What is an EJC?

The European Juggling Convention (EJC) is the largest juggling convention in the world. I mention it a lot and decided to explain it a bit. The EJC has been running since 1978, when it was held in Brighton and had only 11 attendees. Last year the 40th EJC was held in Lublin, Poland, and roughly 3000 people attended. Every year it welcomes circus people, not just jugglers, from all over the world. For the last ten years attendance has been between 1200-7200 (usually depending on how central it is).

The green space at EJC 2017 Lublin, Poland.

A sign suggesting you enjoy your coffee rather than taking it to go in a disposable cup.

Every year the EJC is held in a different European city. Independent teams, guided by the European Juggling Association, bring their proposals forward to the General Assembly of jugglers who vote on locations. These teams then voluntarily give up their time to organise an EJC including shows, venues, discussions with local councils, advertising and much more.

Currently the EJC is nine days, including arrival and departure days. Camping is included in the price of your ticket (though some people book accommodation, and some do both). Tickets are available online from four-to-seven months in advance and are sold in “Phases”. The earlier you buy, the cheaper your ticket is and it helps the EJC team in booking things. Arrival and departure days being the exceptions (but not always), there are workshops from 9am ’til 8pm (and more) which are voluntarily led by attendees, a major evening show (or two, if it’s an especially big EJC), and a renegade.

You can find a handy guide on what to pack for the EJC, compiled by the team of the 2014 EJC held in Millstreet, Ireland, here!

Standing ovation in circus tent

A renegade is a late-night show for jugglers, like open mic. Anyone can get up and do a trick, and it isn’t necessarily circus-related. If the crowd likes your trick you win a shot of alcohol or sweets.

A sculpture built of juggling clubs.While the days have some structure to them, which is worth keeping an eye on especially at your first EJC, there are lots of other things people like to do; juggling outside, touring locally, eating and drinking, building sculptures, making other art, napping, swimming, academic discussions, video projects… It is still vacation time and the EJC is a very open and welcoming environment which is a chance to live freely without having to do too much.

The EJC is open to everyone – EVEN if you can’t juggle [yet]. If you enjoy fun and shows, it’s a great way to spend a week and a bit late July/early August. The 2018 EJC will be held in the Atlantic Ocean in São Miguel, an Azores Island of Portugal, July 28th to 5th of August. If you have any specific questions you will find lots of information on their website, Facebook and the EJA Twitter. You can also find lots of groups on Facebook, some even for specific countries. Each European country also has its own country contact/representative who’s job it is to provide you with information about the EJC!

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Dublin Circus Festival: 8-10 April, 2016

I attended the Dublin Circus Festival for the first time this year. In the weeks leading up to it they had a lot of announcements about events and Gala acts which had me really excited, but I also found out they had a limited capacity of 150 in their Gala show venue which damped my enthusiasm a bit.

I arrived late on Friday after getting the 7.15pm bus after work (the last bus), and caught just the end of the fire show. It was held in the courtyard in Trinity which was quite an impressive setting.

On Saturday myself and my companion arrived around 11am. The hall was very centrally located, though there were no sign-posts or any indication of what was going on inside. There were a great number of people I knew in attendance, so I spent the first while going around the hall chatting and catching up. People were juggling, playing games, and practicing for the first Irish Kendama Open.

However, mild tragedy struck soon after! A Galway juggler fell and we suspected they had broken their arm. Myself, another Galway juggler and two Dublin jugglers accompanied them to the nearest public hospital. I had some games with me, and the Dublin juggler who had led us left some more games with us. So we sat in the Accident and Emergency department playing games while we waited for news.

Not long after, I got a call from another convention attendee asking which hospital we were in, as they had also injured themselves, and wanted to come to the same hospital as us to play games while they waited. So it was an exceptionally merry time in the hospital for us all!

At 4:30pm we got a call telling us the hall was closing at 5pm, which was a bit disappointing. We’d been told it closed at 6pm, which already left the people who couldn’t make the Gala with nothing to do, and now we had a bit of a scramble to get back and get bags and equipment from it.

At 5pm half our injured party was sorted, with the other half nearly ready to go, so myself and my companion headed off to procure food. After this I made the twenty minute journey over to the Lir where the Gala was being held. I was very luckily one of the last five people to get a seat despite being there an hour and a quarter before show-time!

The show was quite good. The Lir is a beautiful venue, which has its own in-house staff, and great rigging and lighting set-ups. I enjoyed the show, which had a mix of local talent, Irish over from abroad, and visiting performers. Though my highlight of the weekend was actually the renegade.

We arrived at Doyle’s pub an hour early so had to wait before going downstairs. The stage area was also only about 6’3” in height, and the whole area was very cramped. But despite this it was my favourite Irish renegade I’ve ever been to (second only to the Irish renegade nights at EJC Bruneck 2015). The acts were all great, many of which even incorporated the height and size of the stage.

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After the renegade itself was a small dance party which went on until about 3am. Most people left shortly before 4am to catch the NiteLink buses.

My companion and I awoke about midday on Sunday and rushed to have breakfast and get the bus in so as not to miss the games. By some wonderful fluke we arrived the minute they were beginning.

The games had a nice mix of props, skilled and non-skilled games. I particularly appreciated the Simon-Says poi, as there is rarely a game for poi spinners. I proudly won the Rock-Paper-Scissors Worm Championship.

The all closed about 4pm, and many of us then convened in Merrion Square for more juggling, but mostly sitting, playing games and chatting. At about 5:30pm many people started to wander off shouting out what convention they’d see everyone next at.

Belfast Juggling Convention 12-14th February

I started my journey to my second Belfast Juggling Convention about 10am from Galway. I arrived into Dublin and met up with my companion and we got the bus to Belfast arriving at around 5:30pm. We had booked a double room in the Belfast International Youth Hostel which we found very nice and quite reasonable or the two days (we’d had some problems finding a double room BJC/Valentine’s weekend). So we were a bit further away from the juggling hall, in Queen’s University, than others but it was still very close.

On Friday we did a bit of juggling, and there was an Open Stage in the hall. It was quite casual and intimate, which worked as a lot of people were arriving only on Saturday. Some of the acts were really impressive and some were a bit faffy. It was all very enjoyable. After this we got to enjoy the downstairs bar in the QUB student centre. A great bonus in my mind to have our own space, where people could talk and play instruments and juggle LED equipment.

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Saturday there was a screening of ‘Surreal Circus’ an original film by Rachael Lyndsey, which provided a nice way to relax for hardcore jugglers. A person could also get a hot chocolate to enjoy during the screening from the café downstairs, if they were so inclined.

There was also the usual plethora of workshops including more unusual workshops on Rubix cubes and Whistling. People juggled in the hall, and a lot of people were learning to unicycle and practising handstands in the hall way.

The Gala show was in a church building next to the QUB student centre. The Gala show had a eight, very technically impressive acts. Being theatrically inclined I felt there was something missing from some of them, but the show was still impressive overall. The Gala hosts did a great job in building hype amongst the crowd but could have taken greater care when announcing the names of the acts. Sitting on the balcony I missed half of the names entirely.

After this was the Renegade (open mic for jugglers) which involved a 25 minute walk to the Rosario Youth Centre. Despite the long walk I thought the venue was a huge improvement on the 2014 venue. It was quite fast paced, with a lot of willing participants. There were some tables and chairs for people to sit at but most people stood or sat on the ground. There was also come very special craft beer being sold.

The renegade reflected the rest of the weekend in that it had quite a lot of music, which I didn’t interest me much. My personal renegade highlight was the host catching a diabolo on their beard. The renegade went on until about 1am, after which some dancing ensued and then we returned to the hostel, though I believe a party may have taken place somewhere nearby.

Sunday saw the games which included all the usual favourites; club-balance, combat, endurance, unicycle gladiators, hula-hoop race, diabolo-toss and distance passing, as well as some more unusual ones like people-surfing and a zombie variation of three-ball endurance. There was also the final of the Fight Night combat.

Finally we were kicked out at 4pm, took a wander around Belfast before beginning the journey back to Dublin.

Travelling: 28th of July-24th of August – Part 6; EJC continued

Day 6) Thursday: The heat became pretty unbearable today, so there was little us Irish folk could do other than melt and nap fitfully. My new companion and deigned to wander into the forest where it might be cooler, where we found a gazebo that was perfectly fit to nap in. Then dropped by The Games! The Games are another integral part of a juggling convention. Usually taking place on the last day of a usual three day convention, they took place on Friday for the benefit of people travelling home over the weekend.

Common games are three-ball Simon Says (juggling three balls while either performing basic tasks like standing on one leg, or by completing tricks), combat (trying to break people’s juggling patterns while juggling three clubs), club balance (balancing a club on your face – forehead, nose or chin) and endurance (and game that involves doing something the longest eg balancing a contact ball on your head, holding a handstand, juggling and number of balls or clubs, often up to seven balls or five clubs).

That evening there was Irish dinner! Where camp New-New-Ireland all got dinner together, rather than people eating loads of potatoes.

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The official Fire-show took place that evening, but it was very hard to get a spot, so I ended up buying delicious ice-cream and chatting with one of the Irish-Berlin jugglers who had also failed to procure a spot. I didn’t attend much of the renegade though a technician asked me would the Irish be taking over again, and they seemed disappointed I said no, before briefly heading to the bar and then bed.

Day 7) Friday: Many of the Irish jugglers retreated to the gazebo my companion and I had found, to escape the heat. We came well-prepared with food, booze, books and cards.

That evening we took over the Renegade Tent again. It was all going very well, we’d been granted an extra hour as well as it was going so well – until a sudden rain storm hit and flooded the tent at 1:40am. As I stood up I realised at a most inopportune moment I was too inebriated for my own good, stumbled towards a gym to hide from the rain for a while before returning to my tent.

Day 8) Saturday: We all got up about midday and returned to the gazebo with boardgames and cards. We made friends with some people from France who played Star Realms (a great deck-building game).  After which we went to a Chinese restaurant; the menu was in German and the chopsticks had French instructions on them.

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That evening was the Gala show – the biggest show of every juggling convention, so you can imagine what the biggest show of the biggest convention is like. It was pretty spectacular with multi-prop juggling, swinging trapeze, a uncicyle duo, a ladder act, foot juggling, four-diabolo juggling…

After which my companion and I took a wander around the town. I had to check the train times for my departure the next day. My companion was staying another night before returning to Munich, Germany, to fly out. We then found a “Beach Party” which appeared to be some sort of outdoor-beach-themed-rave-nightclub. Not what we expected to find in the town of Bruneck, but we fanangled our way in with some minimal German, where my companion threw some juggler shapes.

It wasn’t terribly enthralling so we returned and slept before..

Day 9) Sunday, he last day. The saddest day of every convention when every has to pack up and leave. Some people were a lot worse for wear than others.

Plenty of people weren’t flying home that day but still had to get off site for take-down. I was told I’d be missed by Dublin jugglers “You’ll be all the way in Galway” and one of them gifted me a knife with a handle in the shape of a banana. After packing up all my gear, getting some pizza for breakfast, helping my companion pack their tent I commenced some “Bye for now”s, and headed for the train back to Innsbruck, Austria.

Travelling: 28th of July-24th of August – Part 5; EJC continued

Day 4) Tuesday: It’s about this point you start to question if you’ll survive the heat. Luckily on this day a group of us travelled up the visit the Alps. It took a while to organise but eventually some people drove, and we waited for the bus.

Then we arrived at Kronoplatz, where the cable cars were.

We travelled up 2,275m to the top of the Alps-

To the top!

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If you look very closely, to the left, between the rail line and trees you can make out the blue and yellow big top.

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Went exploring.

And we found a GIANT swing.

After which we found the Dolomites.

Received some words of wisdom from the mountain-

and sat and took in the view-

before heading back down.

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That evening camp New-New-Ireland planned our take-over of the renegade tent for the following night; The Clashigade! Clashing usually means claiming you can outdo a trick during a renegade and then performing it. This was to be the clash of the hosts!

Day 5) Wednesday: Today was the day of the European Juggling Association’s (EJA) Annual General Meeting (AGM).

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Every year the AGM is hosted during the EJC to decide to next location (two years ahead of time). It was held in the renegade tent in the middle of the day and everyone attending the EJC was welcome to come and vote. EJC2016 is to be held in Almere, Netherlands. A bid had been put in for Azores, Portugal the past two years, and this year was to be their last year applying. Everyone expected them to be granted EJC 2017 but Lublin, Poland clashed. There was a lot of talk about how Lublin had made a loss last time they hosted the EJC, which had only been three years previously in 2012.

Lublin won the bid for 2017. While it is not the way usually to grant bids for three years ahead, a semi-exception was made to grant Azores the 2018 bid, but allowing a five month window for other teams to make a bid.

The Open Stage that evening was exceptional. A well known juggler, Jacob Sharpe, juggled eight balls. But my favourite act was Two Guys, One Club, which I’d wanted to see for quite some time; “As a juggler I feel like I can juggle anything. But not chainsaws. Or fire. Or balls. Clubs. One club. With another guy.”

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That day was also the schools show – anyone from any circus college who wanted to perform. I enjoyed very few of the acts during it. After was the Clashigade AKA The Irish Renegade (Ireland: EJC 2014)! Though in reality we just asked permission to run the renegade and it went really smoothly! A lot of people donated alcohol to be gven away from shots including a bottle of Prosecco, a gift from Toulouse (EJC 2013), Hazlenut Vodka from Lublin (EJC 2012 & 2017) and a bottle of Uso. The acts were particularly good that night.

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After which we revelled in our magnificence!

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Feeling on top of the world I struck up a conversation with someone I’d only spoken to very briefly previously. A conversation at the EJC after a renegade meaning, a somewhat drunken attempt to climb on top of them. Which one would expect to go horribly wrong but went terrifically right!