal at the competition and the GBallz prize, awarded to the audience’s favorite act incorporating balls.


The competitors all fought hard, and all of the entrants should feel proud of the work they presented. The IJA’s regional competition, like the competitions at the main IJA festival, is designed to help push jugglers to create new, interesting, and technically interesting work. Over the past three years, the IRC has helped spur the careers of its medalists. A quick glance at the career of Fer Sumano, the 2011 gold medal winner, can attest to the program’s success. After taking first place at the IRC held at the Barullo festival in Guadalajara, she was invited to perform at events all across Mexico and the surrounding countries in Latin America.

Besides the IJA’s event, there were more highlights than I can relay in this article, but I’ll do my best to paint a few quick images for you.

– Dozens played combat on a closed off street outside of the Periplo Foro. No clubs? No problem. Some of the players juggled their shoes, instead.

– Ahogado sandwiches at streetside cafes – these are “drowned” sandwiches, covered in tangy red salsa. A Guadalajara classic, and an absolute must-experience for anyone going to Periplo next year!

– Andres Aguilar, the host of the first gala show, devised a clever way to close Cyrille’s set in the program. Andres invented a number of silly contact poi moves and did a short routine with them. At the end of the routine, the poi slowly floated into space, away from the stage, as Andres watched it leave with absolute sincerity and sentimentality. Little did anyone know, Andres had attached the prop to a thread leading to the theater’s rigging, and a technician was slowly hoisting the prop to the ceiling. Cyrille’s poi were suspended several meters above the stage for the rest of the week, reminding everyone of the magic that took place that night.

– Geovanni Paredes, a juggler from Puebla, Mexico, was a last minute addition to the final gala show. He’s a technical juggler who has a few unique stunts in his repertoire. He does an incredible trick with a tall perch pole. The pole has small platforms circling its length, leading up to a basket at the top. He bounces a ball from platform to platform, all the way up to the top. He nailed this finale trick, and the audience went absolutely insane.

Geovanni and I met in Riga, Latvia at the international circus festival there this past January – his pole has gotten even taller since then! (You can read about the Riga Cirks festival here!)

– Jorge Rezas, clown and second gala emcee, ad libbing after his tray of glasses was dropped on their way to the stage. His trick, “the most beautiful balance trick you will see today,” involved balancing some two dozen red champagne flutes in a pyramid on his chin… but the stagehand slipped on the dark stairs and the glasses went flying across and under the stage’s risers. Jorge, a master improviser, managed to have the audience on the edge of their seats with the one flute that escaped without breaking.

– Duo Cardio, an acrobatic duet from Mexico by way of France and Uruguay closed the final gala show with an incredible perch pole number. Solene climbed three stories up a pole (yes, stories) balanced on Rodrigo’s forehead, and manipulated a hat with her feet while in a handstand at the top. If that’s hard to imagine from this description, I understand – it’s hard to believe in person, too.

– Crazy latin dance parties with ten piece bands breaking out at the Foro late at night – with everyone clamoring to dance. I’ve never seen more hips wiggling than at Periplo.

– Bravisimo, a local clown troupe, did an absolutely incredible routine about flying into outer space in the Open Stage show. These guys will be at the Kansas City Juggling Festival this year, and you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to see them – they’re hysterical, compelling, and extremely polished.


– Chloe and I performed our paddleball act in the first gala show. As it turns out, paddleball isn’t something they’re familiar with. In the US, audiences respond immediately to their familiar children’s toy. In Mexico, the audience responds to the Americans playing with… whatever that is.

All in all, Periplo 2015 was an outstanding event. If you’re looking to take a trip next summer, I’d encourage you to visit Guadalajara, take in some shows, and cheer on the performers at the 2016 IJA Regional Competition in Mexico.

DoesntSuckEmail Get new blog posts sent directly to your inbox!

A version of this article first appeared on the IJA’s electronic magazine, eJuggle –

Photos by Julio Lopez

2014 by the Numbers



Accounting and reflecting are two important year-end activities that small business owners all across the world engage in.  I’m no exception!

As I tidied my house this year, sorting through old programs and ticket stubs and finding shards of broken plates all over the place, I thought about the year’s happenings and started gathering data. Not one to throw away frivolous year-end statistics, I’ve compiled it all here for your enjoyment!

Here you are, friends!  Here’s my 2014, by the numbers.

World Map 2014

I visited six countries this year – the USA, Canada, Ethiopia, China, New Zealand, and Fiji.

Fiji was a kind of happy accident – their national airline has an “unlimited layover” policy that afforded me a little vacation on my way home from New Zealand.  No shows there, but I sure did juggle on the beach!

US Map 2014

 I juggled in eleven states this year, too. That was Oregon, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire.

The folks in New Hampshire went crazy when I announced it was my Granite State debut that night.  “Live free or die!  Don’t tread on me!” they shouted.  They also went crazy when I announced my box of “guns with tiny American flags on them” during my rat-hoop act.  (That one worried me a little.)


I traveled a total of 65,404 miles traveled for shows in 2014.

(That’s enough juggling to circle the globe two and a half times!)

DSS Single

Eight stagings of “The ‘Dinner and a Show’ Show” in four states, winning one award, getting three lovely newspaper reviews, and a dozens upon dozens of audience comment cards (including three crayon drawings of Claude the lobster, and four phone numbers.)


Two wonderful pop-up shows for patients at the Hamlin Fistula Hospital Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Catherine Hamlin, the woman three to my left, is working to eradicate obstetric fistula in Ethiopia.  She’s doing an incredible job, too, with a network of hospitals all across the country.  She was a Nobel Peace Prize nominee in 2014!

Joan and the Gentleman 2Joan and the GentlemanFour stagings of “Joan and the Gentleman Juggler” – a new production with my friends Gabi Sinclair and Ric Walker.  I learned one new stunt for this show – a version of Cinquevalli’s famous pool cue and sherry glass balance.


Despite the trick collapsing a half dozen times when I was learning it, I only ever got hit on the head once!  And never got a black eye!  Small victories.

Spectacular - Newspaper

Two nice newspaper articles about me and my work with nonprofits! (Brattleboro Reformer & New Hampshire Union Leader)


Fourteen incredible hamburgers on the road.  (Most memorable?  The “Tom Selleck” burger at the Elbow Room Cafe in Vancouver, BC. Hamburger, bacon, brie, banana, pineapple, and peach with a chipotle aeoli.  What?!)

See for yourself – follow #hamburgersIhaveknown or @thomwalljuggler on Instagram!  (Six-hundred and nine others already are!)


Three killer benefit shows for the New England Center for Circus Arts.  Two were in the Latchis Theater in downtown Brattleboro.  (Who could resist performing on that stage!  Did you see the archways?  Did you see the constellations?!)

The third show was at Dixon Place on Manhattan’s Lower East Side – the kickoff show for NECCA’s capital campaign.  They’re raising money to build a new circus school building from the ground up. (How cool is that?!)

Totem - Clocking In

Three cities in six months with the largest circus company in the history of the world!  Easily the most stressful contract I’ve been on, but also one of the most rewarding.  Over the course of this contract, I performed for around 200,000 people.

Totem Cast

Nearly one-hundred pre-shows with four animators and one lizard puppet.

From an email with my dad:

“Before the show, I do animation/walkaround through the audience as they’re waiting and getting seated. I’m dressed as the scientist, but with a giant lizard puppet under an arm that I use to surprise people with. He’s got this fantastic tongue that shoots out quickly – good for startling people and getting a rise out of groups of people who watch. At the show two nights ago, I was walking around the seats near center stage and got a big reaction from the crowd. When I got backstage, I learned that I’d attacked the prime minister of New Zealand with my puppet?”

Trade Show

Three days at a booking convention in Colombia, Missouri in January.  (The number of stories from this convention?  Dozens.  “You ain’t never been to a tractor pull, son?” “Oh, my wife and I really have fun, if you know what I mean.”  “Who wants to buy this quarter hog?”)


One new acrobatics partner.  (One hundred and sixty pounds on my head.)

Victory - New Zealand

Two-thousand, two-hundred – The number of seats at the Auckland Circus Convention’s gala show.

One – The number of drunk guys who decided to try and steal a ball from center stage during my act.

“One hundred percent!” – The amount of focus to put on a balanced object, in order to balance and juggle (as chanted in meditation by my dedicated students!)


Twenty-five plates were smashed in the initial devising process for “The ‘Dinner and a Show’ Show.”  One part enthusiasm, one part polished cement stage.



Thirty-six statues of Snoopy in front of my stage in Hong Kong. Six statues of Snoopy on my stage in Hong Kong. Seven stories of people watching me from above, in the atrium of the mall.

I packed 16 backup plates for these 10 shows, just in case some broke in transit or on stage… but not a single one did!


One new leopard-print suit.  The Hopeless Throwmantics are going jungle-casual in 2015.


One IJA medal.  (For my mouthstick act!  The first medal awarded to a mouthstick routine in the IJA’s sixty-seven year history.)

…all in all, a tremendous 2014!  Where will 2015 take me?  I’ve got a few interesting leads already, but I’m not about to spill the beans quite yet.  Stay tuned, friends!  Wishing you all a successful year ahead, and I hope all of the seeds you plant come to bloom!


DoesntSuckEmail Get new blog posts sent directly to your inbox!