The kids are laughing. Maybe that’s the only thing that really matters.
2013 was a wonderfully busy year. We hit some new highs, learned some new things, and met lots of great people along the way. We challenged ourselves to perform at a new level and pushed ourselves try new things. Here are some of the highlights of our year.
While we continued to tweak our show, Michael learned the shaker cups. He spent countless hours watching experts on YouTube then perfected what he learned. He turned that hard work into an original routine that incorporates the twinkle in his eye and Michael’s unique brand of humor.
He also studied comedy. It’s a rough job, but important for the survival of humanity. He crafted a standup comedy routine and performed it a number of times throughout the year during special performances. Comedy demands an ear for rhythm and exquisite timing. It was fun hearing the routine develop over time.
I worked hard on contact juggling. Contact juggling is more like manipulation of a ball in which the ball stays in contact with the body. Unlike the loud clanging of the shaker cups, I chose a quieter prop and practiced it night after night as we watched the Phillies in a disappointing season.
I was also relentless in my pursuit for knowledge of social media and social media marketing. We were able to increase our presence, as far as Likes and Follows, by 50% this year! While it is clearly a work in progress, I strive to be Sponge Lois (minus the square pants) and give back the knowledge I have learned.
This year, we made a conscious effort to be part of networking and business learning communities. The result was not simply that we have more contacts or even more knowledge. We got to know some amazing people. Some are sales people, some are marketing directors, and many are fellow business owners. I found folks that are wonderfully inspiring and generous with their time and knowledge. Even after 20 years in business, the people I met this year made it our best. While they contributed to our business growth, it is the community that I found most rewarding.
We performed at halftime at the Delaware 87ers game. The Sevens are the Philadelphia 76ers developmental team located in our hometown of Newark, Delaware. We had just 2 weeks to design and perfect a 5 minute routine. I have to say that I don’t usually get nervous before we perform. I had some serious butterflies going into this one! After the final catch, and cheers from the crowd, it was totally worth it.
The biggest thrill of all was learning to self-publish a book. This year, I wrote and published The Almost Perfect Birthday Party: A self-preserving guide to planning a party your child will love. I received some great reviews and even royalty checks! The ride was long and the journey was bumpy. Thanks to a great writing partner, Margie, and lots of support from family, friends, and colleagues, I was able to bring my dream to fruition.
UD Ice Arena
Assisted Living Facilities
Continuing Care Facility
Girl Scout Banquet
After School Circus Camp
Supporting Kidds Fundraiser
Sunday Breakfast Mission
Wilmington Country Club Easter Egg Hunt
Sea Colony Easter Egg Hunt
IHM Father/Daughter Dance
DSWA Earth Day Celebration
White Clay Creek State Park Creek Fest
Linden Hill Field Day
Customer Appreciation Events
After Prom Parties
UD Alumni Event
Special Needs Camps
Parks and Rec Summer Camp Series
Ice Cream Festival
The Hershey Story
Taste of Newark
Taught Juggling, Balloons, Face Painting
Humanist Holiday Party
Delaware 87ers Basketball @ Halftime
New Year’s Eve Event
And lots of private events
Learning. Connecting. Giving. Growing. Exploring. I hope you’ll join us on our journey.
What’s in store for you in 2014?
We encounter lots of people that can juggle 3 balls, but can’t figure out how to add that extra ball into the pattern. Challenge yourself and learn to juggle 4 balls this summer. Check out this video then let us know how you do.
Michael and I just finished teaching an 8-week after school circus arts program at an elementary school near our home. I taught circus arts classes in the past, although I had never done an after school program with this format. While I love teaching, the prospect of teaching Kindergarten through 5th graders was a little daunting, especially since the 20 person class skewed young. I made up a rough class schedule, recruited Michael to help and crossed my fingers that we could teach 5-11 year olds to juggle or something that resembled a circus skill.
We started the session in a hallway. Although we were offered a classroom, the desks, tables, chairs and other obstacles made the space unusable without a moving crew at the beginning and end of each day. Far from ideal, we made the best of it. At least they couldn’t wander far.
If you have ever taught children, you know there are always a few names you figure out right away. They are the ones you talk to 5 times in the first 5 minutes. They are the ones that will keep you up at night trying to figure out how to turn octopus arms into jugglers. Who doesn’t love a challenge?
And there were challenges. Some kids were painfully shy. Others scooted down the hall or hid under the lone table refusing to do anything because they didn’t master something the first time they tried. We heard from a parent that their child wanted to quit mid-session (but didn’t). And then there were the talkers, the runners, and the “please take your hands off of him,” kids. Ask any teacher, they deal with this every single day. Thank you, teachers. You are saints.
While our framework was circus arts and our product was a show for parents on the last day, we focused on the process. Juggling is hard. Ask any person who has ever tried. You won’t be successful the first or second or third time you try. Failure is not easy to accept and especially for elementary school kids.
We focused on teamwork, each encouraging the other to do their best. We cheered their successes and raised them up when things didn’t go well. We focused on stage presence and presenting oneself as a confident person on stage and off. But, we mostly focused on a simple formula:
Courage + Perseverance = Success
Trying something hard takes courage. Performing on stage takes courage. And they all did it. Some of them worked through fear, some even intense fear and found something in themselves to overcome it.
It is hard to keep going when you don’t get it right away. But, they didn’t learn to read the first time they picked up a book and they didn’t learn to tie their shoes the first time they laced them up. We practiced juggling every day in our once a week class. Knowing that juggling wasn’t going to be possible for everyone, we all tried balancing, swinging poi, hat manipulation and clowning. They all found their thing and kept at it. While the older kids learned to juggle balls, others learned scarves. But, everyone learned something.
I learned something, too. Kids are amazing beings. The show isn’t something we’ll take on the road. It wasn’t that kind of show. What I will take with me are the smiles on their faces when the performance was done. That sense of pride, and maybe relief, that filled them. I’ll take the hugs from the kids and the thanks from the parents. And I’ll carry the hope that they will all have the courage to try something new or something hard and keep at it until they succeed.
OK. We aren’t perfect. We occasionally drop our props or forget our lines or start on the wrong cue. Fortunately, we are comedy jugglers and have ample drop lines to rely upon or can make the mistakes into opportunities for self-deprecating humor. This blooper was beyond all of that. At First Night Wilmington on the cusp of 1997, we share an event that was clearly our biggest blooper of all.
We arrived at the check in station in Wilmington after a long ride and performance at First Night in Dover. In Dover, we were greeted and escorted to a well-lit, well-suited space for our performance and again greeted by both a Site Supervisor and a professional Sound Engineer to set up and man a sound system for us. Not so in Wilmington.
We were on our own to figure out where to park and how to lug in our equipment. As was mentioned in a previous post, we were happy to be performing at the Christina Cultural Arts Center only to find out that while we were inside the building, our audience was outside, standing in the cold. There was a huge picture window between us and our audience. Fortunately, the organizers realized there would be an issue, so they set up a sound system for us. Unfortunately, we might have been better off if we had used two soup cans and a length of string for communication.
That set us up nicely for what we had to do to keep the audience’s attention. With lots of events and performances happening simultaneously, the fact that they had no seats and were standing in the cold, we knew we had to something special to keep our audience from walking away.
We decided to do shorter shows than previously scheduled. Getting volunteers from the audience would take a combination of sign language and charades expertise since no one could understand a word we were saying through the sound system. (Think Charlie Brown’s teacher.) We figured we had 20 minutes worth of show that included juggling and nonverbal communication and NO talking or at least 20 minutes we could fake our way through.
After searching for a while, we finally found someone who appeared to be a supervisor or at least that’s what their walkie-talkie seemed to suggest. We asked if we could juggle fire. They replied with, “I guess.” That was good enough for us.
For the cards we were dealt, the first show was going pretty well. I prepared the torches. The audience stared in anticipation. Michael nodded and we set the torches ablaze. The crowd on the street swelled as Michael did his thing with the fiery sticks. It was going great. And then…..
The smoke detectors sounded their annoying beeps and the alarm in the building blared. We quickly blew out the torches and started our walk of shame outside. It would have been bad enough if we were the only ones in the building. But, we weren’t. A crowd of about 50 people poured down the stairs. We interrupted a jazz singer, in a beautiful blue satin strapless full length gown, who was right in the middle of a set. She was not happy.
By the time we got outside, most of the crowd had dispersed. With increasing volume, we heard police and fire sirens approaching the scene. Michael tried to tell one of the fire fighters that it was just us who set off the alarm; there was no fire. The man shoved the dude with the knickers and the bow tie aside and went about his duty.
We sat down in an alley, full of embarrassment, trying to decide what we would do for a living after this.
As it turned out, the professionals cleared the building for re-entry, we performed 3 more shows that night (without the fire), and got hired again for the next 5 years at First Night Wilmington.
We don’t juggle fire that much inside anymore except for certain venues. It is ironic that libraries allowed us to juggle fire in their buildings while fire companies did not. Hmmm…
We are fortunate that we have had so many years to juggle together (20 to be exact) and perform for so many and have not once burned anything down.
There is another story about our first day performing together in Atlanta, Georgia in 1993. While the day was excruciating for me, Michael experienced an unexpected thrill. In between our shows, Michael noticed a camera crew setting up nearby. With an insatiable lust for performing, Michael wandered across the park and approached them.
As he got closer, he realized that the crew was not just a local station, but an NBC Today Show crew. Not intimidated, he asked, “Do you want to film me juggling fire?”
They all looked at each other and said, “OK.”
He sprinted back to me where I stood guard over our equipment. He grabbed his torches and smiled as if he had seen Santa for the first time before sprinting back toward the crew.
I watched from across the park as he lit up his torches and went to work charming all of America. With each new take, he used his signature expressive face and talent for performing while projecting his lines, “Hi Bryant. Hi Katie. What a difference Today makes here in Atlanta.” This 5 second Today Show promo aired nationwide in conjunction with others for about a month with the most notable airing during the NBA playoffs.
Although he didn’t get paid to do the promo, the director did give him a $10 tip. It was nearly 1/3 of the total we collected that day street performing and worth the couple of hundred dollars we spent on the plane ride for the story alone. It is said that everyone gets 15 minutes of fame. Michael is destined for a few minutes more.