When most of us were kids, juggling was the province of children's parties, circus sideshows and talk show television — to say nothing of bowlers who marveled at seeing their pins flying. Who didn't love a juggler in between trapeze artists or stand-up comedians? The art of juggling seems attainable ("I can do that!") yet impossible ("No way"), which made it all the more magical. In the hands of Greg Kennedy, however, juggling always looks improbable as he exists within giant, elaborate, magnetic stage sets and dangerously perilous circumstances. He's like the David Blaine of juggling. Kennedy will perform as a part of the Spherus Circus at the FringeArts Festival this week.
You worked as an engineer forever. What makes an engineer decide to take up juggling as a full-time profession?
I’d been juggling as a hobby for years, and in the '90s started bringing more engineering into my juggling — building my own props, coming up with ideas for different shapes.
Was there a moment when the two professions combusted?
1996 was the turning point. I designed this piece I call "Hemisphere" where I roll balls inside an acrylic bowl. I competed with it at the International Jugglers Association Championships and won the gold medal. I decided it was time to truly see if I could make a living doing something I really enjoyed. I asked my engineering boss for a short leave of absence to perform juggling [in] Japan. That was February 1997 — I never went back.
Seriously, what is the hardest part of mastering the techniques? Were you a kid that constantly juggled, tossed things around?
I was a kid that took things apart and put them back together again. I always liked a challenge, and I was pretty coordinated. While I could juggle three balls as long as I could remember, I didn’t start training seriously until high school. I always had an obsessive personality, so juggling was a good fit.
If you had your druthers, what would be the most desired, challenging thing to juggle and why?
For me that changes all the time. Sometimes I get obsessed with a certain shape — a box or a triangle or a rod. I’m not drawn to things because they’re challenging — I’m drawn to them because of the possibilities of movement choreography. And before you ask, I am not the least bit excited to juggle things like fire, chainsaws or bowling balls. But as a professional juggler for over 20 years, I’ve done all of them.
Man, you got me with the bowling ball thing. OK, you famously appeared as part of Spherus with several aerial dancers' acrobatics as part of the gig. Was that fun or distracting having someone spinning around you while you're spinning your own stuff?
No, it’s fun to share the stage, and the aerialists’ choreography makes a nice complement to the manipulation work. Their grace and flow is a good balance to my precision.
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So why go solo?
Well, it’s certainly easier to work solo, less complicated altogether. It's just not very social.
What goes into your massive set pieces — what sort of forethought?
So much planning. It usually starts with sketches, and then goes on to miniature models of the apparatus. To build of the actual shape is usually full of problems — I break a lot of things before I find the method that works.
What makes juggling or fast motion manipulation Innovative?
Juggling itself is not innovative. It’s been done for thousands of years. But for most of that time it’s been done with very traditional and prescribed forms. Only in the last 20 or 30 years have we started to ask, what else can we manipulate and how?
You're appearing in our FringeArts Fest. What makes juggling a Fringe or avant-garde art form?
I’ve spent decades mastering these unique skills, creating beauty out of objects in motion. Everyone sees different things in my work, but above all, it’s really enjoyable and thought-provoking.
If you go:
Friday, Sept. 9
Philadelphia School of Circus Arts
5904 Greene St.
7 p.m., $20