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March 13, 2002:

Juggling for love

With balls aloft, students woo crowd with Valentines' routine

By Zach Pincus-Roth '02

Michele Maxson '01 sat in a sold-out Frist Theater holding a large pot of pink roses and white chrysanthemums.

"Promise to cheer for David!" she shouted.

Her boyfriend David Sachs '02 was about to perform in the Princeton Juggling Club's Valentine's Day weekend show "From Jersey With Love," a humorous hodgepodge of small balls, giant balls, basketballs, glow-in-the-dark balls, pins, rings, diabolos, slapstick, vaudeville, silent film, film noir, and men dressed as grandmothers.

Love was in the air throughout the show. The final routine, "Juggler On the Roof," starred Sachs as a father who required each of the 10 other cast members to juggle for the hand of his daughter, played by Indu Datta-Barua '05. Earlier in the show, Sachs and Jacob Weiss '03 brought a pair of volunteers on stage and tried to make them fall in love by turning on romantic music and juggling pins around them and four other frightened audience members. One sketch starred Geza Szigethy '04 as a juggling private investigator. The woman who appears at his door has a thing for — who else — jugglers.

"Juggling hasn't gotten me a girlfriend yet, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed," said Szigethy, who learned to juggle by picking up three lemons in seventh grade. He didn't juggle again until joining the club his freshman year, when he began practicing in the Forbes College hallway for an hour a day. "It's my relaxation from homework," he said. "When I got my first diabolo, I was using it five hours a day. That was during exam time, which was really a bad idea." (A diabolo looks like two half-grapefruits pinned back to back, and it spins along a string manipulated by sticks at each end.)

Hoping to improve on last year's Frist show "When Jugglers Attack!," the Club, led by officers Sachs, Weiss, and Szigethy, began brainstorming ideas for the show before winter break. The 16 routines were invented, choreographed, and practiced collaboratively, first at the club's weekly Sunday meetings in Dillon Gym and later during extra rehearsals.

Valentine's Day, the day the show opened, the Princeton love scene was dealt a serious blow when Director of Health Services Pamela Bowen sent a rather unromantic email to all undergraduates warning them of 53 recent campus cases of a highly contagious gastroenteritis. The show's light board operator dropped out of the show after getting this intestinal flu, the cast meticulously began to wash their hands after every meal, and "Come to think of it, my stomach hasn't been feeling so well lately" became a common campus grievance.

But that didn't prevent hundreds of digestive tracts from packing into the Frist Theater that weekend to marvel at the wide variety of flying-object feats. Mike Whelpley '02 and Jonah Blasiak '04 managed to continuously juggle while taking their shirts off. Magician Philip Isles '03 made balls disappear into thin air. And the crowd was delighted at the intermittent appearance of 11-year-old townie Jesse de Augustin, an active club member, who in addition to juggling would dress as cupid and shoot Nerf arrows.

The club juggles in a style similar to that of the legendary Karamazov Brothers, who go for physical comedy in addition to technical proficiency.

"I think slapstick sort of accompanies juggling," said Szigethy. "We just don't take ourselves very seriously."

Weiss agreed. "One thing that I like about slapstick," he said, "is that there's more of an interaction with the audience. Because it's not making something funny so that the audience laughs at you. It's more that you're laughing with the audience."

In this vein, Weiss drew laughs by moving stiltedly and mugging a wide-eyed goofy smile during a routine with Sachs and Don Sheehy '05 that involved very large rubber balls. It was as if his character were just as befuddled as the audience by the utter ridiculousness of passing and bouncing spheres the size of a dorm refrigerator.

The audience responded to such shenanigans by cheering for the jugglers to succeed. They even cheered after a dropped ball in order to acknowledge the trick's difficulty and lend encouragement.

In addition to onstage comedic bits, Weiss and his brother Daniel '01 created a short black-and-white film called Finnegan's Rake that mimicked the style of silent slapstick comedies.

But the show's most unexpected stunt was Juggle MIDI, a contraption that Weiss constructed in COS 436: Human-Computer Interface Technology with the aid of Professor Perry Cook (http://www.princeton.edu/~weiss/cos436project.html). Weiss strapped sensors to his right hand and the back of his right knee, with a third underneath his left foot. Every time he threw a ball from his right hand he played a note, and a combination of knee bending and foot-tapping changed the pitch. Weiss varied his juggling speeds while bending up and down in order to play "Hey Jude" and "Mary Had A Little Lamb."

Valentine's Day celebrates love between two people. But, as these jugglers demonstrated, sometimes our most fervent passion is reserved for something as simple as keeping three balls aloft. In the final routine, Sachs's character observed, "Here at Princeton, you might say every one of us is a juggler on the roof." We are all trying to find love — for a partner or a hobby — without contracting gastroenteritis.

You can reach Zachary at zacharyp@princeton.edu