Kingston Juggling Festival returns after a four-year absence

The Kingston Juggling Festival returns this weekend for the first time since 2019. Photo via Queen’s and Kingston Jugglers’ Clubs.

For the first time since 2019, jugglers from around the world will be descending on the city of Kingston this weekend for the Kingston Juggling Festival. The three-day event runs from Friday, Nov. 10 to Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023, with most activities taking place in the Winston Churchill Public School gymnasium. Founded in 2014 by Greg Phillips of the Queen’s and Kingston Jugglers’ Clubs, the event features jugglers from Ontario, Quebec, the eastern United States, and other countries as well. 

From 2014 to 2019, the festival was an annual autumn fixture in Kingston, as Phillips organized various activities, workshops, and games over the course of the weekend, as well as a gala show which was the festival’s main attraction on the Saturday night. After a four-year absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the juggling community were keen to bring the festival back, despite longtime organizer Phillips being away on sabbatical. That’s when local club member Ryan Chen stepped up. He and Quebec-based juggler Lacey Williams have worked hard to organize a three-day festival for 2023.

Chen explained the difficulties the pair have encountered as they’ve attempted to bring the event back after so many years away. “It’s been a bit of a challenge trying to restart the festival post-pandemic when you don’t have the person who’s got all the contacts and venue information,” he said of Phillips’ absence in 2023. 

This being a grassroots juggling festival, Chen has had to put the event together on a shoestring budget. “Thankfully, we do have enough of a budget to get the festival started again,” he said, “so that when Greg comes back next year, it will be a lot easier for him to say, ‘You tried this, it worked… Let’s keep it going.’” The organizers hope the festival will once again become an annual event in the Limestone City. 

Not only are Chen and Williams organizing the event with very limited resources, but the two are also doing all the planning work in their spare time, with little additional support. However, according to Williams, the juggling community is a tightly-knit one, and many other participants have stepped up to lend support where they can.

“The beauty of it is that we were able to reach out to [everyone for help],” Williams said. “Our speaker is coming from the MC, she’s bringing it. And someone else who’s hosting the games is a juggler from a different province who’s coming on. So we were able to just communicate with people within the community and say, ‘This one is running on a shoestring budget in terms of time and resources. Can I ask if you can bring this? Can we ask if you can do this? Can someone find a playlist?’ So, it’s been really wonderful [that] the community has stepped up in that way,” she said. 

Williams added organizers expect anywhere from 50 to 100 jugglers to take part in the three-day event, with the majority of participants coming from Ontario, Quebec, and New York. “The juggling community is very small… We almost all know each other, so it’s a very big sense of community,” she remarked. 

While the juggling community in Kingston is a small one, and festivals of this nature are somewhat rare in the region, Williams explained organizers for the Kingston Juggling Festival have been able to draw on experiences they’ve had at similar events in places like Quebec and New York. “Luckily, festivals are very similar… So we know what to do. It’s really just about time management.”  

The Kingston Juggling Festival kicks off on Friday, Nov. 10, 2023, at 6 p.m. in the gym at Winston Churchill Public School (530 Earl Street). Throughout all three days, the space will play host to various juggling workshops and other activities, including contests and other games, open to participants of all ages and abilities.

While the event will play host to experienced and professional jugglers from all over the world, Williams explained the festival will also have opportunities for those who are brand new to juggling. Some people may have a very specific idea of what juggling entails, usually with balls or clubs; but she noted the festival will showcase a wide range of juggling disciplines. “There will be workshops on balls, hula hoops, clubs… every prop you could possibly use, starting from absolute beginners all the way to advanced workshops.” 

For people who have never tried juggling before, Williams said this weekend’s festival will be a great way for them to get exposure to this “extremely accessible activity. It’s something that is portable, small, not dangerous, and is actually easy to learn without necessarily having a high level of athletic ability.”

While many jugglers are self-taught, Williams noted the festival is an opportunity for people to hone their skills with the help of some experts in the craft. “When you come to a convention, you’re surrounded by people who are absolutely the experts, and within an hour you can be learning how to juggle,” she said, adding that once you learn how to juggle, it’s a skill that usually stays with you for life. 

While the 2023 Kingston Juggling Festival runs three days, featuring two full days of juggling workshops on Saturday (10 a.m. to 10 p.m.) and Sunday (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.), the festival’s main event will be the “BIG Juggling Show” at Convocation Hall (in Queen’s Theological Hall, 10-14 Professors’ Walk) on Saturday night at 7 p.m.

The “BIG Juggling Show” will feature performances from some of the best jugglers in the world, hosted by MC Bex in Motion, who recently performed in the 2023 Kingston Buskers Rendezvous. According to Chen, the show will include performances from seven different artists. “We have a mix of really high-level amateurs to prospective circus professionals, circus school students, and some professional buskers. We’re going to have various props, so one performer will be doing yo-yo, one [on] rings, a couple of ball [performers]… So it’s not going to be just watching someone do a trick and walk off, because that’s not a very entertaining show,” he said. 

Chen added, “It’s very much a theatre experience, hence why we are paying for a theatre venue. It should be a lot of fun, a lot of good laughs, and a lot of enjoyment.” Featured performers include Australia’s Lucy Tan, as well as contact juggler Lisa Champagne. 

Tickets for the “BIG Juggling Show” will only be available at the doors of Theological Hall prior to showtime. Admission is $20, with a special $10 rate available for children under the age of 10. Workshops and other festival programming are available free of charge; however, organizers have suggested a $20 donation to help pay the Saturday performers. Additional information, as well as the full event schedule, can be found on the Kingston Juggling Festival 2023 Facebook Page.

For those interested in getting involved in the juggling community, the Queen’s and Kingston Jugglers’ Clubs meet regularly throughout the fall and winter and welcome jugglers of all skill and experience levels. More information is available on their website. 

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