Who is Bryan Wendling?

Spotlight On Bryan Wendling.

Bryan Wendling is one of those juggling talents that most people have never seen. As Barry Freidman (the taller of the Raspyni Brothers) said of Bryan "If you are anywhere near him, go watch him. He is probably one of the highest ability/least known jugglers in the world." (1) For anyone who has wondered, that is Bryan on the front page of the IJA's web page (http://www.juggle.org/) juggling the four clubs above his head.

Bryan Wendling is a professional juggler who has been performing in the Midwest and upper Midwest for the last 23 years. He grew up in Minnesota and attended the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis where he received a double degree in Psychology and Social Welfare. Before juggling profesionally Bryan was using his degrees in working with preschool kids and mentally retarded adults. In 1980 he moved from Minneapolis to Kansas City, Missouri where at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival he met his wife. He is currently still living in Kansas City with his wife who teaches upper level high school Spanish.

Here are excerpts from an email interview I conducted with Bryan:

When did you start juggling and how did you get interested?

I started in college where I saw two jugglers by the bridge that spans the Mississippi River at the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis. I learned how to juggle with whiffle balls, the little plastic ones you use with a plastic bat. I then took a Community Education course where I started working the the instructor, Mario Lorenz. We eventually formed a group with him and Phill Lindsay called Sideshow. Phill was the backbone of the group, and it had a life of about 12 years or so. I also teamed up with Scott Burton who was also a former Sideshow cohort. Scott and I were lucky enough to win the 1983 IJA team championships in Purchase, NY.

Did you know that there were 25 acts in the senior competition that year? This was before they had prelims. Scott Burton and I were almost the last two acts, if I remember corretly, and it was a very long wait until we competed. That was the year that Alan Jacobs won and I think that we competed right after him. My first convention was in 79 in Amherst, Massachusetts. Everything happened in one gym, with impromptu breakouts as one person did something with a prop, then others shared old and new things in a tag-team fashion. Back then only a handful of people did five clubs and it was a big deal. Not like it is now.

When did you get interested in the devilstick?

I don't remember where I first saw devilstick stuff being done, but I got the idea for two devilsticks from Hovey Burgess's book, Circus Techniques, where in it he describes a few "simple" tricks. My first devilsticks were regular wooden dowels that I wrapped with tape. I did the same thing for the handsticks, just smaller diameter dowels.

Yow! And you were able to learn with these?

Yes, I did learn with them. I made them 28 inches long for some idiosyncratic reason. Later, a friend, Danny Lord, made some that were appropriately tapered.

What type of devilsticks do you currently use?

Currently I head to a high school wood shop to get clones made of my current devilsticks when one happens to break. Which isn't very often. The longer length also helps me when I do two. It helps slow everything down.

Has there been any other jugglers that have helped or influnced you with the devilstick?

To be truthful, I don't remember anyone. Of course it has been twenty five years since I learned the devilstick. Also, devilsticks have never really been a commonly used prop. But I do remember seeing other performers that have inspired me. A. Whitney Brown and his dog of renown did very well written shows at Fisherman's Wharf in San francisco. He later went on to Saturday Night fame. Another juggler there did ping pong balls, which at that time I had never seen before. Also Dr. Hotz and Neon from Now-On. Neon did really smooth three ball and cigar box routines and Dr. Hotz did unicycle and was the front guy for the duo.

In my first year at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival there was an incredible collection of performers. The Flying Karamzov Brothers (who also worked evenings doing their show at the comedy spot Dudley Riggs). Avner The Eccentric, Magical Mystical Michael, the Asparagus Valley Cultural Society (Penn and Teller and a musician, whose name I cannot recall). The time period for these was around 1977. And of course, the other performers in Sideshow; Mario Lorenz, Danny Lord, Scott Burton, Phill Lindsay, and several others.

What is/are your favorite props?

My favorite ones are usually the newest ones that I am working on. So right now, Hula Hoops are one, and ball bouncing on a drum are the other. The "oldtime" favorites include a three cigar box story, ping pong ball comedy, freestanding ladder (one of the more difficult things I have ever learned) and rope spinning.

What types of routines do you like to do when you perform?

My typical indoor show starts with ten minutes of music. Three Spanish language songs (I am married to a Spanish teacher from South America, after all!). I will either do a three "soccer ball" routine with ball spinning and the like, then a rope spinning routine (if there are enough children in the audience) or devil stick routine followed by 3,4 and 5 club routine. Then a freestanding ladder/audience interaction bit, ping pong ball comedy set, and then music again for my 1/2 diabolo routine. I then close with music for my Hula Hoop stuff.

My renaissance fair show uses bigger props and no music. Rolling globe, freestanding ladder, finishing with a slack rope/fire torch finale. This year I am adding ball bouncing on the drum in the beginning to draw attention. Those are current routines as well as trying to develop my tech/performing skills with the other props. I have also adding a few Hula Hoop tricks after a rolling globe sequence. Either show has a set format, and I can be flexible within each. I will add different props or routines, depending upon the audience or my mood. I always try staying fresh.

I do some technical things in my show that jugglers will like. Four clubs overhead with tricks, two devil sticks with tricks, etc. But my forte is my energy and the fun I have with my audiences, along with the wide range of props at my disposal. When an audience sees you repeatedly over the years, it is a challenge to still entertain them. They like the old favorites, but need to be surprised with some new ones. I don't get to juggling conventions as often as I would like anymore, but when they describe the juniors competitions at the national conventions, the tricks they do just blow me away. Thank goodness for experience and guile, I guess.

You didn't ask, but my favorite audiences are families and schools. I can draw on the energy of the adults and children alike, and they tend to be an unjaded audience. I've done some school assembly tours and would do more if I wasn't married. It's just too much travel unless you are able to do it together. Also the Renaissance Faire in Kansas City has been a platform for me to work and develop many new routines and props over the last 20 years. I have had a chance to juggle in front of many different audiences in all types of weather. It definately strengthens a performers ability to be in front of any audience.

Do you add many new routines to your act? Or do you have a set number of routines you primarily use?

I try to add new props every year or two. It keeps me excited about performing and also gives the audience something fresh. I've been at some events for 5-20 years, so they are very familiar with my work. For instance this year will be my 20th year at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival!

Being able to vary my material is one of my strengths. Some performers hone one or two props to the nth degree, while I get something solid from a particular prop and then move on to the next one. Especially as I get older, and I am not able to rehearse for as long as I could when I was younger. I work out 2-4 hours each day, 3-5 days per week, depending upon my performing schedule. I am now working on bouncing a ball on my head while on a rolling globe, so I am putting extra time into that for 45 minutes to an hour, then 1 1/2 to 2 hours of normal practice after that. I'm not sure if I will ever perform this new trick, but possibly...

Where else have you had a chance to perform?

I've done a little street performing in Europe. But I should mention that I am scared stiff of true street performing. Working an organized event in a street fashion is no problem, but the process of beginning a show "on the street" is pretty scary to me. I performed in Stockholm, the year that they opened up their streets to performing. The Island of Capri in Italy, before the cops asked me to stop, and Paris, by the Pompidou Center for Modern Art.

I was one of many performers who have performed with Arsene in Paris. That's where I saw David Shiner, a wonderful clown working there. He was the best street act I ever saw and he went on to work with European circus(es), Cirque du Soleil, and an off-Broadway show with Bill Irwin (a physical comedien, actor, clown who began with Pickle Family Circus in San Francisco).

What other hobbies do you like to do besides juggle?

I love movies. I see almost everything that comes along, especially foreign /independent films. Go see The Road Home. It's a Chinese film which is a simple wonderful tale of a son coming home for his father's funeral. It shows how the father and mother met, many years ago, and is a love story (also a bit sad).

I also enjoy live theater. Small theaters, original or off Broadway type productions, or theater with an edge. I like sitting in the front row!! I admire actors, who create a whole world without props. Kansas City doesn't have a Fringe Festival, but I have gone to some performances in Minneapolis. Everyone has a story to tell, with different ways of telling it. I just saw The Laramie Project here in Kansas City.

I also travel, because that is my wife's passion. We will be going to Ecuador for Christmas, and then Africa for a couple of weeks next summer. We have good friends in England and Holland where I never pass up the opportunity to see a circus along the way, or watch a street performer you happen upon one.

Volunteer work at a local children's hospital is another thing I like to do. I've been away from it for about 6 months now, but I am starting to do it again. Going room to room, doing some smaller stuff (top spinning, ball spinning, ring juggling, glow-in-the-dark globalls, diabolos) for the children that are amenable. I've never been in the hospital for anything, and I know how lucky I am when I see some of these kids, and most of these kids are great, even under the circumstances. The staff are also incredible and it reminds me that I am "only" a juggler. I say that kiddingly, because I value the job that anyone does and my attitude is that of a blue-collar worker doing physical work. No better, no worse than anyone else, and yet, lucky to do what I do for a living.

(1) Barry Friedman comment from rec.juggling: http://www.juggling.org/bin/mfs/JIS/rj/1995/02/15-032346

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