Juggle designed by Edward Boatman from the Noun Project

Juggle designed by Edward Boatman from the Noun Project

Anthony Gatto, arguably the best juggler alive and without doubt one of the most famous, started juggling on television shows like The Tonight Show when he was just a child. Now 40 years old, he holds 11 world records and spent years starring in Cirque du Soleil.

But somewhere in the last years of his career, Gatto decided to get out of performing entirely and now runs his own concrete mixing business instead. In an in-depth piece for Grantland, Jason Fagone looks into what made a talented artist, who was trained and was dedicated to his craft for most of his life, abandon ship entirely:

The fact that juggling audiences can’t tell the difference between hard tricks and easy tricks means they also can’t make any meaningful judgments about jugglers… And jugglers have always taken advantage of audiences’ ignorance. Instead of performing hard tricks, they perform easy tricks that look hard. They lie to delight.

But then came a guy who wasn’t interested in lying, who wanted to do stuff that was hard because he could. This was his power in the world and he wanted to exert it — the basic impulse of any athlete. Yet he never really found his audience, even though he conquered juggling’s demands like no one before him. Gatto learned how to stand calm and straight-backed beneath sick, dizzying multitudes of spinning, arcing objects and conduct them with model-train precision into his hands. He also learned to charm people, even though it didn’t come naturally to him… He also learned to make hard tricks look hard, to pantomime the exertion and self-doubt of a man working at the edge of his ability even though his ability stretched on and on. He learned to entertain, because for some reason, even though we exist in a physical universe defined by the relative attractive powers of massive objects, the mere demonstration of a lush and lovely control of gravity is not enough. He labored to please an audience that could never appreciate his greatness. Then he got older and watched a new wave of jugglers abandon the stage for the flicker of computer screens, sneering at the bright-light mastery he’d worked so hard to gain…

Almost no jugglers get rich. Many work other jobs on the side. Salaries at Cirque start at $50,000, which is decent for the circus world but hardly cozy. I’m sure Gatto is working in concrete because it’s the best thing for his family. Still, the countertop video is jarring, because it represents the perfect inverse of a classic Gatto performance: not a bewildering splay of virtuosity for an audience that will struggle to understand, but a how-to lesson for viewers who will immediately grasp each simple step.

And in the end, Gatto abandoned performing entirely. While there’s no clear answer here (Gatto never agrees to talk with Fagone), it’s well worth the read for anyone who aims to make a life-long a career out of their creative talents.

Read it here.

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