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Goodbye, hello!
Bright Night Providence will ‘ooh!’ and ‘aah!’ you into the New Year
BY BILL RODRIGUEZ


Multitaskers

JUGGLING WITH THE PASSING ZONE: Thank goodness that when Jon Wee and Owen Morse met at a juggling convention in 1986, neither had the urge to get a real job and become an investment banker or fireman.

They would rather juggle chainsaws and garden weasels. So that’s just what these headliners — known as the Passing Zone — will be doing at Bright Night 2006. Their Providence Performing Arts Center performances at 6, 8 and 10 pm will conclude with their celebrated "Chainsaw Ballet," complete with tights, Strauss waltz, and all the dainty choreography audiences can handle.

As potential audience members can see on the Passing Zone’s 10-minute online streaming video (www.passingzone.com), these guys are a hoot — funny as well as dexterous. Rhode Island fire laws won’t allow them to juggle torches, and the constraints of three shows back-to-back won’t let them juggle people (outfitting volunteer Jugglenauts in space suits for their swinging time, suspended and pushed, takes a while). But their passing sickles and machetes will make for plenty of thrills and chills. Penn Jillette, of Penn & Teller, has called them "the finest club-passers in juggling today." When they first met, they were each able to pass nine of those bowling-pin-shaped clubs. Since they both started juggling as teenagers and remain well practiced, with about a hundred performances per year, they share the Guinness world record for — on their best day — passing 11 clubs back and forth. They have received 18 gold medals from the International Juggling Association, another record.

Recently Wee spoke from Las Vegas, where he and Morse were speakers and judges at a juggling conference.

What’s the most difficult juggling or passing routine you’ve developed?

There are some club passing tricks that we do that are very hard. We pass nine clubs between us, and when we do a show, that’s got a good chance of not working. So that’s a very difficult one. There is a piece where I stand on Owen’s shoulders and he’s standing on a Rola-Bola [board on cylinder] and we are juggling torches. That’s physically difficult and it’s also pretty scary, because if you have an accident or a problem, it’s a big fall.

You’re among colleagues today at a conference. Do you find yourself in a different mindset when you’re performing before other jugglers?

Yeah, when we know there are other jugglers in the audience, it makes us a little bit nervous because they’re going to notice mistakes that a normal person won’t. But then we also will maybe try some harder things that we don’t normally do in a show — like passing behind our backs.

We learned pretty quickly that what goes over well for an audience is not necessarily what’s interesting and good for a juggler. The good news is there is stuff you can do in your show that is much more appreciated by an audience but is easier to learn than some of the difficult tricks. But then, when you do spend so much time working on things that are difficult, a normal audience can’t tell the difference sometimes between something easy and something hard. People will sometimes say, "Oh, can you juggle and eat an apple at the same time?" If you’ve been juggling for a week you can probably do that. But that’s the kind of thing that people get a kick out of.

Why did you get into Extreme Juggling?

For years we didn’t juggle chainsaws and we’d be constantly asked to. Someone would shout from the audience: "Do chainsaws!" So at some point we thought, "Well, we know we’re good enough to juggle them, and it’s frustrating to have to tell people no all the time when they’re looking for it." We decided, oh, we’ll sell out.

As you become more skilled at doing a dangerous routine, are you concerned about getting too confident?

You continue to have a pretty healthy respect for the ability to get hurt by various things whenever you get too comfortable with, like the chainsaws. It’s still one of the things in the show that we really just can’t make a mistake with. At almost any other point in the show we can make a mistake and make a joke about it, and we’re prepared for that. But that piece is one of those where we just go: "We just can’t drop the chainsaw on stage!"

— B.R.

 

If anyone can get their act together, it should be musicians, storytellers, actors, puppeteers, acrobats, and the like. That’s proving true for the third year in a row, as the performer-run Bright Night Providence celebrates New Year’s Eve in 17 venues around downtown Providence, with more than 125 entertainers presenting more than 50 performances on the afternoon and evening of December 31 — from poetry slams to belly dancing.

Plenty of flash and bang will grab our attention, with a special mini-edition of WaterFire Providence blazing around the Waterplace Park basin, and two fireworks displays — one concluding the 5:30 pm opening ceremonies at the skating rink across from City Hall, and a larger display at midnight, both cascading over the State House.

Children’s activities have been increased, beginning with fiddle music and stories by Mary King and Melanie Cabell at 12:30 pm at the Providence Children’s Museum, and continuing with music and storytelling by Keith Munslow and Bill Harley, beginning at 5 pm at the First Baptist Church. Knife-throwers, a mentalist, and several magicians will also perform.

The headlining act this year will be the juggling duo the Passing Zone, performing at 6, 8, and 10 pm at the Providence Performing Arts Center (see sidebar).

For children of all ages, the Big Nazo rock ’n’ roll puppet extravaganza will rattle the rafters at the URI-Shepard Building. For those looking for a calmer experience, choral music by Ocean State Children’s Chorus, Narragansett Bay Chorus, and WomenSpiritRising will be offered at Grace Church.

The Banished Fools will provide roving music here and there. Other strains will include the traditional music of Sam Hill and Steve Jobe, Celtic music by Trouze Bras and Pendragon, and hip-hop by DJ Statik & the Neon Soul Collective, plus Atwater & Donnelly, Alec K. Redfearn, Michael Bresler, the Superchief Trio, Dave Howard and the High Rollers, and the Lucky Band. Improvisational comedy will be presented by Improv Jones, the Speed of Thought Players, and the Unexpected Company.

Fusionworks Dance Company will step lively. Installation art will be on view in Westminster Street storefronts, with light sculptures by Dorothy Abrams and a video installation by Phillip Krause.

Bright Night Providence was founded in 2003 when the city’s former New Year’s Eve celebration, First Night, was canceled. With only three months to prepare, clown and flea circus impresario Adam Gertsacov volunteered to organize performances.

"Most of the artists that we hire are not getting the salaries they could command elsewhere," Gertsacov pointed out. "A lot of them have said to me, ‘Listen, I want to be here in Providence. This is where I’m from. We don’t have to travel. We can be with our friends.’ Pendragon says, ‘We rarely perform here — we’re busy doing other stuff — so here’s a chance for our friends to see us.’ " Many performers are also contributing off-stage: Erminio Pinque of Big Nazo designed the posters, Josh Bell, from the Providence Mandolin Orchestra, has been helping out with the website, and Joanne Fayan of the All Children’s Theatre Ensemble is the volunteer coordinator.

Carrying on the procedure established in the first year of uncertain financial prospects, performers not only are working at a discount — even the headliners, the Passing Zone, are getting less than half what they could receive elsewhere — but their pay will depend on the success of the festival. By contract, if ticket sales and grants bring in less then the festival’s budget of around $80,000, the performers will receive less by the same percentage. A successful Bright Night will mean a small bonus for everyone, as was distributed in the first two festivals.

Based on brisk advance ticket sales, Gertsacov is hoping for a 10 percent increase over last year’s 15-18,000 attendance — which will depend, of course, on the weather. But it’s not all about money. "I watch the fireworks, but I don’t really watch the fireworks as much as I watch the people watch the fireworks," Gertsacov said. "Because to me that’s the real payoff. People going ‘ooh!’ and ‘aah!’ all at once. I really love that I’m partially responsible."

Tickets to Bright Night are $10 in advance and $15 (or 4 for $50) on December 31, available online at www.ArtTixRI.com, or at the ArtTixRI booth at 10 Dorrance Street, Providence. Tickets also may be purchased at BankRI offices and at East Side Marketplace, OOP! Marketplace, the Providence Children’s Museum, and the RISD Museum. The festival website is www.brightnight.org


Issue Date: December 30, 2005 - January 5, 2006
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