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Interview with Johnny Ryan – New Zealand Juggling & Circus Festival


Interview with Johnny Ryan – New Zealand Juggling & Circus Festival

How long has the festival been running, and how has it developed in that time?

The festival is in its 26th year. I feel like it would be unfair of me to wax too lyrical about its development, since I've been humbly involved for only ten of those. I first went to the festival when it was in Raglan. I'm not much of a juggler myself, not professionally. I'm a teacher. I first came to the festival with my class years ago, and we had such an incredible time. It was a lovely experience for us, and I've always been thrilled to come back.

Every year the format has changed slightly, though some events remain constant and people look forward to them each festival. The Friday Renegade show for instance, is a beautiful chance for our community to showcase itself. Earlier in the evening we see children performing, there's busking acts, people showing things they've learned in the past year, and as the evening progresses the show can veer a little more risque-

I was going to say, aren't you forgetting the nudity?

Ah, you've heard about that then? It can descend into a little bit of gratuitous nudity. Last year at Parakai, it got a little nasty with hummus and I haven't been able to look at a corn chip in the same way since... but that's a long story. We are aiming to raise the tone of this year's Renegade.

The first part of the night is usually for the children. Then there is an intermission when the children are supposed to go to bed - not that they always do. The later show can then explore things a little further but we will try to keep it a bit more modest...definitely no human 'dips' this year.

At Renegades I've seen funny, hysterical performances of all sorts. I once watched a marvellous European juggler, a fifty year old punk, who got drunker and drunker as the night progressed, but his clubs and knives and ring juggling seemed to get better the more beer he had. I have no idea how he managed it. He was awesome. I ended up inviting him home to my place and he performed free for my school. Legend.

The Festival is always a three or four day event, with workshops and skills freely offered. You can learn five ball passes, seven ball flashes, aerials, clubs. There's all sorts, and if the class isn't there, then you can come join in and teach it yourself.

Is there anything you're particularly excited for this year?

The theme for this year is Art Deco. I want folks to dress up, and I'm actively encouraging the performers to get involved with the Art Deco community. I've always loved the big Art Deco festival in Napier, and I'm eager to bring some of our Festival to theirs. I think there's a lot of scope to dress up and get out on the streets of Napier to liven things up.

We don't have any 'international' headliners at this festival, but instead we have such incredible talent from all over New Zealand. Basketball Jones is hosting our amazing public Gala Show on Saturday night, we have Vinyl Burns to host the Renegade. Fraser Hooper is taking part, he's such a wonderful clown that even when he's not performing I find myself laughing around him. We have Mariana and Pablo (originally from Argentina) who perform a very clever comedy juggling act. Kozo and Lisa Komatsubara are coming in for the show, and we have an aerialist Cherry Holahan from the Kelly Bros Circus. Loads of talent. I can't wait!

What does it take to bring an event like this together?

A whole lot of emails. The practical aspect is a lot of organisation. Finding a venue took a long time, and this year we'll be in the Hawkes' Bay A&P Showgrounds. I needed to organise big tops, insurance, bank accounts, health and safety, planning maps and layout, ticketing, generally spreading the word. I'm not very big with social media, so I've been learning a bit about that (takes longer than seven ball...)

At this stage it's a lot more 1-on-1 contact. Still a lot of emails. Can I be in the show? Can I run a workshop? What is provided? Then there's people offering to provide us with things out of the blue. There's been some lovely surprises, the Kelly Brother's have generously provided us with their big top, which has been a marvellous windfall, and a wee catering caravan couple rang out of the blue and are coming too!

Is there anything about making this festival that you'd like the wider circus community to know?The impression that I have is this festival helps the whole juggling/circus community to develop - certainly to have fun. Being a part of the emailing list is a great way to make sure you can stay involved. It's important to be in contact with each other, it makes more room in the festival to grow when people are active about finding ways to participate. It's great if your members are involved.

What do you think will be your personal highlight of the 2018 NZ Juggling and Circus Festival?

The people. These events are always full of such nice human beings. I feel like when we come together we have such a joyful gathering. There's a lovely relaxed nature in the hour long workshops. Sometimes you remember what you learn, sometime you don't, but you're surrounded by people who are happily and freely sharing their skills. The festival is filled with these lovely moments. I often just stop and look around, and when I do, I see 100 to 150 people busy doing something colourful and creative. A marvellous tableaux of humanity, filled with joy and life. That's why I'm involved, that's what gets me excited. I love it.

Let's bring on this year's Festival, and let's get juggling!

The NZJCF 2018 runs from February 15th - 18 at the Hawkes Bay A&P Showgrounds.

For more information look at the NZ Juggling and Circus Festival Event Page

Tickets are still available at the gate or from Eventfinda


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