The following is a very personal, idiosyncratic, subjective, competitor's eye-view of the 2003 IJA Festival in Reno. I basically wrote it down so that I would always remember what happened that week, as it was a very special week.
Sunday, July 13th Lisa and I drove up to Reno with Jonathan Root in our car, and Bill Berry and Scotty Cavanaugh in the other car. Team Rootberry and I had just performed at Bill and Katje's wedding reception. We were about 10 miles out of Sacramento when I realized I had left all my props at the restaurant. Yikes!; I called Katje and she answered the phone, "Yes Matt, I've got it." God bless that woman. She gave me over to Jerry Martin and he ran down the list of items they had found. As luck would have it, they had everything and agreed to bring it to Reno. On the way to Reno, Root, Lisa and I had a good chat while we drove in the full moonlight about old video games--remember Food Fight and Tempest' Too funny. We finally arrived at Chez Rootberry around 2am and settled in for the night.
Monday, July 14th I woke up around 7am or so and realized that I wouldn't able to get back to sleep. The festival started today!! So I decided to go for my run (since June I have been running 1-2 miles a day just to get in better shape for the routine). Rootberry lives about one block away from the City Center Pavilion so I ran by there. The first person I see is Ben S outside unloading the car. So I stopped to lend a hand and got to meet Kurt and Mike, the two diabolo guys from this year's Seattle Festival who had tore up the public show. Next, I went over to Circus Circus to check out the lay of the land as well as to find out when we could check in. I ran into Victor and Yvonne from Seattle and we had a good chat about this year's festival and how next year's Seattle fest will shape up. I'm already looking forward to it. I finally got back to the apartment around 9:30 or so. Lisa and I took off and checked in. We ran into Ben Jennings and Ivan Pecel in the check in line. Already the festival was looking like it was going to be fun from a social aspect, as these are two great guys to hang out with, as we had discovered at previous festivals. We went and got some food and then it was off to the gym. As I didn't have my props yet, I decided to start playing around with the ol' tennis ball and can. Right away, I noticed some other guys playing with it as well. We had a nice little session right there and that was my first introduction to Roderick, Luis and the rest of the St. Ignatius Circus School group. Great guys. We hung out in the gym for a while and then Scotty, Lisa, Ivan and I decided to walk over to the River Front Park to watch Rootberry perform at a public function. We watched the various acts and then headed back to the gym. We crashed that night a bit early, but we wanted to save our reserves for the rest of the festival.
Tuesday, July 15th I woke up early again thinking about the routine and realized that I still hadn't got my props back from Bill and Katje. I decided to nix that and called Katje's cell phone at around 8 or so. Needless to say, I woke her up, but she was kind enough to hook me up. Thus replenished, Lisa and I finally got underway right before I had to go to my first workshop. I ended up leaving Bill, Katje, and Lisa in the Americana Cafe and ran late to Dan Holzman's tennis ball and can workshop. Dan let me jump in after being about 30 minutes late and let me show a few of the sequences that he and Tim Kelly developed. Dan finished the workshop with an exhortation of the participants to go out and develop new tricks for the prop, as it is still relatively new and unexplored territory. Dan and I went back up to the cafe and found that Lisa and everyone were just leaving, so we sat down to lunch with Arthur Lewbel and Todd Smith. As these are two fairly well known names in the juggling world, I was interested to finally be meeting them. I also enjoyed the good natured jostling between Dan and Todd about Volcano Ball. Arthur very generously picked up the check and we were off to the gym.
Now that I had my props, I could practice the routine and work on the diabolo tricks I had been learning from Japanese sites, as well as from JiBe and Priam's sites. I got started with diabolo and right away Mick from the Dew Drop Jugglers comes up and introduces himself. He asked me to teach him the Vortex and I obliged, thinking that it had taken me almost a year to figure the freakin'trick out. I showed him and he got it in about 30 minutes or so. He was so stoked that it made me happy as well. I said that I was just returning the favor for the stuff I learned watching him on the 1997 Pittsburgh highlights video. Mick introduced me to his new wife Kirsten and just like that Lisa and I had two new friends. At some point in here, we also met Myron and Robin Chestnut, both from Canada. We all went out to lunch and chatted about how Mick and Kirsten got engaged-it's a great story.
Lisa and I were having a great time in the gym when we remembered that I had to go get cardboard from the local U-Haul for my routine. We left the gym at 5:50 praying the shop wouldn't close at 6:00. We got there at 6:01 and found them still open. $22 dollars later I had two of the largest packing boxes ready to go. We schlepped them back to the hotel for later cutting and taping.
That night we went and saw the Jason Garfield show. Wow. Powerful truth telling combined with insane juggling. The combination of both combined with acerbic wit left me feeling drained. I walked out wondering just what I was-a hack, a performer, a hippie, or what' I resolved to go back to the gym and practice the routine in preparation for tomorrow's prelims. All I wanted to do was do the routine clean-in my terms, 5 drops or less. I had done the routine clean in practice before, but the best I had ever done in front of an audience was about 6 drops, and that was at Katje's wedding celebration just two days prior.
I got there and began practicing. It was 12:30 or around there, so the practice did not go really well. I kept missing
the 2 diabolo hook stall pirouette release. I almost killed Owen Morse and Penn Gillette with a genocide. Bill and Katje came
over and said hi and tried to encourage me, but I was pretty much wrapped up in my mediocrity at that point. Still, it was good to see some friendly faces in a time of stress. I basically just pushed it as hard as I could and then went back to the room and collapsed into bed at around 2am. Was I ready' I didn't really know, but I thought I had worked out some of the kinks.
Wednesday, July 16th
I woke up at 6am and went for a run. The sun was just coming up and I took the same river route that Jonathan Root and I used when I was in Reno training with them three weeks ago. It was a glorious run. I felt great. I got back to the hotel and stopped in the café to get something to eat. I ended up eating about two bites of oatmeal and three pieces of toast. I was nervous, and getting more so by the minute. My prelim was scheduled for 9:30. I got up to the room in time to take a shower and cut the cardboard to fit the size I needed for the routine. Before we left I also traced out the exact pattern of movement on stage that I was going to do with each section' balls, 4 balls...etc. Lisa and I went to the Golden Phoenix and began to set up behind the stage. It took us a while to tape all the cardboard together. Nick Souren was already using the high-ceiling stairwell to practice so we moved out to the dark carpeted area in front of the theater. It was tough, but after that doing the routine under the stage lights where I could actually see was great.
When they called for me I spent a long time setting up the cardboard, the trashcans, and the debris on stage because I had never put it all down before. If Lisa hadn't been there to help I think I would have lost it, as Craig Barnes was looking at us like we were crazy. Finally we were ready and I ran the routine. Dropped in the reverse backs and used a breaking pick-up move. Dropped the two stage pirouette and just picked it up. 2 drops and I hadn't even done 4, 5, and 7 balls. Did 4 clean and 5 almost clean but had some bobbles and one drop somewhere. I was trying not to get rattled or let it show so I just kept repeating to myself what Ben Jennings had told me, "Breathe, breathe... Did 7 balls, not a long run, but I took it. Break dancing sequence went okay. I was just caught up in trying to sell the character and the act, as the juggling was sucking lemons, or so I thought. Big smile, Matt!
Next up, diabolos. The two sequences were going great until I got to the hook stall pirouette. One of the props caught on the string so instead of spinning, I just transferred the sticks to my left hand, caught the other prop, did a sun to unwrap, and then wrapped the other one in to start them both going. I considered it a drop, but they didn't hit the floor.
The one diabolo sequence was hell. I dropped in
the slack string section during the regular umbrella-it just flew off the
stage. Luckily, Lisa was there with the other diabolo that I had
thrown off stage just a minute before when the two diabolos were over.
Then I missed the behind the back sequence towards the end-a stupid drop. It was running out of spin and I just tried to push it instead of pulling back. The final genocide trick is my bread and butter. I put it last because it's so risky and bold. I hit it 99% of the time. I missed it. I couldn't believe it. Luckily, it didn't roll too far. I grabbed it, spun it up, and pulled the trick-finishing with a behind the back, pirouette whip catch. My run was over.
Lisa and I picked up everything quickly and left. Outside in the car, I was bummed. I had left the door open for others to get into the finals ahead of me. All they had to do was go clean. I had dropped at least 7 times. I remember telling Lisa, "Well, if I don't get in, we'll know why. I started feeling worse as I went over the routine in my head. Maybe I was just trying to be more of a juggler than I was. I didn't have the mental game down. Sure, I could do okay work at local festivals, but this was the IJA championships. I had tried to get in in 2000 and in 2001. Both times, I didn't have the "whole package. Yet this year, a year when I had the "whole package'to the best that I could create it, I had choked. I was bumming.
Lisa and I went to breakfast, but I had to leave her alone and run to my Kendama workshop. It was probably just as well because I wasn't very good company at that point. I walked into my workshop 2 minutes late and was greeted by, "Well look who just rolled out of bed! I responded with, "No, actually I just had my prelims. Thanks for such stupid ass comment. What time did you get up this morning' I got up at 7! The person responded, ' am. So I snapped, "Well then you win! People were laughing at this point, thinking it was all in jest. Then someone asked me how it had gone and I said not very well........and a chill filled the room.
Still, a workshop it was and I had to do my thing. It helped that Bob Nickerson and Butterfly Man Robert Nelson were both in there spreading their positive energy and spirit around. I remember mock-scolding them to stop talking to each other or I would have to separate them. The kendama workshop was where it began to turn around for me that day. Great people and good fun teaching and learning-reminding me of why I come to festivals in the first place. I left in a MUCH better mood. I never apologized to the person whose head I bit off, but now, after the fest is over and I have some perspective, I can. I'm sorry. You just caught me at a bad time. No hard feelings.
I returned to the gym and people began asking me how it went. I was dreading having to tell everyone that I stank, but I basically said that it didn't go so well and that I probably wouldn't get in. I wanted to start relaxing before the IJA board vote and meeting, but Root and some other people came up to me and began telling me that they heard that I had done a great job in prelims. Where the heck did they hear that'! With that news still fresh in my mind, I sat down for the forum a bit more hopeful.
The forum went great. I thought that Greg Phillips especially distinguished himself during the process. Andrew Conway also threw in some great replies to tough questions. Ben S's call to Art Jennings was awesome.
The big news came in the smiling form of Jeff Daymont. He walked up, sat down next to Lisa and flashed me a thumbs up. I went cold inside and asked, "What does that mean' He merely smiled and flashed me two thumbs up. By this point, I was ready to beat on him until he told me but I was saved when he said, "You're in.'
Two words. "You're in. My goal since November had been to get into the finals. The routine had begun in late July of 2002. Lisa's idea. She kept telling me to do what I knew, and I'd been break dancing since I was 14. And finally, I had done it. I was going to be in the finals, sharing my act with everyone. Anything that happened from here on out was merely icing on the cake. I still had a goal about doing a good job in the finals-five drops or less. The weight that came off my shoulders was huge. I celebrated with Lisa, Root, and anyone else I could find. I suspect I was acting like a nut. "Hey, good morning! Did ya hear' I got in!'
Luckily, I was brought down to earth when they opened the floor for new business and I stupidly jumped up to announce that I'd be showing the Japanese videos that I had brought to the festival. Katje saved me from being lynched by telling those around her that I wasn't trying to sell anything. Viveca and Slammin'also made me laugh when they said that I should try and sell Slingers next. I thought that was such a good line that I decided to use it when I got up at the end and gave it another try for the folks that did want to see the videos. Oops......sorry folks. I'm a git.
Later, I hear that Robin had made it in as had Bill Berry. The three amigos were going to hit the finals together. I was really excited not to just be in the finals, but to be in them with Robin, Rootberry, and Ivan. Backstage would be a party, or so I thought. More on that later.
That night we went and watched the Youth Showcase and the Juniors Championships. David Groth and Mary-Jane Bennett did a fantastic job this year. I liked the pacing of the show in addition to the acts presented. During the Youth Showcase, we played a bingo game created by Slammin Andy and Viveca. It was called Bravo and each card had a different set of criteria that you had to get in a row to win. When you lined up five you were supposed to stand up and yell "Bravo!" As luck would have it, Lisa pointed out that the music used by one group was from the movie Inspector Gadget. That finished off our card and I stood up to yell Bravo. We were laughing so hard that we could barely breathe.
Watching the Youth Showcase, we noticed one juggler in particular. I think his name is Riley Wilkund, but I'm not sure. He came out with a partner in suspenders and a red t-shirt and did a great act. He also did a solo act. From watching him, I learned that no matter what happens on stage, if you keep smiling and hold onto that "I'm the man'attitude, the crowd will still be pulling for you. I held onto that idea. That was what I was going to do in finals, no matter what.
Levity did a great job in this show. The no-smiling juggling competition was funny, and the One Ball Boys act was cool. Definitely a lot of potential there. The St. Ignatius High School Circus Company broke out some great props in their Everything but the Kitchen Sink piece. I couldn't believe that the guys who had just learned tennis can moves from me the day before were pulling them out on stage that night. I was yelling for them, and, of course, for the Diabolo dudes. We need to change some strings, guys. Some of you were running them WAY too long.
Next up, the Juniors. Andrew from Jugheads went first. Lots of burly stuff. I didn't take notes, but I came away thinking he's good. I can't imagine what he'll be like in a few years. Next up was Leo James. I liked the poise he displayed on stage, although yelling, "Yeah!!" after hitting each trick got old real quick. Stephen Bent went next. I particularly liked the part where he played the Simpsons'anthem during his act.
CJ, who I had first seen and met at Lodi, has developed into a monster juggler. We had been watching him practice in the gym and we were worried that he was going to push the limits and drop too much. Well, he pushed the limits, but he kept it all together for a great act. He had the energy and the right attitude.
Olga came on after CJ and started grooving to some funk/techno cuts. I watched her grow steadily more upset after each drop and I remembered the lesson of staying positive in the face of drops. I felt bad for her, given that she's a definite top flight juggler.
Last up was Jonathon Brady. What can you say about his act other than it was awe-inspiring. I remember watching it and thinking to myself that there's no way anyone could compete with him. I knew I couldn't. Then I thought, "Maybe it doesn't matter. The more people you acknowledge as better than yourself, the more room it allows you to become better yourself. I was supposed to be the best juggler I could be, not to be the best juggler at the festival. I heard from some people that Jonathan had lost the joy in juggling-that it was all work now. Perhaps it takes that degree of discipline to reach the precision that he displayed that night. If the price of such precision is losing the very spirit of fun that brought you to the endeavor in the first place, then the price is high indeed. He's fourteen years old and he's proven that he's better than all of us, so now what does he do' I hope he finds his own path.
After the show we went to Renegade. Mark Faje asked me to join him onstage and play HORSE using kendama. I met him there that night and we waited for Adria to finish her dance of 100 scarves. Then we got up and started playing. This being Renegade, we renamed it BITCH. We each had 3 attempts to hit a trick, and if the other guy couldn't hit it, he got a letter. Mark pulled out some stuff that I had never seen, and pretty soon, I was at BITC and he had just pulled another trick with his pants down......and I wasn't wearing any boxers. Ouch. So I ran offstage, tied my shirt around my waist, pulled my pants down and jumped back on stage. I missed 2 tries and stood there trying to keep Merry Mary from pulling down my shirt while Mark stoked the crowd with, "I'm going to make Matt Hall my bitch on stage with his pants down! I resolutely put my back (bare ass) to the wall and hit the third attempt. Making it through prelims didn't feel as good as hitting that trick felt. I kid thee not.
The bit went too long so we called it off and then I sat
and waited with Lisa for Slammin to announce the Bravo winner and give
us our cash. $150 was just what I needed, because I had run out of
cash that day. Lisa and I returned to the hotel thinking about what
a crazy day of ups and downs it had been. And the next day was the
Thursday, July 17th
I woke up a little bit later, maybe 8am. Actually it was more like 7:30, but I forced myself to stay in bed and rest until 8. So I just lay there and ran through the routine in my mind. Psycho-cybernetics and all that. Next I ran over to the gym to find out when my lighting tech would be. The order for the show (at this point I was really trying to force myself to look at it like a public show-I had done those before-no big deal, right') had been posted, and I was on second: right after Souren and before Entropy. I was really happy about this placement at the beginning for a couple of reasons. One, I would get my act done and not have to mentally stew backstage all night. Two, I would be done early and could watch the other acts. Three, I would be done early and then help Bill and Jonathan with their teams act. It was going to be epic.
I had often heard how they scheduled the acts of the competitions around how they thought those acts might place, with the best acts at the end. I think that took a little bit of pressure off me as well. I figured they had put me first because I had barely gotten in, so why not go early and pump up the crowd for the later, better acts. They had Vova and Rootberry closing the first half, and Bill Berry and Vova and Olga closing the second half. I figured those acts would fight it out for the medals.
Lighting tech started a bit late, because no one from the hotel had opened the theater. Craig Barnes showed up and got things rolling though. Becky Schneidermann and her crew (Kenny on sound, Gyro and Bob backstage, Brian (') on lights) were running like a well-oiled machine. Bob even helped me re-tape my cardboard afterwards. Bob was a stud. You got 15 minutes to do your thing. Well, I took 10 minutes just taping all my stuff down, what they called, "spiking the stage. I had little bits of tape everywhere. Put this can here, put that box there, put the garbage everywhere. After that, I had just 5 minutes to do lighting and sound. The sound I wasn't worried about, so I spend the time doing tricks while they changed the lighting. I wanted lighting that I could do my 5 ball sequence to as well as the final genocide. That's all I cared about so that's how I set the lighting. I suspect I went over my 15 minutes, but everyone was totally cool. Will and Tony of Entropy were totally professional, waiting patiently for me to get my stuff together and then get off stage.
I hung around to help Rootberry with their sound and lighting tech. They had been out buying the final props and costume pieces for everyone. They gave me my Angry Fan shirt and I stored that backstage with all my stuff. I went back to the gym to hang with Lisa for a bit and have some lunch.
We went back to our room at around 4:30 or so. We both just relaxed and read on the bed. I had already read the new Harry Potter book, but since we had it with us I decided to try and take my mind off the start of the show in three hours. That worked for about half an hour and then I got into the tub to relax. Another 20 minutes or so used up. Finally, I just started getting ready. Right before we left I did something that I did before the prelims as well. I put in a song by the Japanese rap group Dragon Ash. It's actually quite mellow, done mainly with acoustic guitars. Lisa and I sat on the bed and looked out the window at the Nevada desert and listened to this song. We looked at each other and just smiled. We had come to the end of a long road for both of us. We had gone through a lot just to be together, and we had gone through more to get to the finals. All those days of practicing, all those times she watched me lose my temper or sulk because tricks were not hitting. She endured as much as I did, and she was always there to comfort and counsel. This moment was our payoff. I took that sense of peace, that sense of lightness with me to the theater.
We got there and I split up from Lisa and went backstage. Scotty Cavanaugh, Ben S, and Rootberry came back and we all started checking out our costumes and gear. I changed into my costume. The t-shirt I wore was my lucky shirt. It was given to me by Robb and Sherri Goldstein from Chicago, who I had helped start out in juggling. The shirt read, Honorary Sensei-The Jugglesteins. I started warming up with Nicolas Souren and Vova. Up to this point, I had seen Souren compete in Madison and on tape in Reading. I knew he was really good, even though his style and my style were totally different. I must confess that I hadn't really dug his acts in those shows. Finally, I actually got to talk to the man. Not surprisingly, he and his partner Kimberly were extremely friendly and courteous. Kimberly even offered to help me with my props after Souren was finished. I thought about my previous, uninformed impression of him (or his act to be precise) and was embarrassed. He turned out to be a good man-a gracious performer.
This made listening to his act even harder for me. He had to wait a long time for the Bobby May Award presentations to finish. How he was able to stay warm and loose I'll never know, because it seemed to go on forever. I knew I was glad not to be going first. As soon as Nicolas started, I went backstage and started warming up one last time. My legs were weak. I didn't watch his act, but I knew I would be able to judge how he was doing by the audience reactions. When I heard the applause at the end, I knew he had not done as well as he had hoped. I was on next.
Setting up the cardboard and everything was a blur. All I knew was that finally I was standing stage left with my boom box in hand. I heard Ivan announce my name and the crowd reaction let me know that I had some friends in the audience. I think that is one of the things that made all the difference.
The following is a stream of consciousness account of my routine:
Okay, strut strut. Sell the character. Hurry up, or you're not going to get the balls out before the music starts. You're too far to the side! Start in the middle. Okay. 531 sequence. Breathe. Breathe. Okay. 3 up pirouette. Whoa! Watch the low ball. Go back to cascade. Okay back to the trick for just a bit. Here comes the music cue. Got it. Okay, time to do that side moonwalk. Smooth, do it smooth. Okay, two stage-put the third ball up straight! Got it.
4 balls-breathe, breathe. Siteswaps going well. 534, 64154, 633. Count the reps. Okay, locking routine! Funk it up. Project! Okay, back to 615. Mills Mess is coming up. Don't collide the underarm throw with the others. Spread the pattern. 714 and you're done. Got it. Pose!
5 balls-holy shit, you're clean so far. Don't think!! Breathe. 24. Rest on this one. Okay, 3 up pirouette. Go! The left hand ball went wide. Drop!!! Crap!!! Robot drop line. Okay, they bought that one. Get in position. 66661. Spread the pattern-no collisions. Count the reps. Got it. Whew!!!! You're almost there! Back to center stage. 1-up, 4 up. (6,4x)(4x, 6). Keep the 6's high and straight. Watch transition to 21...got it! Funk it up! Smile! Show them you're grooving to the music. Okay stop. Last trick. 95551. Don't lose it in the lights......damn! It bounced off my hand! Do the 1 more time thing so you can skew the poll that Viveca and Slammin'are doing. Do the trick again and get it this time punk!!! Got it! Pose!
7 balls-music's about right, I'm maybe a beat or two behind. Multiplex. Cut it short. Okay, here's the 7 cascade. Breathe. Just start with the flash. Damn I'm tired. Flash! Whoa...what the f**k was that''!! Okay, pick em up. Try it again. Just a flash......crap!!!!! Okay, screw this. Do that Egyptian drop line you thought of this morning. Get the balls out of the way so you can break.
Break. Push off the ground hard....land...pose. Spin....two spins....spot the lights so you come out facing the audience....it worked!!!!! First time for that......Okay umbrella. No biggie. Man, I'm tired. No shaking hands for the diabolos. No!
It's Time!!!! Accelerate, spin them up. Take your time. Vortex sequence. Oh shit, my sleeve is still down. I'm going for it anyway. Arghhh! It hung up. Do the hanging drop line quick!!!! Get one of them off the string....okay, right hand over...twist, left hand under. It's free!!! Pull up sleeve. Do it again. Spin, spin you jerk. Okay, got it!!!
Move onto the arm sequence. Good. Okay, now you're moving. Screw the hook stall trick. I'm NOT dropping again in 2 diabolos!!!! Do the wimpy toss-sun thing. That's good for something. Okay, sprinkler time. Speed ‘em up. Speed. Drop it in smooth. Now look at the audience!!! Right, left, right stage. Release! Caught it!! Did I just hear the crowd freak' Never mind. Final sequence. Keep your hands tight. Okay, last three suicides...ONE....TWO....THREE! Get that wobbly one off there. Catch. Pose. Hold the diabolo up to your ear to hear the applause (thought that up on the spot).
One diabolo. You're almost home. Attitude. Attitude. Arm Genocide, arm sequence, ricochets...f**k! It hung up. It's not on the floor. Stick the stick in your nose...no, that's stupid. It's not visual. Okay.....spank yourself with the stick! Yeah, that'll work...it's working!!!! Ha-ha! Okay, finish the arm sequence. Okay, slack string sequence. You're behind on the music...WAY behind. Cut the leg sequence. Okay, slack string....pause...look at the audience...hit! Whoa, the diabolo's too slow, cut it short.
Okay, genocide time. You cut the leg so you've got enough time to do it twice if you miss. Unwrap....catch........put it up high.......swing fast....Got it!!! Okay..calm...calm...take your time and pop it straight...spin....spot it....WHIP!!!! GOT IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That's what I'm talkin'about motherf**ker!!!!!!!! (I actually screamed that out loud, I think.) Okay, Throw that freakin'diabolo outta here. Got get the boom box. Stop, hit the crowd....Peace I'm outta here!!!!!! Strut....strut.....there's Bill....almost there.....done!!!!!!!!
"FIVE DROPS! is what I screamed when Bill crushed me in a bear hug back stage. He threw me on the deck and started pounding on my chest like I needed CPR. I lay on my back convulsing, screaming and laughing. I had done my routine in five drops (later I realized it was six) in front of everyone. I don't know if I've ever felt like I did at that moment. All the months of training...so I could hug my bro Bill and scream out, "F**king five! Of course, I screamed right when it was quiet so Mary Jane and Aurora both went "Shhh!'and told me that my stuff was still on stage. Yikes! Bill and I ran on stage and ripped the stuff off the floor at light speed.
Backstage I got hugs from Scotty and everyone. I was so amped up that I was talking to myself, everyone, no one. "That's it! I'm done! Never again!!!! One time, one chance is all I wanted and I'm DONE!! By the time I changed into my Angry Fan outfit and went out into the audience to find Lisa and the crew, Entropy was finishing. I didn't see how they did either. I was so charged up that I could barely keep quiet or sit still. "How did it go' "Did the drop lines work' "I blew the 7. What's up with that'!'
Watching the rest of the first act involved being nervous for Rootberry and counting every individual competitor's drops. When Vova finished his act with 15 drops, someone leaned over and said, "Right now, you're winning. The door's wide open. I didn't know what to say.
Waiting for Rootberry's act was made even more brutal by the extra long sounds of juggling skit that Ivan did. I was dying for Bill and Jonathan-even Ivan knew that it was leaving Rootberry on stage in the dark for a while. His joke about it was great-awesome cover.
Rootberry started and all I was doing was watching for Jonathan's leg to start rising because my cue was to rush the stage when he was in solid under the legs. As I ran onstage I realized that I was blocking their spotlight. So I ran around back, dissed Ben the Umpire, and started tormenting them when I bumped into Bill!!! I recoiled in horror and kept in character somehow. Finally, I got pulled offstage by Aidan and Tim Clancy. Scotty, Aurora and the rest of us ran onstage a couple more times, and then my night was officially done. We partied backstage; taking pictures with the cast and everyone.
During intermission, Bill and I met backstage for a bit. I told him, "Vova had 15 drops, brother. You can take this thing. It's wide open. What do you say' You, me and Robin! Bill just smiled and said thanks and started getting ready. He was the Zen Master.
The second half continued like the first half. Alex Chimal had trouble with his backflip. Robin nailed a solid performance with good character-I had him in the medals easily. The Jugheads did a great job-our table basically all agreed they would get the Bronze. Hiroshi Ueda's devil stick routine was insane. I thought he might medal....maybe. Then Bill went.
We were screaming after he did his 3 ball routine clean. The clubs followed and when he stuck the Albert throw to overheads (he told me that was his one scary part), then I knew he was grooving. He missed the 3 ball pirouette out of 5 twice-I felt for him on that!!
The sword swallow made everyone shut up and pray. He ran it for about 20 catches and then scissored the last catch!!! WINNER!!!!!!!!!! I looked at Scotty Cavanaugh and said, "There's your gold medal right there. He just nodded with big eyes.
Some people started telling me that I would medal, but I didn't want to hear it. I figured I had a shot, but Vova and Robin had also been really strong. I also wanted to concentrate on Vova and Olga's teams routine.
They started out strong. 45 seconds/ 1minute into it they were clean and we were thinking that Rootberry was screwed. Then the first drop happened. Then the second, and so on...........When they started trying 11 for the 3rd time, I was on 13 drops. I was wondering why their coach (I had seen someone hanging out with them backstage and picking up their props for them) had not told them to move on if they missed something.
They hit the 11 to finish and I was still worried. The video montage of super sick footage came next. I had forgotten how insanely good Jack Kalvan was before I saw the video. Scotty's footage I had seen before, but I was glad that everyone else got to see what a monster he has become. Ben Jennings, Chris Chiappini. Whew.......
After the video, I went backstage and found Bill. More bear hugs. I said, "You guys could take it all. The next thing we know, Ivan comes running backstage and asks, "You guys want to go back out there and kill some time' The judges aren't back yet." We looked at each other, giggled,, and said sure. Why not'
Going out that second time was weird. No pressure. Just trying tricks with my buddies. Just like in the gym. Root kept the comedy flowing and we had a ball. How could the night get any better' Right then, the judges returned....
We put our props backstage and were walking stage right behind the curtain when Ivan announced Vova as third. I immediately figured I was screwed, because I had Robin in second. Place. Rootberry and I stood in a circle and held hands. As soon as I heard "Matt Hall" I freaked out. I ran on stage, screaming like a maniac. I gave Dorothy Finnegan a hug and got my medal. I wore the Klutz shirt that night because that's our club here in Palo Alto. The guys at the club--Derek, Bill, Brian, Apple Matt, Yale Matt, Ken and his wife, Late Mike, and Adam-always supported me and gave me tips. I wore the shirt to say that this was a group success for the hobby jugglers. All along I had wanted to see if a juggler with a regular job (I usually work 12-15 hour days as a high school teacher and department chair) could get into the finals. I knew others had done it before, but I wanted to know if I could do it. Standing on the stage with my medal was the answer. Pure gravy.
I knew Bill would win so I immediately started signaling him to come onstage. He waited until they called his name and we freaked out all over again. Next, they started calling teams. I barely heard them call The Jugheads because Bill and I were still going nutso. Then, we held our breath as they called Vova and Olga second, and that's when I turned to Bill and said, "You guys have got it. You just made history brother. Watching Jonathan walk out from the wings with a huge smile and his face and get wrapped up by Bill was incredible. We were yelling and the spot light kept blocking my vision, but I still managed to find Scotty, Lisa, Dan Holzman and a few others in the crowd.
After Jonathan and Bill had their say, Craig Barnes turned to us and said, "Come backstage and I've got some checks for you. I turned to Bill and said, "Oh shit, we get money' I had forgotten.
Backstage, people were milling about and congratulating everyone. I'll never forget seeing Rhys Thomas and Butterfly Man. Rhys said, "You had the whole package! and Butterfly Man said, "I've never seen anything like what you did. It was just the best. These complements by two of the best in the business are treasures I will never forget. I would give up the money and the medal before I would give up those little bits of praise.
Craig gave me my check and people started leaving. Lisa and I were left onstage with the curtain closed. I just started thinking about all the hard work and tough times and I started bawling like a kid. Lisa held me and listened and just was perfect. She's quite a woman. Puts up with all my bs and then some.
We finally got packed and walked out of the theater and ran into Bill and Katje taking pictures of Rootberry. We all took some shots and then went back to the gym.
That night, we went to dinner with a huge group of people. Bill, Jonathan, and I sat down at one end with Lisa, Robin, Ben Jennings, and Scotty Meltzer. Robin was bummin'and I could tell but I didn't know what to say. Lisa suggested I give him some time and so I did. Scotty started telling us about the two philosophies of judging such a contest-technical versus performance and how the two get put together to determine an order. We all listened intently, because we had just been though it. Bill and Root and I just kept looking at each other and smiling or laughing hysterically. It was all over.
I knew they were thinking about the same things I was-the training. I had come to stay with them two weeks prior to the festival. Every day we ran our routines and worked out. I had some really bad run thru's-so bad that I wanted to quit several times. Root in particular picked me up several times and talked me through it. I owe him big time. Bill also worked with me and when he asked me whether he should do Individuals I said, "Totally. You've got the routines. Just do it. Needless to say, he took my advice. =)
After dinner, Lisa and I went back to our room. I tucked her in and went back to the gym to hang out. In the end, it was just me, Bill, and Erin Stephens (a great juggler in her own right). We stayed up all night sitting in an empty gym. We showed the security guard a few diabolo tricks and we walked outside and got some ice cream at the ghetto liquor store. Bill and I just kept looking at each other and laughing. We couldn't stop. The only way the night could have been any more perfect for us, we said, was if Robin had placed. Hell, I wouldn't have cared if I was bronze and he was silver. It was all gravy for me.
I passed out around 6:30 and my snoring woke me up at
7ish. I bid Bill and Erin a fond adieu and went back to the room
to shower and get ready for my workshops.
The rest of the festival went by lightning fast. I remember doing the Friday workshops. Dan's advanced boxes was good, even though he told me he had me fourth in the competitions. (I still love ya, Dan!) =) Right after Dan's workshop I had my Siteswaps for 4/5 balls workshop. It went okay, considering I was hung over from lack of sleep. Ditto for the 2 diabolos workshop later that day. I felt like I was teaching too fast and on too many levels. Thank God Bill Gilliland, Mick, Chris (super diaboloist) and Mike and Curt were there to help me out. They are all great jugglers and represent the best diaboloists America can offer at this point. Rico from Florida was there too. He had performed in the Youth Showcase after not making individuals. I would have to say his style and tricks impressed me more than anyone else's except for the Seattle duo.
Other than that, the highlight of the day was finally getting to show the kendama video, followed by the TV Champion video. It went a bit long, and I got hoarse from trying to translate a little bit, but overall I was stoked to be sharing Japanese culture and juggling tradition with the folks. Earlier in the week I had been talking with Jun from Naranja Juggling Shop and he was a great inspiration for why the Japanese juggling scene deserves to be noticed. Alan Plotkin had also come up to me and talked about the kendama video so I was hoping he got to see it. Great guys.
That night Root, Robin, Lisa, Jill and I went to Benihana's
for some vittles. We ran into Mr. Brady, Dean from Oak Street (Happy
birthday!), and Jonathon Brady. We all got to sit at the same table
and watch our chef do some crazy stuff like the flaming onion volcano (ball').
At one point, the subject of Benji came up.....and that's all I'm going to
say about that. Brrrrrr.......tough talk. Needed to be done though-respect
to Robin and Root for being open and to Mr. Brady for listening.
Saturday, July 19th
Saturday was Games day. Lisa and I had a great breakfast at an awesome greasy spoon with Bill and Katje. Thanks for finding it and for driving!
I was stoked that Scotty won Club Balance and that Ivan won 3 Ball Open. I only wish I had hit my one high front suicide flip in my 3 ball open slot. Other than that I was just guessing at tricks to try. 3 ball Simon says ended with Bill, me, and Ivan. Very cool. Kurt and I did diabolo speed passing with a technique suggested by Gil Pointius. It was SO illegal, but we wanted to try it anyway, because Peter and Laura Kasemen were unbeatable. After we went, we figured we had it made, but then Peter and Laura turned up the heat and did more than 180 passes in a minute...with drops! They earned that win, and we all laughed about it afterwards. Next year, we go back to actual passing with distance, right' Hahaha
I did the showmanship contest to practice my tennis ball and can routine for EJC. Droppy, and besides Jeremy (') had a hilarious scarves routine. I was telling people around me to vote for him. Heck, I already had a silver, right' And besides, he was just better.
Rootberry won People's Choice to my joy, and for the cherry on top of the sundae I got some votes too. Our job done, we went to the Thai Palace for some kick ass Thai food.
That night, we all waited in line for the public show. Ivan and Robin were doing kendama-Robin had become really good and Ivan was clutching it like a club and cracking us up with his jokes. In fact, I saw a lot of kendama in the line that night and that week and I was inspired. I'm going to finish that translation this summer if I can. Put it out there on the web for all to use. Had a nice talk with Slammin'about his Chinese study. In fact, I still can't read fully what he wrote in my Virtuoso Jugglers book, which I carried around the whole night like a teen girl looking for Elvis'autograph.
One of the best messages I got in the book was from Jason Garfield. The ol'anti-diaboloist himself wrote, "Dear Matt, Great Good Job U. Jason Garfield. Someone saw it and told me that that was like a big wet sloppy kiss from him. I just laughed. Jason is human like the rest of us, no more, no less.....except when it comes to juggling. Personally, he cracks me up.
The Cascade of Stars show was the best ever. I can't imagine how it can be better. When will this much talent be assembled again' After the show, we went backstage and took a few pictures and got the books signed. CJ and I were definitely going for the signatures. I tried to treat the immortals like regular folks, but it was almost impossible after having just witnessed what they had done.
It was easier back in the gym that night during the all-nighter . Olga (Jason's), Scotty and I went and got snacks and beer. I hung out talking with Mark Hayward, Viveca, Slammin' Melonhead and the crew as they finished High Low Goal Crush Bane. Possibly the best juggling game ever invented. I think they came up with it, right'
I missed out on the pizza but not on the insane juggling.
Vladik's dad and Viktor Kee were battling Francois Rochais and Bill in
a five club dropback competition to see which pair could pull it first.
Viktor just kept saying, "I used to do clubs 10 years ago. You could
have fooled me. Bill and Rochais finally pulled it off. Then
Root and I started messing around with Chris LaRue's huge bounce balls.
Rick Rubenstein came over and joined in as well-catching the balls going
to Root's right hand and throwing them back into the 5 lift bounce where
I caught them before they hit the floor and threw them into Root's left
hand. Yeah baby!
Sunday, July 20th
Lisa and I took our sweet time getting ready. She
was a bit bummed that she had been too tired to stay up all night and say
good bye to some folks. As luck would have it, we ran into Bill,
Katje and Gerry Martin just as we were heading to the car. So we did HLGCB
with them and then got underway. We stopped at Rootberry's pad and
went out to Beto's for some Mexican food. It ended as it had all
started, with just Lisa, Scotty, Root, Bill and me just kickin'back and
talking about juggling. Scotty's the next one to go and I think the
battle be epic. Dimuzio, Sefeldt, Brady, Pecel, and Scotty.
Whew! Now that's an Individuals competition that I want to see.......from
the audience!! I am done. No more competing. I left all
I had to give out on that stage. I just want to start learning 5
clubs again and do a million new siteswaps. Normality returns.
Time for new goals and new adventures....EJC is in two weeks!!!! I
can't wait to see the diabolo moves!