Posted by Orinoco, 2012-01-21 11:25 GMT
When I first started going to juggling festivals in the late nineties one of the many things that made me fall in love with the juggling community was its friendliness & how open it is. Everyone was just nice. You could walk up to anyone & they would be only too happy to stop & chat or answer your questions. Even the people who I perceived as superstars who performed in the public shows that I met were so down to earth & were all willing to acknowledge me as a mere mortal.
I think community is one of those words that need to be experienced before you can understand what it means. You can read the definition in a dictionary but that is no substitute for setting up camp & living amongst jugglers for a few days.
Over the last few years I think there has been a shift. The cult of celebrity has taken hold in the outside world with the rise of gossip magazines, reality TV shows & X Factor clones (thankfully the fame of these manufactured slebs hardly seems to last more than two weeks beyond the final episode of their series nowadays). I suppose it is inevitable that some of this celebrity culture would bleed into our own.
We used to be on first name terms with our slebs (Haggis, Charlie, Luke, Jay) but now more people seem to refer to jugglers by the more formal Gatto, Garfield, Walker, Galchenko. From within the juggling community one of the drivers of this change is of course the WJF. This organisation promotes juggling as a sport so it makes sense to refer to their competitors the same way we refer to our sports stars. The WJF competition format is all about creating a spectacle out of technical juggling. For the competitions to be exciting for an audience you need a degree of prestige, which means building up the competitors to be more than mortal, otherwise it just becomes a competition to see who sucks the least.
I too am guilty of exploiting celebrity status. Back in 2002 TWJC put on a one dayer. During the organisation phase I spent a lot of time thinking about how I wanted the festival to feel. I wanted to recapture the awe I first felt at the BJC in Nottingham in 1997 where I was so close & had access to some really phenomenal jugglers. I remember repeating the mantra, "heroes walk among us" to myself. From this I came up with the idea to have a 'street' act every hour in the main hall in place of a gala show. Instead of putting our slebs up on a pedestal/stage I wanted them to be really close to & on the same level as the audience. We went out of our way to try to secure a fantastic lineup of megastars. And it served us very well indeed.
Promoting celebrity status is useful for event organisers because big names draw big crowds, but it can also cause problems. As an editor at the IJDb I spent a number of weeks locked in a battle against a particular individual who kept posting really hateful & abusive personal comments about Jason Garfield almost as fast as I could delete them (almost!). Yes Jason is a controversial character, but for that he deserves praise for making our community more vibrant, not personal abuse.
There is also the example of the WJF falling out with Thomas Dietz. If what I have read about the backstory is true, Thomas started making ever increasing financial demands on the organisation eventually causing a rift that I think damaged both parties.
Do we need celebrities in the juggling world? Certainly many festivals like Bungay trade very successfully on their friendly reputations. Talking to veterans of the convention scene a phrase that often comes up is, "public show fatigue", but I've never heard the term "festival fatigue".
But inspiration is the lifeblood of the community. If I'd never seen Jay Gilligan & Ben Jennings at the time I did I wonder whether I would have stuck at this hobby. I know I certainly wouldn't be half the juggler I am had I not.