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While doing the website for the 15th BJC in Whitstable one of the questions which people often asked me was, "What do you do at a juggling convention?" This article should hopefully explain to the uninitiated a bit about the British Juggling Convention (BJC) in particular.
A juggling convention is simply a meeting of lots of jugglers in one place. If you have never been to a juggling convention before you may be wondering what actually happens when a load of jugglers get together. Well, we juggle (obviously), chat, laugh, watch others juggle, have a few drinks, relax with friends, sing Bohemian Rhapsody, play games, teach each other tricks & generally have a good time. It will be a lot like your local juggling club, but on a much larger scale.
Juggling conventions are open to all levels, you don't need to be any good at aything to attend, there are no auditions or skill level requirements. Just come along & enjoy yourself. You can just turn up on the day if you like, but you can get a cheaper ticket if you preregister. If you are able to do so please preregister as soon as you can because it massively helps out the organisers & means that they can put on a better event.
It is not just for jugglers though, juggling conventions are for diaboloists, devilstickists, unicyclists, contact jugglers, club & poi swingers, stilt walkers, acrobats, staff spinners, whipcrackers, lasso spinners (in fact any circus related skill goes) & also absolute non-jugglers.
The BJC is traditionally on for anywhere between four-seven days around Easter time in a different town or city each year. For most people it is a camping holiday, but some people book rooms at local bed & Breakfasts or Travelodge/TravelInn or similar low cost hotels. Shower (usually communal) & toilet facilities are provided on site but take a tip from me & always bring your own toilet roll. There will also be a variety of catering on site to keep you going if you don't want the hassle of cooking on a camping stove. The beer tent is also considered an essential requirement & provided as such.
A juggling convention will usually have at least some if not all of the following features:
A big juggling hall or halls
Which is/are usually the focal point of a festival. This is where most people will do their juggling & will usually be packed out with people all having a bit of a practice. It is a place to watch out for new tricks & new friends. If you see someone performing a new trick that you like, just wander up to that person & ask them to show you how it is done. We're all a friendly bunch & help will be given just for the asking.
Please Note that the juggling halls are for you to JUGGLE in, not sleep. It is against health & safety law in the UK to have bodies lying around in corners of halls for fire safety reasons. Sadly too many convention organisers have had to do some fast talking with a health & safety officer to stop their event from being closed down. DO NOT turn up at a BJC without a tent or having booked a room to sleep in. Good luck getting off site alive if you get found out to be the cause of our festival being cancelled!
The Public Show is so called because it is open to the general public as well as convention goers. It is usually the highlight of a festival & is usually held in a proper theatre. Before the start we have a bit of a party while everyone takes to their seats & fire modeling balloons at each other, make balloon chains, throw paper planes & generally have a bit of a play. The show gives you the chance to sit back, watch & be inspired by the professionals. Juggling convention organisers strive to book the best they possibly can & rarely do they fail to deliver something spectacular. Who will forget Rod Laver in Nottingham, Toby Walker in Durham, Anthony Gatto in York, the Russians in Cardiff or Vova & Olga in Whitstable?
In order to keep the atmosphere friendly for the general public (who may be a little er... overwhelmed by being in a hall with hundreds of jugglers) please try & save your heckles for Renegade.
A range of workshops will be on offer for all manner of skills & abilities. Workshops are held in small groups in a corner of the main hall or maybe a separate room. A list of workshops will be available on the notice board telling you when & where, so if you want to have a go at whipcracking for the first time, improve your diabolo technique or learn advanced siteswap patterns, just turn up. All workshops are run by volunteers, if you have a skill & you don't mind taking an hour or two out of your festival to show others why not contact the organisers prior to the festival or on the day. If you tell them your requirements they will sort you out with some space & a time. Workshops are fun for both the host & attendees & are a great way of meeting new people as well as improving your skills.
Renegade is a special show where all acts are provided by members of the audience, sort of like an 'open mike spot' at a comedy or music club. Acts will range from brilliant to bizarre with everything in between. The stage is open for anyone to do whatever they want, juggle, dance, sing, tell a joke, trash a computer, inflate balloons with your nose, slice open a silicon ball with a knife, jump up & down in a sleeping bag - these have all been done on the Renegade stage at some point. You can do a whole routine or a single trick. It doesn't even have to be juggling related at all, the sillier the act the more the audience will like it! If you want to get up & do something all you need to do is go & see the stage manager who will be regularly pointed out by the compere & let them know what you would like to do & they'll do the rest. Renegade is usually held late at night & will run on until no one wants to perform anymore which is usually well into the next morning. If you are bringing along children a Renegade show will feature swearing, drinking & very occasionally nudity.
The quality of each act found on a Renegade stage will also vary wildly. Many acts will be someone appearing in front of an audience for the first time, other times you will see stars from the Public Show come out to show you some more of their skills. Some people get up to try new material that is too experimental for a mainstream audience. Renegade is totally unlike anything you will see anywhere else. The audience is expected to respect each performer for giving it a go, regardless as to whether the act is to their taste or not. In recent years many Renegade performers have gone on to perform in the Public Show so it is important to give every act a chance. If you don't like what you see onstage - go & do something else.
A very important part of any convention are the traders, who will come from all over the country & beyond. This is the chance to buy lots of new kit. Most traders will let you try before you buy as well as help you decide which is the best juggling club/ball/diabolo/devilstick for you. A little bit of bulk buying will often see you with a nice discount that you will not get anywhere else at any other time.
Another event is the parade through the host town or city, which gives you a chance to have a look around the local area & also allows you to dress up, juggle & generally act silly in front of the public.
Another high point of a convention is the games, often at the end of the parade all the convention goers will take over a large area of public land & host our equivalent of the olympics. Loads of games are played for every conceivable prop, popular ones include:
- three ball, three club & unicycle gladiators
- diabolo high toss
- devilstick propeller endurance
- handstand endurance
- long distance passing
- five ball endurance
- the big toss up
& on top of that you will get the chance to play all manner of bizarre games such as the diabolo nose push, a race where you have to push a diabolo along the ground with your nose. Stredging, which I couldn't possibly explain. The juggling beast, you play in teams of four & the idea is to juggle as many objects as a team while having as few feet on the floor as possible, the winner is usually the best looking beast & not the one that best fulfils the criteria! This site also has a more comprehensive list of Juggling Games.
Another important thing to know about the BJC is that it is run by jugglers for jugglers. All the organisers, stewards, workshop leaders & almost everyone else involved in the general running of the festival are volunteers. Without the help of jugglers the British Juggling Convention & any other convention would never happen. There is always a need for more helpers & all help is very gratefully received so if you can spare a bit of time, please volunteer your services!
If you would like to find out more (& you do) then you'll have to come along to a festival at the next available opportunity. Keep an eye on the Juggling Edge Events Listings to find out about upcoming festivals.