Opera North

Juggling and Balancing (and balancing and juggling) with Opera North guest artist Thom Wall

Opera North's Hoedown at Blow-Me-Down, the eagerly anticipated 2.0 version of last year's sold-out Singers & Swingers show blending opera singers and circus performers, is more than "just" a sampler of arias and aerialists. The production showcases some of the best young opera stars and circus artists who have toured the globe.

Case in point is juggler Thom Wall who toured with Cirque de Soleil and performed at the Smithsonian's 50th Folklife Festival (among other credits) and is described by the founder of the Museum of Juggling History as "one of the brightest stars in the juggling world."

And Thom literally wrote the book on juggling, the just-published, Juggling - From Antiquity to the Middle Ages: The Forgotten History of Catching and Throwing.

 

So the audience at Hoedown at Blow-Me-Down is in for a treat. As one reviewer said, "Wall's comedic routines are a display of great stage presence, physical strength, sharp wit, incredible control and balance to amaze and amuse as he flips and bounces around a variety of props."

But because he has made a study of the history and skills of juggling and because he has spent decades fine-tuning his professional skills, Thom turns his physical techniques into theatrical magic: a cerebral mastery spins an audience into breathless anticipation that extends beyond simply waiting for the glass to drop.

He explained that his time in 2011-12 studying at the New England Center for Circus Arts in Brattleboro helped "Cure me of Juggler Brain." "I was focused on tricks and skills and not on how they're put together," he said. "Now I work on juggling routines that make sense to the audience by being relevant and digestible."

He also thinks - and blogs - about what might be called the 'thought process' of juggling. In one article "Balancing and Juggling (and Juggling and Balancing" [http://thomwall.com/balancing-and-juggling/] he describes as "an introduction to both balancing and to the concept of 'split brain' combination tricks, where you rely on both active focus as well as your 'lizard brain' to achieve an act of coordination."

 

Thom says, "Juggling while balancing an object is considered by many to be an impossible trick.  And that's because it is.  The secret is that the trick goes the other way around - instead of juggling while balancing, you're really balancing while juggling."

He links learning this "act" to the classical four stages of learning model developed by Noel Burch: Unconscious incompetence, Conscious incompetence, Conscious competence, and Unconscious competence.

"When you first work on a skill," says Thom, "You do not understand how to do it, nor do you understand the reasons why it's not working (unconscious incompetence).  As your training progresses, you begin to understand how the trick works but still struggle to execute it (conscious incompetence.)  Further along you begin to achieve success with serious concentration (conscious competence,) and eventually develop the skill to a degree of innate fluency (unconscious competence.)" In other words, you learn to juggle while balancing by practicing the juggling skills you've mastered while focusing on what you're balancing.

"Our goal here is to get you to understand what you're doing," he says. Wow to make it work, and get that information through your brain and into your body so you achieve success without even thinking about it." Talk about relevant!

But come to Hoedown expecting to be dazzled.

At the start of his book, Thom observes why documenting the history of juggling is so hard: "As with dance, so with juggling-the moment that the performer finishes the routine, their act ceases to exist beyond the memory of the audience. There is no permanent record of what transpired."

To thrill to the experience, you just have to be there. Tickets on sale now.

Opera North presents five performances of Hoedown at Blow-Me-Down Farm: Friday, July 12 at 7 pm, Saturday, July 13 at 2 pm & 7 pm and Sunday, July 14 at 2 pm & 7 pm.