For a lot of teenagers coming out of high school, deciding what to do next can be a bit of a toss-up. You might even say it’s a time of life when things are a little ‘up in the air.’
Wisconsin’s Matt Henry took a slightly more literal view of that conundrum than most. He decided to become a professional juggler.
Now based out of Seattle, Henry will bring his “Trained Human” act to the Summit Theatre in Langley’s Cascades Casino on Saturday, July 21.
The term, defined on his web page as “a specialist skilled in juggling, comedy, and other esoteric pursuits; a master of the unnecessary,” is really a “catch-all” for everything Henry’s comedic act encompasses, he explained over the phone from Vancouver.
And it involves a whole lot more than throwing and catching pins.
For example, he has one bit involving a balloon, a set of bellows, a barbecue fork, a couple of balls and a kazoo (probably best if you check that one out for yourself at trainedhuman.com).
But everyone has to start somewhere, and for an “awkward” Midwestern adolescent, juggling was something he could do alone in his free time, Henry explained.
And as his skills quickly improved, his passion for the pastime grew.
“(With juggling) there’s an instant feedback loop for your sense of accomplishment,” said Henry.
“It’s like music and martial arts — the more you put into it, the more you get out of it.”
Joined by other “juggling oddballs” from his Madison, Wis. high school, Henry helped form the West High Jugglers.
Their first show earned them a standing ovation and set the course for Henry’s future.
But if he was going to wow crowds on a regular basis, Henry quickly realized that it wouldn’t be enough to simply stand on a stage, throwing and catching stuff. He needed an act.
And, if his parents were to be believed, he also needed an education.
After graduating from college, Henry tucked his linguistics degree in his pocket and moved to New York, where he could hit the streets and get back to what really mattered.
He busked in front of some of the world’s most notoriously tough critics for a few years, until the big call finally came from the House of Mouse.
Henry spent the next two years performing at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. He did five shows a day, six days a week —amounting to roughly 8,000 performances — often in scorching, 100-plus degree heat.
“Disney really cranks them out,” he laughed.
But all that practice paid off when Henry parlayed his skills into a world championship title — and then got to crisscross the world he’d conquered, performing across Asia and Europe.
“I’m really lucky. I’ve gotten to travel a lot with this job,” said Henry, who’s spent the past five years working on cruise ships in the Caribbean and up the west coast to Alaska.
Despite his own success, Henry believes his craft doesn’t quite get the level of respect it deserves.
“There is a little bit of an anti-juggling bias in today’s society. When you watch America’s Got Talent, they usually send the jugglers off pretty quickly,” he said.
Part of that, he thinks, is the way the skill set has been pigeon-holed. When people think of juggling, there are a few specific images that pop into their minds, said Henry.
Usually it involves the circus, street performances or children’s birthday parties.
“There’s this whole other world people don’t know about,” he said.
“I’m trying to bring people into this world that encompasses all the different skills and styles of presentation.”
Audiences are invited to enter Matt Henry’s world when he performs on Saturday, July 21 at Cascades Casino, 20393 Fraser Hwy. Tickets are available for $22.50 from Casino Guest Services. Charge by phone 604-530-2211 or online at www.ticketweb.ca. Doors open at 7 p.m.; show starts at 8 p.m.