Gathering each year for their annual convention and festival, which features workshops, performances, and special events, the International Jugglers Association plans out three to four years in advance, finding a city to host the week of activities.
When choosing this year’s site, David Cain, the director of this year’s festival, said the decision was easy.
“We always have several cities vying for our business,” Cain said. “But this year, Fort Wayne was by far the best offer we had. As we’ve been planning everything in the months leading up to this, Fort Wayne has been the most ideal place in the history of the festival. All of our events take place at the Grand Wayne Center and the Embassy Theatre, and then there are the Marriott and Hilton hotels right there, too. We could just walk from one venue to the other while holding our breath. Everything is so close together. The facilities there are amazing.”
When the topic of additional downtown attractions, specifically the booming restaurant business, is discussed, Cain further sang Fort Wayne’s praises.
“Last year we had our festival at Springfield, Mass., and we did not have any of those kinds of operations nearby at all. So we’re happy to have all of those places nearby as well.”
The International Jugglers Association is celebrating its 72nd festival, which indicates the long history of the association. For a time before it existed, it had to find other ways to bring those people together.
“The organization came out of the International Brotherhood of Magicians,” Cain said. “Jugglers didn’t have an organization of their own so they kind of palled around with the magic folks. Then at one of their conventions, a bunch of them decided to form their own organization. Now every summer we gather somewhere in North America, and we host national events and things all over the world. In addition to regional festivals and camps, there’s also the European Juggling Convention which has become the biggest juggling event in the world. It’s taken on a life of its own. But it’s very free flowing compared to what we do here. The IJA is very organized.”
Cain himself has a long history with IJA and as a performer. He began juggling when he was only 12 and within two years had begun to perform professionally.
“I was kind of introverted as a kid,” he said. “I was better at learning skills than I was at meeting other kids and being around people. I think one day during the summer I was just bored and found three balls and decided to teach myself to juggle. Then I went to the library and got all the books I could find, and I never looked back. I started juggling on cruise ships, at Kings Island, at corporate events and churches. I’m now a talking comedy juggler, and if you had ever told me when I as a kid that I’d end up doing something like that, I’d have said you were crazy.”
Cain has written 16 books on juggling and has a popular juggling demo video on YouTube. He also oversees the world’s only juggling museum in his hometown of Middleton, Ohio, situated between Dayton and Cincinnati, and he is considered the world’s leading juggling historian.
“I have a whole show where I perform nothing but forgotten tricks from the time between the 1600s and the 1900s,” Cain said. “I also do a lot of work in churches now and have a Christian ministry with juggling.”
Among some of his tricks — and to give some idea of what’s in store at the IJA Festival — Cain juggles boomerangs and sends them soaring over the audience, only to have them all come back to him.
Oh, and he catches them in his mouth.
“I do all kinds of crazy things,” he said. “I can spin three balls on one finger. It looks like a snowman. Juggling is more than just juggling three balls or three clubs. There’s a lot you can do with it.”
Tuesday’s schedule (June 25) opens with a benefit show at 11 a.m. then continues with XJuggling (think X-treme) at 1 p.m., the Anti-Gravity Juggling Show at 7:30 p.m., and the Juggling Film Festival at 11 p.m.
Wednesday features the Individual Prop Competition at 1 p.m., the Go with the Flow Juggling Show at 7:30 p.m., and the Renegade Show at 11 p.m.
Thursday features a workshop at 10:30 a.m., the World Championships of Juggling at 7:30 p.m., and another Renegade Show at 11 p.m.
On Friday, jugglers attempt to break records at the Numbers Championships from 1-4 p.m. and is followed by Game Show Night at 7:30 p.m. and Fight Night at 11 p.m.
Saturday opens with a particularly unique athletic endeavor as jogglers (juggling joggers) compete in races to see who the best joggler is, with the races held 8 a.m. until noon. The festival ends that evening with the Cascade of Stars at 7:30 p.m.
And for those who want to practice a bit or watch others do so, Cain says there will be a room open at the Grand Wayne Center 24/7 for juggling.
A complete schedule of all performances, events, and workshops (as well as pricing and venues) can be found at juggle.org.
Although that full slate of events keeps the jugglers busy, Cain says the organization likes to work in the communities they visit each year, and this year a group of performers will drop by Buskerfest on that Saturday, June 29. (Buskerfest will run from 4-10 p.m.)
It’s a busy week for everyone, and serving as the festival director for the first time has been daunting, Cain said. He plans to take a year or so off but will likely tackle it again one day.
And he already knows where he hopes the festival returns in the not too distant future.
“We have places set for the next couple of years, but personally I’d like to see it come back to Fort Wayne again,” Cain said. “The city has been so welcoming and so helpful, and the facilities are so convenient. I can’t imagine an easier city to work with than Fort Wayne.”
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