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Feature: SPHERUS Can Juggle Literally Anything and Scientists Should Join the Circus

Greg Kennedy's 2022 Fringe Festival act is a treat and a half.

Feature: SPHERUS Can Juggle Literally Anything and Scientists Should Join the Circus

Hackey sacks and bowling balls don't even begin to cover it. Hatchets, passé, lie buried in the props box. Spherus, a Philly-based juggling act directed by master juggler Greg Kennedy (my words, not his), won't deny you a fountained half-dozen of luminescent balls. But you can bet your favorite scuzzy Docs they will wheel out pendulums and modular jungle gyms and see-through, David Blaine-worthy contraptions that set your noggin puzzling over what juggling is really about.

Maybe it's motion. Maybe it's pattern. Maybe it's the manipulation of objects' momentum and other physical properties in mathematical ways for the creation of spectacular compositions of line, movement, color, light, and sound.

Are you overthinking it? Or are you starting to get it? Either way, you're clapping again, because that fifteenth act - or was it the eighteenth? - somehow managed to surprise you all over again. Did they say they offered classes here? And is that...a giant, inverted cone on wheels with a grown man suspended inside of it?

Right, about the man in the cone - yes, the one slinging colored balls like God sending the planets into orbit.

Greg Kennedy may be the only engineer whose office you'd actually want a tour of, chiefly because he long ago turned his scientific training toward the art of making you wonder what on earth he's about to do with that contraption, three paper lanterns, and eight bouncy balls.

Outside his studio in the spectacular Philadelphia School of Circus Arts building in West Mt. Airy, as students broke down the props following their one-night performance during the city-wide 2022 Fringe Festival, I asked Kennedy how he figured out whether something was juggleable. The secret?

"I fail a lot," Kennedy says. "Luckily, I've figured out how to prototype very inexpensively and very quickly. For everything I create that makes it to the stage, there are probably two things for which I could never create enough choreography or routine."

Kennedy is what he calls an innovative juggler, at the modern forefront of an ancient entertainment art, where he integrates mathematical tools into juggling. "Instead of playing with a ball going up into the air and coming back down, I play with the idea of what that object could be," he says. "It just has to be in a precarious motion for a certain amount of time before it travels back to the other hand, and that could be a swinging pendulum or something else."

The "something else" could be (to name a few) stackable squares, flared scarves, twelve-foot-tall poles, magnetic balls on a circular frame track, or a set of nesting wooden boxes. Juggleable? You bet.

"I have a pretty loose definition of what juggling is compared to most jugglers," says Kennedy. "It's a matter of how many objects are traveling, and how many hands, and you can put mathematics on this to create patterns."

Multimedia design elements from Jeff Bethea and Brynna Raine, as well as acrobatic performances and support from aerialists Christine Morano and Rachel Lancaster, help ensure that this show hit moment after moment.

If you're wondering whether it's still possible to run away and join the circus, fellow Philadelphians, I have welcome news: the running isn't necessary. Kennedy, Morano, Lancaster, and all the other folks at the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts (digitally housed at the priceless domain and physically located at 6452 Greene St.) teach their stuff on the regular so that you don't have to, you know, abandon your families.

When it comes to Spherus, you come because you're trying to work through queasy childhood memories of that travelling circus and stay because you just might learn something about props, pattern, performance, and composition. If some turtlenecked, spectacled part of you is quietly fuming at the fact that this article is on a performing arts website ("It's called BROADWAY world"), do yourself a favor and catch a Spherus show next time it comes around.

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