Thom Wall Avi Pryntz-Nadworny photo

I wanted to take a break from musical acts with something completely different, so this week I bring to you a conversation I recently had with Thom Wall, a world-renowned juggler/author who will be coming to Gardiner as part of Johnson Hall’s “On The Road” series of shows … this one will be held at The Life Community Church, 46 Church St., Gardiner, on Saturday, Jan. 14, at 6 p.m. When I finally touched bases with him, we arranged for a phone interview the very next day. He gave me a number to call him at and that’s where this chat begins.

Q: So I’m calling Philly, right?
Wall: Yeah, that’s where I am, even though my phone number is a St. Louis area code. That’s my heritage; that’s my ancestral homeland (laughter).

Q: When we talked yesterday setting this interview up, you spoke about just getting back from a cruise. How does this work into what you normally do?
Wall: It’s pretty hard to call anything normal these days, especially in the entertainment market, because COVID completely devastated our entire industry (laughter). Things are coming back kind of in different stages and phases then they would be in pre-COVID times.

Q: How did it affect you personally?
Wall: So looking at my career before COVID, I left Cirque du Soleil in January of 2019 and from there I started performing my own full-length show on cruise ships, that was pretty much my bread-and-butter for that year. But then the pandemic happened and all of my contracts melted away. I’m certainly not unique in that regard, but this year the cruise ship industry is slowly coming back. So this past fall, this past winter, I spent probably about eight weeks on cruise ships performing my show.

Q: How much of a year do you do that aspect of your career?
Wall: I try not to work on ships more than two or three, maybe four months per year. And I like to spread those contracts out quite a bit because cabin fever is a real thing (mutual laughter). So I do enjoy performing on ships, but it’s a different show then what I like to perform on land.

Q: How so?
Wall: On land, working in theaters specifically for a more art-minded market, you can have a lot more fun than when you’re just presenting a pop-entertainment show.

Advertisement

Q: Now, I would imagine since things have cleared up a little bit anyhow, the theater shows are coming back again?
Wall: Absolutely, yes, they started opening up pretty quickly, relatively speaking, within the pandemic. I think I did a theater show in March of 2021, so theaters have been back with a lot of restrictions and guidelines, but one of the beautiful things about the market opening up is that you finally have more options about where you can work: it can be a little bit more varied, you can have a little bit more choice. And that’s one of the beautiful things, like this little tour that I’m doing with Johnson Hall. I think it’s six or eight school shows followed up by the performance that’s being sponsored by Johnson Hall. I believe that it’s going to be in a church just down the street because Johnson Hall is in the middle of that major renovation of their space. But, yeah it’s this kind of variety that really gets me going.

Q: You mentioned Cirque du Soleil earlier, how long were you with that troupe?
Wall: I toured with them for five years. I was in a show called “Totem,” and I performed that show about 1,500 times on four continents.

Q: Good grief!
Wall: (Chuckle) Yeah, and it was around year five that I decided, “I think I’m a little bit tired. I think I’m exhausted: I’ve been living the same day again and again and again for years, let’s start working on something else!” It was sort of in the latter half of my time with Cirque du Soleil that I got more motivated to put some of the research that I’ve been doing into writing.

Q: And that’s when you started your publishing house, right?
Wall: Yeah, that’s what eventually turned into this publishing company. We field manuscripts from all over the place, and that’s another benefit from doing the cruises, I’ve got a lot of downtime to work on editing and writing for that company.

Q: With all the books you have written about your craft, the how-to and the history of juggling, I would imagine that you can interject that information you’re documenting into your performances, especially the school shows.
Wall: Yeah, absolutely. I’m going to bring some of the really old, weird (pause) the good stuff, the kind of juggling that really gets me going.

Q: Is there anything, Thom that you’d like me to get across to the folks reading this article?
Wall: Well, if you wanted to mention my publishing company by name, that would be cool, it’s called “Modern Vaudeville Press” and the website is www.modernvaudevillepress.com or www.jugglingbook.com which is even easier. I will be donating books to the schools that I’ll be performing at in the week leading up to the Johnson Hall show, there will be some books for sale, too, if people are interested — books about learning how to juggle, the history of juggling and things about circus history more broadly, mime technique, as well. If anybody is curious. I love working in Maine. I try working in Maine as often as I can, I’ve got so many friends there, and it’s such a beautiful place to be. Yeah, I mean, beyond that just a sincere expression of gratitude that Maine wants me back (laughter)!

Lucky Clark, a 2018 “Keeping the Blues Alive” Award winner, has spent more than 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.