Circus News

Backstage at the European Juggling Convention 2019 with the Production Team

High summer is here, and this August that means the European Juggling Convention is in high gear. For nearly 24 hours of every day from August 3rd until the 11th (save for a tiny mellow window between 4am–7am) there are jugglers on every flat surface of the Newark Showgrounds in Newark-on-Trent, UK.
Mark Songhurst talks to his production team member during tech rehearsal

I shadowed a few members of the tech team this Friday as they settled in for a long day to tech for the Gala event which is scheduled for two shows on Saturday. While the majority of the campers were just starting to get some REM sleep at 8am finally, the production team was in the red big top running sound and lights. This after they, along with a core crew of about 57 volunteers, had already spent weeks organizing every detail for the 4000 visitors who’d arrived expecting non-stop workshops, shows and opportunities to learn and play.

A couple of performers from Bristol were rolling around on a Cyr wheel and having some trouble with it because the stage floor was a bit more spongy than should be for a Cyr act. Stage manager Mark Songhurst and his wife Janette were on deck to make swift and effective decisions, such as who to call about the ‘hubcap’ that had been blown off the top of the tent in the high winds, leaking in a sickle of light. “That calls for a proper rigger to climb up there and fix,” Songhurst told me, getting on his walkie-talkie to inform the team at base. He and Janette remained unflappable throughout the day as new riddles appeared, and by 3pm everyone had run their act and felt good about it. They admitted that their many years of service at the British Juggling Convention had helped prepare them for their positions. BJC is an event about a quarter the size of EJC, but with all of the same elements.

I had five minutes for an impromptu interview of the show’s producer, Rosie Kelly who described her vision for the show, and how the reality of budgeting concerns had grounded her vision in to more of a theme. The theme really did emerge watching the performers cycle through their work and she looked please to see things falling in to place. (See the Rosie Kelly interview on CircusTalk Facebook live.)

I sat next to volunteer stage hand, Alaster Leitch (normally a math teacher, Rubiks cube doer, and often times stage manager) as the show’s finale number by gentleman juggler Thom Wall was being run. Wall had some new material he’d be showcasing this year, and he, like the pro that he is, communicated all of the cues and ran it–wowing the staff and momentarily making them forget about the long hours as they got a reminder of why they do it in the first place.

Wall told me the high winds were a  concern for the production team–the big tops have a certain wind speed rating, and the newscasters were predicting certain areas nearby to get up to 80 mph winds, but Songhurst had a back up plan in mind. As soon as Wall was done, he had to dash off to teach a workshop, and I sauntered out in to the winds and sun, off to visit the trade hall full of vendors and check out their wares.

Visit CircusTalk News tomorrow, when I will shadow with Quat Props to see what its like to make bespoke juggling clubs and balls for the demanding throngs of jugglers. Visit CircusTalk’s Instagram and Facebook daily to get some more of the EJC vibe.

Kim Campbell
Editor, Writer -United States
Kim Campbell is the editor of CircusTalk News. She has written about circus for Spectacle magazine, Circus Now, Circus Promoters and was a resident for Circus Stories, Le Cirque Vu Par with En Piste in 2015 at the Montreal Completement Cirque Festival. She is the former editor of American Circus Educators magazine, as well as a staff writer for the web publication Third Coast Review, where she writes about circus, theatre, arts and culture.

Kim Campbell

Kim Campbell is the editor of CircusTalk News. She has written about circus for Spectacle magazine, Circus Now, Circus Promoters and was a resident for Circus Stories, Le Cirque Vu Par with En Piste in 2015 at the Montreal Completement Cirque Festival. She is the former editor of American Circus Educators magazine, as well as a staff writer for the web publication Third Coast Review, where she writes about circus, theatre, arts and culture.