Merrimack Repertory Theatre Blog


The following article appears in the student study guide for Flings & Eros, and may be interesting to those looking to learn more about production. 

Stephen Bent, Paul Magid and Mark Ettinger

Stephen Bent, Paul Magid and Mark Ettinger

Juggling has been a form of entertainment for thousands of years, and has been performed all around the world. The earliest recorded instance of juggling is an Egyptian tomb that depicts female dancers and acrobats throwing balls. Scientists date these pictures to be between 1994-1781 BC, meaning that juggling is, at a minimum, almost 4000 years old! Thousands of miles away, in China, there are stories of juggling that date back to almost 800 BC. These stories are usually of warriors who would use juggling as a show of skill, sometimes ending a battle before it started. Sometimes they juggled balls, other times they would juggle swords. Drawings of jugglers are also found in ancient Aztec art in Central America, and there are accounts of juggling in early records of Norse, Indian and Polynesian civilizations. It is likely that juggling did not evolve in one place and spread outward, rather that it developed independently in many different cultures.

Mark Ettinger, Stephen Bent, Paul Magid and Rod Kimball

Mark Ettinger, Stephen Bent, Paul Magid and Rod Kimball

Like the Chinese, soldiers in the army of the Roman Empire also used juggling as a form of entertainment, and the practice spread throughout Europe as an acceptable form of entertainment.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, juggling became regarded as a disreputable practice, with religious leaders frowning on the performers, then called Gleeman. Jugglers of the time were only allowed to perform in marketplaces, fairs, streets and drinking establishments. Some were even accused of witchcraft. Juggling was in the arsenal of many of the court jesters, who used it along with poetry, music, and comedy to entertain the nobles. Like modern street performers, these entertainers of the past would pass their hat around for tips among the on-looking crowds of taprooms and market places. After the Middle Ages ended, juggling was allowed to become a more mainstream form of entertainment in Europe again. The first recorded juggling workshop opened in Germany in 1680. Nearly a hundred years later, in 1768, an Englishman named Philip Astley opened the first modern circus. From then on jugglers would be associated with working in the circus. In the 1800s and early 1900s, juggling became a common part of vaudeville arts, and jugglers often filled time in-between changes for musical acts.

In the 1950’s, juggling started to grow as a hobby, with juggling enthusiasts forming the International Jugglers’ Association. There are now juggling clubs, conventions and competitions around the world.

As the basics of juggling are more widely known and practiced today by amateurs, professional entertainers have been forced to push the practice to greater heights, and as such, troupes such as the Flying Karamazov Brothers have emerged as masters of the art, performing feats never imagined possible.

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