The last time 1-year-old Theo Marvell-Brown was at the Boulder Juggling Festival, he was inside his mother’s womb.
He likely doesn’t remember his time at the event, though his mother — juggler and festival co-founder Cindy Marvell — clearly recalls tossing and catching clubs above her rotund belly during one Friday night routine. Theo’s father, juggling guru Carter Brown, also was there.
It appears the bug bit young Theo.
“We juggle around him, and he crawls into our patterns,” Marvell says of the juggling rehearsals she and Brown have with their Boulder-based performance company, Lazer Vaudeville. “We also do what’s called a hand balance — you hold (Theo’s) feet, and he balances.”
Among the world-renowned performers in Boulder this weekend for the third annual Boulder Juggling Festival is a new generation of juggling enthusiasts, equipped with old-school skills and fresh ideas. According to award-winning juggler Dick Franco, some youths learn the craft phenomenally fast.
Franco, of course, has a vested interest in the performance skills of his 9-year-old stepson, Tyler Tojo Fifield. Tyler started juggling balls in December and has since graduated to simultaneously juggling multiple apparatus in front of large, international audiences.
“The main reason he’s coming to Boulder is to give him exposure to some other people who do juggling and performance art,” says Franco, a Las Vegas performer and 32-year juggling veteran. “I want to feature my son in the show as much as possible.”
In an industry constantly searching for ways to wow crowds, Tyler already has created his own juggling act, which he has prepared to perform at the festival. Tyler’s hula-jump act incorporates toss-throw juggling, hula hooping and jump roping.
The youth has more tricks up his sleeve, too, says Franco, who made a name for himself in the early 1980s by using his mouth to juggle ping-pong balls and, later, juggling chain saws.
And while juggling festivals tend to highlight industry trends and specialties, the general public still wants to learn the basics, Marvell says.
“There’s a lot more people juggling as a hobby, but it’s on a global scale,” Franco says. “A juggler’s still one in a million.”
The International Jugglers’ Association has hosted juggling events since its inception in 1947. But in the early 1970s, when Franco developed an interest in the craft, information about juggling was scarce.
With few resources, he made his own apparatus by carving holes in bowling pins.
“I didn’t even know if there were jugglers anymore,” he admits.
Franco was among a group that rediscovered and breathed new life into juggling. Marvell, thankful for such trailblazers, tapped into the resulting opportunities and resurgence for jugglers in the 1970s and ’80s.
While acts such as the Flying Karamazov Brothers paved the way for a new age of juggling, Marvell accompanied her father to New York juggling clubs. Franco, meanwhile, became a featured act on television and international stages, eventually winning a gold medal at the Circus World Championships in 1979.
Street performers — on the Pearl Street Mall and abroad — took up the skill. Juggling was back.
The challenge has become keeping juggling fresh for audiences but pure in the eyes of the performer. After performing his famous mouth-ping-pong juggling act in the early 1980s on a live television show, Franco discovered that it lacked the thrill factor for Las Vegas audiences and booking agents.
“I had taken the edge off — the element of surprise — so I had to come up with something new,” Franco says. “I was walking down the street, and I saw a second-hand shop, and I saw a chain saw in the window. And I thought, ‘That might work.’”
Franco’s decades-old chain saw-juggling act won’t be featured at this weekend’s festival.
“It’s a juggler’s convention,” Franco explains. “Pure jugglers don’t really consider chain saw juggling pure juggling.”
Franco, however, is excited about Tyler’s performance. The boy has achieved so much in such a small amount of time.
“He’s 53 inches tall,” Franco says. “He can’t get on the big roller coaster.”
If you go
What: Boulder Juggling Festival. Events include open practice space, workshops, games, films and performances.
When: Today through Sunday
Where: Boulder Circus Center, 4747 N. 26th St., Boulder
More info: 303-444-8110; www.bouldercircuscenter.com
The festival’s Public Show and Circus Arts Competition: 7 p.m. Saturday in the Boulder High School auditorium, 1604 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder. Tickets start at $10. Performers include Sven Jorgensen; Dick Franco and Tyler Tojo Fifield; Jonas Beauvais; Peter Davison and Kezia Tenenbaum; Jim Strinka; Luke Wilson; Erin Stephens; Cate Flaherty; Lana Bolin; and Carter Brown and Cindy Marvell.
Valerie Singleton can be reached at 303-684-5319 or by e-mail at email@example.com.