Kellin Quinn comes from a family of performers.
His mother, Jessica Hentoff, runs Circus Harmony in St. Louis. His sister is a flying trapeze artist, and his brother is an acrobat.
Quinn grew up juggling but didn’t get serious about his craft until he attended a juggling festival in 2011.
“It opened my mind, and I saw how terrible I was,” he said, laughing. “That’s when I really started working.”
Quinn, 17, is one of two St. Louis performers who made the International Jugglers’ Association‘s championship finals today at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. Jugglers send in preliminary videos of their routines, and judges narrow the pool to five finalists for each of the three divisions: individuals, teams and juniors.
Quinn and the other St. Louis performer, Thom Wall, 27, will compete against each other and three Japanese performers in the individuals division.
Wall, a past champion, has been involved with the IJA for years, and Quinn has performed in the finals twice before, winning both bronze and gold.
Quinn is the youngest of a three-man troupe, Company McQuiggs. The three captivated a gym full of family and friends one July evening in Chesterfield, balancing clubs and juggling off one another, adding comedic flourishes like a dexterous version of the Three Stooges.
Quinn played the comic relief, the one “forced” to squeeze into a purple dress while his mates donned vests for their rendition of “Good Morning’” from “Singing in the Rain.” While borderline goofy, Quinn’s style is fluid; he doesn’t scramble to catch the clubs. They tumble lazily, waiting for Quinn’s grip, and if they slip, that’s okay.
Quinn doesn’t mind dropping. In fact, he’s known for it.
“It makes it a lot less serious,” he said. “So many people, they take it too seriously. All of the juggling is for me, and it just happens to be useful on stage, too.”
Like Quinn, Wall found juggling early. He taught himself the basics out of a book in elementary school, practicing in his backyard in New Orleans. But it wasn’t until his family moved to St. Louis years later that he began to hone his talent. He was a sophomore in high school when he joined the St. Louis Juggling Club.
Since then, Wall has joined and directed several juggling organizations, brought a juggling club back to life at Washington University and toured with various circuses. He’s traveled all over for his craft. He does both solo work and duo groups, such as the Hopeless Throwmantics. In July alone, he spent time in Vancouver, Kansas City, Illinois, Indiana and New Zealand. Somewhere in between, he spent about five days in St. Louis, where he’s based.
“It’s a lot of traveling, but it’s with people I like, and it’s work that I like, so I couldn’t ask for anything better,” he said.
After four years on IJA’s board of directors, Wall decided to work toward a master’s degree in nonprofit arts administration. But in the midst of his studies, he received the call from Cirque du Soleil, offering him a spot as a replacement juggler on the show “Totem.” Though he’s still working on his thesis, juggling takes priority.
“Juggling is a part of my life that I can’t escape,” he said. “It’s a large and close-knit community worldwide, and it’s really wonderful to play a role in that both as a performer and as an administrator. But between the two, my artistic side seems to be taking precedence these days.”
And he’s ready to show that artistic side to judges today. First place for both the individuals and teams divisions is $1,000. But IJA’s chair, Erin Stephens, said the bigger draws are the weight the experience adds to a résumé, along with the networking and camaraderie.
“This community, it’s like a family,” she said. “You’ll know these people the rest of your life. There are fun, interesting people in the juggling community, from all different walks of life. You have your professionals, those who do it as a hobby — it’s very diverse.”
The individuals and teams championships begin at 7 p.m.