As part of our partnership with El Circense, the Spanish language digital magazine, we will be republishing some of their original content, in English. This week, we present an in-depth interview with juggler Luke Burrage from January 2010.

By Marco Paoletti

Luke Burrage Cover El Circense Magazine

Who is Luke Burrage?

I’m Luke Burrage, and I’m a juggler. I first learned to juggle back in 1991, got more serious about it around 1997, and turned professional in 2003.

What is your speciality?

Over the years I’ve specialized in many different areas. Once I was best known for numbers juggling, equaling the world record with a 12 ball flash, and setting passing records with Ben Beever at 18 then 19 balls. I also did a lot of research into juggling notation, developing a system called Beatmap, which isn’t that widespread, but I find useful on an almost daily basis.

I’ve also been well known for releasing juggling videos online. Back in 2001 and 2002, long before YouTube made sharing videos effortless. I was getting 300-400 video downloads per day from my website. That’s probably more daily views than my YouTube channel in 2010!

I’m also known for my writing and other media activities. I released Juggling Podcasts for a few years, where I interviewed other jugglers and gave workshops. I write for Kaskade magazine, and my photograph is being included more and more often in other magazines too. Also, since 2003 I’ve compiled the Top 40 Most Popular Jugglers of the Year list, as voted by other jugglers online, and release the results in creative ways (text, audio and video so far).

I love three club Combat. I’m probably one of the top four combat players in the world. Unfortunately the only person who can consistently beat me at combat also lives in Berlin. Playing against Jochen Pfeiffer is always a lesson in humility.

These days I guess I’m best known for performing at juggling festivals like the EJC, where I also organize and host many events.

As for juggling itself, I still love inventing and working on new tricks and patterns, and I often share them on YouTube. Clubs, rings and balls all have unique properties that I enjoy exploring.

The way I work is to take a “given” about juggling, and break that rule. For example, I put a lot of work into squeeze catches, the technique of catching two balls in the same hand at the same time. A time-reversed multiplex, if you will. People write down a Siteswap for such a trick, see two balls landing on the same beat, and consider it “invalid”. For me it isn’t invalid, it just needs more work. Sometimes, like learning squeeze catches with clubs, can take years of work, and result in about 90 seconds of tricks.

And then, when someone else sees the trick, they don’t only know how to do it, but also that it is possible. They don’t have to work out the technique, and just learn the hand movements. A pattern that takes me six months to get solid, because I go down so many false paths, can be learned in twenty minutes with the right instruction.

How many different acts do you have?

I have many acts, with balls, clubs, rings and diabolo. On top of that I have a series of acts with objects that aren’t designed for juggling, including table tennis paddles and balls, and other sporting equipment. I find this invaluable for connecting with an audience. Nobody knows what a juggling club feels like, but everyone has held a waste paper basket!

When I first got into performing, I made sure to perform at every convention I attended. For a few years I went to over 18 conventions per year. As far as I could, I tried to do something new in each show.

This means that over the years I’ve performed more acts than I can count. Some were very spontaneous. Some took upwards of eight months planning and training. Unfortunately, months of planning isn’t a good indicator of continuing success with an act. The two most theatrical acts I’ve put together, each taking more than eight months, I performed twice and once respectively. And then, one thing I tried out at a spontaneous renegade in a gym, where I juggle and get myself tangled up in a jacket. I performed regularly for seven years until I lost the jacket back in January.

Thankfully I’ve become better at knowing if an act will work with an audience. Now I only put months of work into a project if I’m confident.

I’m currently working on a full length theater show, with a massive rotating stage, in which I can walk on the ceiling and juggle upside down. It’s ambitious, and it’s already two years in the making. I put in three years of thought and planning before starting it.

Where do you perform?

Currently, my main venue for performing is on cruise ships. Many people have strong negative conceptions about cruise ship entertainment, and unfortunately most are born out of reality.

However, I don’t compromise at all in what I perform on stage, no matter what the audience. Every single routine in my 50 minute show was developed for a juggling convention, except one which comes from my street show. When I tell other jugglers I perform, on cruise ships, a very nerdy 3 ball and video projection routine, in which I recite siteswaps and trick names, they don’t believe it. However, that same routine is often the highlight of the entire show for my audience, and the one they ask me about most after my shows. If you treat an audience with respect, any audience, they’ll reward you for it.

I still perform at street show festivals, juggling conventions and variety theaters, but don’t actively pursue these gigs any more. Having an agent who gets me jobs where I don’t work much, and get paid well, means I lack motivation to put in the same time and effort for harder work that pays less.

How do you train?

I have a juggling studio at home, and I practice my juggling routines for over an hour each day I’m home. When I’m traveling I get less practice, and usually just work on the routines I’m going to perform in my next show.

When developing a new act I put in much more work, and it’s highly structured. As a professional, the last thing I want to do is drop too much on stage. Here’s an example of how I work.

Once an act is roughly choreographed, I run though each section ten times in a row, and make note of where I’m dropping most. If I see a trick is causing more drops than others, I’ll train it hard in isolation. If, after a few days, I can’t do it 10 times in a row without a drop, I consider it too random, or too difficult, and replace it with an easier version.

Once the choreography is locked down, I’ll keep running through the routine ten times per day, and note how many times I drop.

After a few weeks, I usually have a routine to the point where I can do the entire thing ten times in a row, and make just two or three drops in total. At that point, I know it’s ready to show on stage. It’s also highly motivating to know I can do an hour-long training session and only drop three times.

Of course, I still drop on stage, but in a 50 minute show, I’ll only make two or three unchoreographed mistakes.

Any advice for new jugglers?

I don’t have much advice for new jugglers, but here are a few things relevant to jugglers who want to start performing.

First, perform at every opportunity. You can get good at juggling by training by yourself. The only way to improve on stage is to have an audience.

Second, if you can’t make a trick ten times in a row in practice, don’t try to do it on stage.

Third, don’t let the only source of dramatic tension be juggling. By this I mean you must have another concept in your act except “look at me, I can do a hard trick.” That’s fine if you’re Anthony Gatto, if you are the best juggler in the world, but if you are just starting out, you’re not him. Have another concept which still exists when you drop.

When I drop, I still have a highly engaging and charismatic stage persona. Or I have a video that’s still playing.

What are your favorite memories of performing around the world?

I love performing in different countries, to people who don’t speak or understand much English. I consider it a challenge to entertain them with my juggling and comedy, using only English, and still get a good reaction. To do this I make sure everything I say and do, comedically, is routed in something physical or visual. Many comedy jugglers just say one-liners, and then juggle three objects, but I don’t find that as useful.

Traveling is something I do both for work and as a hobby, and over the past few years I’ve been videoing myself juggling in every new country I visit. At the latest count I’ve juggled in about 65 countries and territories.

One favorite memory is performing a street show in Antarctica. Of course, there are no streets in Antarctica, and there were more penguins than human audience members, and the hat money was zero, because why would the audience carry money when the nearest shop is two thousand km away?

What are your workshops like?

I don’t do many workshops, though I would like to in the future. I have space and insurance to run workshops in my own studio, and did so a few years ago. I concentrated on my speciality, which is performing juggling in unusual ways.

I sometimes teach workshops at conventions, but I’m usually too busy organizing other events to do longer workshop courses.

What do you think of the international juggling scene?

As far as I can tell, the juggling scene is very healthy. I’m connected a bit less these days. I used to go to 20 conventions a year, and now I go to only four or five.

What is your favorite object and why?

I love different juggling props for different reasons. I love balls, as they are the easiest thing for me to juggle on stage. I love rings, as there are so many ways to manipulate them compared to balls. And I love clubs. Even if I only have one or two, I can still invent as many new tricks as I want.

What projects are you working on for the future?

I’m currently working on a theater show which takes place entirely within a single room. I’ve been working on the technical side of the show for the past two years, and have most things in place. Now I need to cast the other two parts of the show, and then it’ll probably be a mere two years more before it is performed for the first time in a theater!

I need to work with other people on this because I want it to be beautiful and sexy as well as clever and funny. As a juggler, I can do clever and funny and technical and many other things, but I’ll cast a duo of dancers or acrobats to provide the young, sexy and beautiful.

Aside from that project, I’m continually working on new material to go in my existing show. I hope to reduce the props I need to carry from my current 19 kg case down to few enough props (and no knives) so they can fit in my carry-on luggage when I fly.

What is your participation with the EJC like?

I’m heavily involved in running the EJC. I try to avoid doing any work in advance, and then run all the open stages during the convention, along with organizing other events like the Fight Night. At the EJC I’m no longer known as a juggler, but instead “that guy who always hosts the first show.”

How would you describe the EJC to a juggler who has never been?

The biggest and best juggling convention every year? It’s hard to view it any other way. Even if the convention itself is badly organized, or the shows aren’t up to scratch, there are always enough friends and interesting jugglers around to make it a highlight of my year. And I would know, as I’ve now been to ten in a row!

Do you have anything else to say?

There are no rules.

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