[Reflecting on 20 Juggle Jams] Emerging Traditions: The Wise Guys Prequels

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Introduction. There is something special about multiples of five in celebrating birthdays, careers, and marriages. This six-part monthly column series celebrates this double-deca-milestone in our annual Juggle Jam tradition. I’ll start by crediting our three “prequels,” the childcare-based Wise Guys Youth Juggling Shows (1995-1997).

Part 1: “Emerging Traditions: The Wise Guys Prequels”
Anyone familiar with the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas knows that the central plotline is that Charlie Brown attempts to direct his Peanuts peers in their Christmas play. He dives in head first but hits many roadblocks, including much criticism for his emphatic choice of a rather pathetic Christmas tree. Even though the show doesn’t depict the end product of the Peanuts’ play, Charlie Brown found the true meaning of Christmas and a supportive community.

Like other pop culture references in my own life, I resonate with Charlie Brown in many ways. When I succeeded in teaching three 4th graders to juggle in July 1994, I had no plans for any future shows let alone successful clubs. Those three initial kids yielded 10 in Fall ‘94, forming a weekly elective club commitment within Wise Guys (the older childcare program of Edina KIDS Club) to learn and develop as jugglers and friends.

When we grew to 24 kids by the winter of ‘95, I decided (somewhat reluctantly) to put on a formal show at the end of the school year. We scheduled the old South View Little Theater for the Wednesday after Memorial Day. Fittingly (perhaps a subconscious nod to my animated directorial predecessor), I chose “Linus and Lucy” (Peanuts’ jazzy theme) as our opening song. The choreography was very minimal (up to one ball each) and our finale was also quite humble: kids entering the stage one at a time to show their best juggling to “Sweet Home Chicago.” We had emcees, a dance specialty act, and special pro guest Craig Carlson performing juggling, magic, and acrobatics.

A year later, 39 Wise Guys Jugglers from two clubs graced the old Edina Community Center Auditorium. In addition to a much more spacious stage, our upgrades included seven specialty acts (with yours truly, prodded on by the kids), our first rendition of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to send off our inaugural group of kids to an IJA festival, and our first version of an Awards Slide Show in which I read all the kids’ names and awards as they walked onstage to Rudy music. We reprised “Sweet Home Chicago” for our finale on a lone Wed. night.

In 1997, we were up to 53 jugglers in three clubs with production values trying to keep pace with the company’s success. This was the first year with no “outside” guests (the Twin Cities Unicycle Club performed in ‘96), but we invited non-jugglers from Wise Guys to perform: the Danceline Club and the Drama Club. World-class juggler Jay Gilligan choreographed a routine for our IJA Club (now Elite), and we ended the show with “Reach” for the first time with the same basic theme and structure that has lasted for 20+ years.

I didn’t direct a show in ‘98 for two main reasons: my Wise Guys Asst. Manager/Asst. Coach, Carrie Proctor, was on maternity leave, and I was burned out from six years of intense management duties (including expanding the juggling program to Saturdays, gigs & festivals). Also that spring, Wendy & I were diagnosed as infertile; that summer, I resigned my manager post to coach youth full-time.

Next month, I’ll highlight our new name, further upgrades, and continued efforts to reach for youth development through a spring variety show which celebrates this supportive community.