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Tahoe jugglers head to Hollywood

Nancy Oliver Hayden, Tribune Community Editor

It all started when an 11-year-old boy became bored during a family vacation. Now, three young men from South Lake Tahoe are headed to the Championship of Performing Arts at Los Angeles.

As part of Team USA, The Tahoe Jugglers — Chris Smith, Mike Callian and Nick Smith — will compete in October against 56 countries from around the world.

Chris Smith, a 17-year-old senior at South Tahoe High School, started juggling while on a family RV trip to Yellowstone National Park seven years ago.

“We decided to stop at a diner for lunch and I looked around in the small gift shop at the restaurant for something to buy. I came across ‘Juggling for the Complete Klutz,’ a book that came with three bean bags and instructions on how to begin. I asked my Dad for the book, thinking it would be a good way to pass time, since I was getting pretty bored. My Dad rolled his eyes saying, ‘You’re probably never going to use that.’ Then and there, I vowed to be able to juggle three bean bags by the end of the vacation,” Chris Smith said.

After 10 days he had mastered juggling the three bags and when he got home he kept it up. He began to order equipment and taught himself tricks. By the time he finished fifth grade, he put together an act for a talent show at St. Theresa School. Then he took a little break from juggling.

“I started up again my freshman year in high school, when I took it a little more seriously and began to put together performances,” Chris said.

Chris’ friend, Mike Callian, 16, and younger brother, Nick Smith, 12, became part of The Tahoe Jugglers mainly by luck. They have been performing together since June 2001. Callian is a senior at South Tahoe High and Nick Smith is in the seventh grade at St. Theresa Catholic School. They have presented 32 shows, most for charity.

“One day I decided to teach Mike how to juggle and when Nick saw this he wanted to learn too. Pretty soon we had a troupe and set out to perform,” Chris said.

The Tahoe Jugglers obtained a list of charities and organizations around town and contacted people on the list asking if they wanted jugglers to perform. One of the takers was the Boys and Girls Club of Lake Tahoe and the trio performed their first gig at the Tahoe Amusement Park.

“We had worked for weeks, putting together music and audience participation. We were excited, but when we got there only about 10 people were actually sitting to watch our performance.

“After ending the show by juggling a bowling ball, a cell phone and a pair of sunglasses, we began to pack up. A man walked up and simply said, ‘I’ll be impressed when you juggle three bowling balls.’ Then he walked off. Not exactly the reception we had been hoping for. But we went back to the drawing board and came up with new ideas that we used for performances after that,” Chris said.

By the way, Chris now can juggle three bowling balls and smile while doing it.

After performing at the 2002 Miss Lake Tahoe Pageant, The Tahoe Jugglers were contacted by ReneZ Conway from KMTN-TV who told them an agent from Los Angeles had heard about them from a talent scout who had seen the performance. They called the scout and were told about the World Championship of Performing Arts. The juggling trio is entered in the variety, comedy and acting divisions.

“This is a great opportunity for us to break into the entertainment business, which we hope to do as a career,” Chris said.

The competition has been nicknamed the “Entertainment Olympics” because it is run much like the Olympic games. There are opening ceremonies, team warm-up suits and the chance to compete with the top performers from around the world. Participants will compete for a bronze, silver or gold medal in each of the competitions. The top performers in each category will move to the finals, which will be shown on national TV.


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