Thank goodness that when Jon Wee and Owen Morse met at a juggling convention in 1986, neither had the urge to get a real job and become an investment banker or fireman.
They would rather juggle chainsaws and garden weasels. So that’s just what these headliners — known as the Passing Zone — will be doing at Bright Night 2006. Their Providence Performing Arts Center performances at 6, 8 and 10 pm will conclude with their celebrated "Chainsaw Ballet," complete with tights, Strauss waltz, and all the dainty choreography audiences can handle.
As potential audience members can see on the Passing Zone’s 10-minute online streaming video (www.passingzone.com), these guys are a hoot — funny as well as dexterous. Rhode Island fire laws won’t allow them to juggle torches, and the constraints of three shows back-to-back won’t let them juggle people (outfitting volunteer Jugglenauts in space suits for their swinging time, suspended and pushed, takes a while). But their passing sickles and machetes will make for plenty of thrills and chills. Penn Jillette, of Penn & Teller, has called them "the finest club-passers in juggling today." When they first met, they were each able to pass nine of those bowling-pin-shaped clubs. Since they both started juggling as teenagers and remain well practiced, with about a hundred performances per year, they share the Guinness world record for — on their best day — passing 11 clubs back and forth. They have received 18 gold medals from the International Juggling Association, another record.
Recently Wee spoke from Las Vegas, where he and Morse were speakers and judges at a juggling conference.
What’s the most difficult juggling or passing routine you’ve developed?
There are some club passing tricks that we do that are very hard. We pass nine clubs between us, and when we do a show, that’s got a good chance of not working. So that’s a very difficult one. There is a piece where I stand on Owen’s shoulders and he’s standing on a Rola-Bola [board on cylinder] and we are juggling torches. That’s physically difficult and it’s also pretty scary, because if you have an accident or a problem, it’s a big fall.
You’re among colleagues today at a conference. Do you find yourself in a different mindset when you’re performing before other jugglers?
Yeah, when we know there are other jugglers in the audience, it makes us a little bit nervous because they’re going to notice mistakes that a normal person won’t. But then we also will maybe try some harder things that we don’t normally do in a show — like passing behind our backs.
We learned pretty quickly that what goes over well for an audience is not necessarily what’s interesting and good for a juggler. The good news is there is stuff you can do in your show that is much more appreciated by an audience but is easier to learn than some of the difficult tricks. But then, when you do spend so much time working on things that are difficult, a normal audience can’t tell the difference sometimes between something easy and something hard. People will sometimes say, "Oh, can you juggle and eat an apple at the same time?" If you’ve been juggling for a week you can probably do that. But that’s the kind of thing that people get a kick out of.