Germantown resident Thom Wall was a performer with the renowned Cirque du Soleil company on a world tour. by Len Lear Germantown resident Thom Wall learned to juggle three objects when he was 10 …
by Len Lear
Germantown resident Thom Wall learned to juggle three objects when he was 10 years old, growing up in St. Louis, Missouri. A classmate showed him how to juggle rocks during recess! “He made it seem like magic,” said Thom last week. “Even though he told me it was easy, it took me weeks to figure out. I really had no aptitude at all. I eventually checked a book out from the library, Dave Finnigan’s 'The Complete Juggler,' and I went through it cover to cover. I started attending a weekly juggling meetup. That’s where I first learned about the juggling community, and I was hooked, all of it thanks to a little luck and a book.”
In the next week or two, Wall's own book, “Juggling: What it is and How to Do it,” will be released. This is the first textbook on modern juggling technique, largely written backstage at Cirque du Soleil when Wall was performing for the company on a world tour. Six years in the making, the project has finally been completed. Wall left Cirque du Soleil in January of 2019.
The past year, after leaving Cirque du Soleil, Wall worked mostly on cruise ships. He would fly out and meet the ship somewhere, do a show in the theater and fly home at the next port. “Lots of travel, but the audiences are always so wonderful.” He had ended five years with Cirque du Soleil with a run of shows at Royal Albert Hall in London. “That was such an incredible note to end on!” This year was supposed to be 100% cruise ships and university/school shows, but they were knocked out by the pandemic.
Advance readers have called his book “The first fully comprehensive manual on juggling” (Midwest Book Review) and “a must-read for anyone” (Denis Paumier, Les Objects Volants). Long-time professional jugglers (and America’s Got Talent finalists) The Passing Zone remarked that “There are techniques in this book that I was able to adopt the day I read it … This book will change the face of this 4,000-year-old human activity.”
Wall, 33, went to Washington University in St Louis, where he studied modern languages, and he also holds a Master’s degree in non-profit arts administration from Drexel University. “I graduated from Washington University directly into the recession,” he said. “After sending out hundreds of resumes and cover letters, I didn’t get a single call back. It was a tough time for everyone! I eventually found a part-time position as a counselor for the YMCA, which was incredibly rewarding work, but when I was invited to go on tour with a small circus company, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Juggling had always been a hobby for me, but I wanted to see what it would be like performing on a regular schedule instead of at the occasional party or special event.
“Turns out, I really loved it and seemed to have a bit of a knack for it. It was a really crazy time, and I owe that experience a lot. It taught me a ton about performance as well as about the business side of a career in entertainment. I’m incredibly grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to share my work as a circus performer, both by doing shows but also as an instructor, with audiences all over the world. The juggling community is very supportive one, and I owe most of my success to my friends.
“On a different note, I’ve always felt split between being a circus artist and being a researcher, and that’s one of the reasons I founded Modern Vaudeville Press. Though the two careers might seem an unlikely pair, they complement one another nicely. As a performer, it’s important to understand the history of your craft … Other performance arts have incredible documentation. Look at dance, theater, magic. Juggling, sideshow and other more esoteric 'variety arts' (as we call them) haven’t been recognized in the same way, despite having long and rich traditions in cultures around the world. I like to think I’m helping address that problem in some small way.”
The Philadelphia School of Circus Arts on the border between Germantown and Mt. Airy was a major factor in Wall's decision to move to Philadelphia. He coaches some of the jugglers at Circadium, its sister school at 6452 Greene St., and some of the circus history and professional development classes there.
For more information about Wall's new book, “Juggling: What It Is and How to Do It,” visit jugglingbook.com
Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org