Christian ParrThe circus is hot right now. And I’m not talking about fairy floss and bearded ladies (even though they hold a special little place in the sawdust of our hearts). What I am talking about is grassroots communities and skill-sharing, about the exploration of people’s creative potential, and about the talented, kooky and simply curious folks who come together at Collingwood College (read: the big top) each year for the Melbourne Juggling Convention. Whether you want to show off your pizzazz on stage or just watch from the safety of a stationary chair, Artistic Director Christian Parr puts the spotlight on this diverse event.

So the Melbourne Juggling Convention is flying ahead for its 4th year now, and despite the name, I understand there’s a lot more in the air that weekend than just juggling balls…
Yeah, definitely. ‘Juggling’ is an everyday word that means considerably more than first impressions suggest, especially within the circus world. We see a diverse range of skills every year at the Melbourne Juggling Convention (MJC), everything from classics like juggling, diabolo and hula hoop, right through to more obscure activities like unicycling, acro-balance and whip-cracking! It’s an ‘anything goes’ convention that encourages people with ideas and art forms, new and old, to teach, be taught, have fun and be entertained.

Tell us about some of the circus celebs you’ve got on board to impart their dexterous knowledge onto those like me; the keen yet perpetually uncoordinated. Is there hope? Can they teach us?
The convention is designed to cater for every skill level, across every age bracket. To enable this, professionals are brought in to run workshops in every area. This year we’re focusing on homegrown Australasian talent. I felt it important to recognise that we have world-class jugglers right here on our doorstep, so this year’s team comprises of five greats: Earl Shatford, master juggling tutor at Melbourne’s own National Institute of Circus Arts; Adrian Kirk, the head juggling tutor at CircoArts, NZ; Kim Potter, an international comedic circus performer also from NZ; Ben Bryant, one of Australia’s most innovative circus artists; and Bob Carr, a Canadian famous within the world juggling scene. Last year we hosted over 70 hours of workshops run by over 25 teachers, so if you want to learn a skill the convention is the place to do it!

I hear you’ve got a brand spanking program this year on Act Devising, with workshops in the realms of voice, improvisation and even dance. So the focus is on encouraging a broader diversity of budding performers? What other offerings are new this year?
The Act Devising Program is a new concept for the MJC crowd which will run for the first three days of the convention, and culminate in a new show: The Creative Edge. We’re hoping that anyone with the slightest curiosity towards performance will enroll to explore the possibilities available to them. We are staging forums and workshops linked closely with both performance techniques and act devising processes, all run by professional performers. Any pieces devised will be invited to be performed in the Creative Edge show, an in-house show on Sunday night. The program is a great chance for budding artists to try their hand at creating a piece.

The Australian (nay, worldwide) circus industry seems to relish these opportunities to get together and divulge the fruits of their expertise. I imagine the MJC does a lot to foster the growing community and grassroots movement of this scene. What is the atmosphere like?
The juggling scene in Australia is still pretty young, especially when you compare it to the UK and Europe. With only two major juggling-centric events in the country (Melbourne and Sydney) we are a small community spread across a large continent. It’s important to have these events so that people who are passionate have a place to gather and share their passions. There’s a very special atmosphere when you attend a smaller event like the MJC (300+) because you end up meeting a great deal of people and get closer to the performers, meanwhile the larger events like the European Juggling Convention (3000+) are amazing because the range of skill and diversity is enormous! Both Sydney and Melbourne’s juggling events foster much-needed growth of the juggling movement and community in Australia, but there’s room for more... more people, and more events!

With so many carnies in one place no doubt there’ll be some renegade shenanigans going on…
There is an interesting history behind the concept of the ‘renegade’, much of it can be found here on Wikipedia. You’ll read that it’s a traditional ‘open stage’ show to be found at juggling conventions around the world. It was decided that the name of the renegade be changed this year, so we are very excited to unveil the ‘Couch Show’ for the 2010 MJC. When all the fun has ended and there’s nothing else to do, we’ll set up some speakers, sort out some seating, and bring out the couch!!! In essence, the audience become the performers and from that point on, anything goes. I can’t even begin to describe the mix of entertainment you will find in the Couch Show, you’ll just have to be there to see it yourself!

What do you say to folks who still manage to think circus is either just for kids, or for clowns and elephants on mini bikes?
The Melbourne Juggling Convention is a celebration of the human body and all of the amazing things that the body is capable of. There are often challenges in life but none are as fun as those to be found at a juggling convention. We invite everyone to come and join in on the party, no one is too old, every person has the amazing gift to learn new things, it just takes a bit of determination and a good sense of humour. Once all the fun is over, we let you sit back and relax while you watch the pro’s strutting their stuff and wowing the crowds. What more could you want?

The 2010 Melbourne Juggling Convention runs from the 17the to 20th September, 2010. Further details»

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