Pearls of Juggling Interview #1
A chat with Matthew Tiffany at the British Juggling Convention in Perth, Scotland 2016 on performing and playfulness.
Anthony: We watched you at the Gala Show last night, you we’re fully there on stage having fun. How do you get ready for performing? I’m sure you have a very clear way of going about it.
M: I do a lot of teaching as well and I split doing something like this into two halves, so there is practise and there is play. And when you’re practising you’re following a regimented system almost like army drills, weightlifting drills, sporty things – the pyramid scheme like Anthony Gatto did. I use it as well. And then when I play I let all of that go and try and get out of here basically (points to his head).
The play element also leads to ‘mistakes’… I say to people all the best ideas come from mistakes. Then when I’m practising I’m now aiming for sets, a very set amount of catches and my brain has to shift from talking to tricks and also to movement on stage and so I’ll practise going between those components in my act because it’s a very different part of your brain that’ll be doing the speak, that’ll be doing the tricks.
I’ve done a lot of performing in different places. I did every school play I could get into. I’m a music teacher, and performer, I do violin and I play in a jazz band and a blue cross band and things like that. I played classical music ’til I was twenty-one almost exclusively. The format is so so rigid in classical music that it has an ever dwindling audience because they want to be wowed and not just see something.
I like music for music’s sake and juggling for juggling’s sake, it’s so important. And the industry is too far in the performance wave now. I find it very strange that standard punters will go and watch sport and it’s ok if somebody fails, or gets tackled, or something like that. But with performance, blemishes are unacceptable in a way that in sports they’re normal. I think that’s a shame.
A: I see from your performance that you go beyond this. People could expect anything from how you come on stage. If someone comes on with no personality the audience will have only the performers mistakes to hook onto.
M: True true. People often ask me… was that one on purpose? Even some of my closest friends who watch me juggle all the time don’t know. I suppose part of my practise is mucking around with my friends generally. I’ll do fake falls, everywhere, in front of the people I know the best. To see if I can ham it. If I can do it to the people that know I’m going to do it then I know the comedy’s safe. And I’ll do that with word play and different emotions. I’ll try and convince somebody I’m really sad and then snap out of it. I’ve never considered that a part of practise until I thought, right that’s probably practise.
A: That’s the best form of practise I think and it’s what small children do. They don’t define practise, they just live.
M: They live. And all those poor little kids that have to do circus skills all day or music all day. They don’t have a life.
A: So what is it that motivates you? You do lots of different things, you do music and juggling… what is the thing that pushes you? (laughter) I’m sure you know.
M: I’m not a good socialiser. And for a long time it was a way of escaping from social situations. So if you were playing music you’re not talking to people. And if you’re juggling you’re not talking to people, BUT you’re still there. Before I had those things it was just me and that was the most horrible thing of all, you know what I mean? I needed something to hide behind. There have also been various points where I’ve really wanted to not do a normal life as we all do. And they’re excellent procrastination to these things. Through my degree I just juggled all the time. And when juggling became my job I played the violin all the time.
A: All you’ve done has somehow centred you now so I’m sure you probably don’t even need them any more.
M: I’m getting there. I’m getting there. At twenty-five. After eight years of exclusively juggling balls, I was after that world record, I said in the act last night, that one’s for you Ben, you know. Cos those numbers British ball jugglers was absolutely what I wanted to do. And I was pretty much there. I was doing eleven balls and some of the hardest ball tricks in the world but I was getting bored. Then they did something else and a lot of things changed in my life and I thought, I’m going to learn all of the twentieth century’s famous tricks that are dying out. I sort of switched from being… there’s a big thing within magic and juggling about sort of nicking other peoples material but like I was a classical musician – I NEVER played new material, I was always playing Beethoven, and you know OLDIES. If it was within the last one hundred years it was quite unexpected. And so I’ve changed now because I’m an improvising musician and a classical juggler.
Which I think is dead important. I forgot to say my line in my act but I’ll get it in here – How do you know if you’ll being original if you don’t know what everybody else did? We’re rubbish at learning as history in this community.
I’m not necessarily interested in getting people into the things that I’m in. I’m trying to get them just to love something. Full Monty. That sort of Yorkshire area is where I’m from and I’m not really but I still felt it, I went to school in the mining area and there are friends that have given up on life at twelve, thirteen. They were just going to do what there dad was going to do, they were going to go to school and when they went home they’d watch TV until the next day then they’d go to school again. I just needed something more. And I think that everybody has that thing and we have such a complicated life to get on with that you’re not allowed to do ‘childish things’ just because you want. I think that’s a big shame. Every gig I do I just meet people all these little kids are begging… don’t do what I’m doing, do you what you want to do. That thing that you say wow. Yeah. Get onto the internet and have a look. Gives you something to live for doesn’t it?