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Work Hard, Play Harder: Annual Game of Throws festival sees participants juggle competition, recreation

Game+of+Throws+gala-show+performer+Mark+Wilder+lowers+himself+to+the+ground+and+raises+himself+back+up+while+balancing+a+ball+atop+a+pole+on+his+forehead.+
Chinyoung Shao
Game of Throws gala-show performer Mark Wilder lowers himself to the ground and raises himself back up while balancing a ball atop a pole on his forehead.

Work hard, play harder: The juggling community embodied this saying during their fifth annual Game of Throws Festival last weekend. From Jan. 19-21, jugglers from all over the world learned, competed and above all else, had fun. 

Run by Gunn’s Juggling Club, the Game of Throws involved workshops and open-gym juggling sessions all weekend, a battle event Friday night, a gala show Saturday night and final games on Sunday. Events were free for jugglers and non-jugglers alike, except a $10 admission to the gala show, which had around 650 audience members. 

Friday night, attendees were welcomed to compete in a juggling battle — juggling and impromptu performing fused with the flair of a rap or breakdance battle. According to Juggling Club President junior Nikki DeVincentis, competitors performed 30-second on-the-spot acts.

“It’s so amazing, not only because you get to see some of the people who will perform at the gala show, but you also just get to see local talents join in,” they said. “People who nobody knows, or that nobody here knows, just come in and blow everybody away. It’s just so amazing to see the community come together.”

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Juggling Club Advisor Matt Hall opened Saturday night’s gala show with his diabolo act. Over the course of the evening, ten performers displayed their skill with balls, clubs, diabolos, rings, hula hoops, unicycles and countless other juggling props, in a combination of both long-perfected and brand-new acts.

For the first time in his years hosting the festival, Hall joined the audience for the rest of the gala show with his wife, Gunn Student Activities Director Lisa Hall. 

“I hear people going, ‘Oh my god,’ ‘Whoa, how do you do that?’ ‘Whoa, that’s crazy,’ ‘That’s awesome,’ and I’m just loving it because this is what I want,” he said. “I want to introduce juggling and circus arts to the Palo Alto community and to Gunn High School.” 

At one point during the show, mulleted and mustachioed performer Mark Wilder pedaled onstage atop his unicycle in a bright blue suit with “PARTY” stitched on the back. Mesmerizing audience members,  he first jump-roped, then juggled clubs with a ball bouncing on a platform on a pole on his head, all while riding his unicycle to the tune of 80s hits. As his grand finale, he lowered himself to the ground and raised himself back up while balancing a ball atop a pole on his forehead. Wilder attended the Game of Throws last year as well, but this was his first year in the gala show. 

Juggling is a language all jugglers speak, so you can go anywhere in the world and juggle with someone else. Without knowing their language, you can still juggle together and have fun.

— Gala-show performer Mark Wilder

“The Game of Throws is the best juggling festival in the world right now,” Wilder said. “It attracts quality jugglers, world-class talent — not just the hobbyists but the performers from all over the country. People fly in from Chicago, Boulder, Texas. We had people from the Czech Republic, from Mexico, from New Zealand.”

According to Wilder, juggling transcends national boundaries. 

“Juggling is a language all jugglers speak, so you can go anywhere in the world and juggle with someone else,” he said. “Without knowing their language, you can still juggle together and have fun.”

The Game of Throws concluded on Sunday with more workshops, Olympic-style games and time for the jugglers to share their last tricks of the weekend. For Rhys Thomas, a gala-show performer, festivals like the Game of Throws are a defining aspect of the juggling community, offering opportunities for engagement and fun.

“What I find most uniquely wonderful about the juggling world is nowhere else will you find a room full of adults, like full of adults, just playing,” he said. “They’re not competing: There’s some competition, but for the most part, it’s a whole lot of people just playing.”

The Gunn Juggling Club, responsible for hosting the event, continues to meet on Wednesdays at lunch to draw more students into the enthralling activity they have come to love. 

“It is just like a sport, in my opinion, where you practice so much to get to move your body and (find) the most perfect way to accomplish this task,” DeVincentis said. “And I think that the end result of being able to perform something is really real. It’s just so dynamic watching all these things move through the air, getting a technique perfect.”

Watching the club meet on Jan. 24, the Wednesday after the festival, was one of the most rewarding outcomes of the festival  for Hall.

“Ultimately, it’s their festival,” he said. “They worked on the systems with me. They worked the (registration) desk. They taught workshops. It gets them stoked. They’re gonna walk away going ‘I’m never going to forget those three days at Gunn High School.’”

This story was originally published on The Oracle on January 25, 2024.