BRATTLEBORO -- Thom Wall is not going to juggle chain saws for you.
Not that he couldn't -- he was silver medalist in the 2012 International Jugglers Association Senior Stage Championships, has won other awards for his juggling and has successfully juggled six knives, which may make him the Guinness record holder in that category.
It's just that what he calls "danger juggling" isn't where he's at right now.
"It's easy to create a routine where the only dramatic tension is the audience wondering whether you're going to drop," he said. "It's possible to play with audience expectations in a way that's more than just ‘Is the juggler going to hurt himself or not?' It's possible to play with more theatricality ... to strive for the pretty image not just the skillful and dangerous."
Wall credits his time in Brattleboro in 2011-12, studying at the New England Center for Circus Arts in their Professional Track Program with the development of his prodigious juggling skills into something more theatrical.
"I think that NECCA really helped me figure out how to put routines together," he said, praising NECCA for curing him of "Juggler Brain" -- the tendency to focus solely on tricks and skills and not on how they're put together.
"When you're putting together the routine, all you see is your techniques. To an audience that doesn't make sense. NECCA really helped me work on juggling routines that would be relevant and digestible to audiences," said Wall.
Boosted by his time at NECCA, Wall has gone on to perform at Busch Gardens in Virginia, Cirque Dreams, in South Korea with Armed Forces Entertainment, as well as with the Adventure Collective, a duo called the Hopeless Throwmantics which does indeed feature some "danger juggling" including tossing battle axes while standing on the lap of his partner who is doing a wheelie in a wheelchair. He's also earned critical acclaim for his solo act and won International Jugglers Association awards.
Grateful to NECCA, Wall had no problem juggling his schedule to come back to Brattleboro to perform in NECCA's 2014 Circus Spectacular on Saturday, March 8, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, March 9, at 1 p.m., at the Latchis Theatre.
Featuring NECCA students, staff and alumni and other top circus artists, the Circus Spectacular is a fundraiser for NECCA's community outreach programming.
It's also a showcase of a dazzling array of acts and skills, including trapeze, aerial silks and fabrics, dance trapeze, swinging pole, rope, Lyra, handbalancing, duo trapeze, mime, comedy, and, yes, juggling.
Wall himself will be showcasing his Mouthstick act, where he balances all kinds of objects on a stick he holds in his mouth. It's an act he developed during his important year as a student at NECCA.
Wall always enjoyed juggling and was president of the juggling club at Washington University in St. Louis, where he earned a degree in Germanic languages and literature.
"What do you do with a German degree? You become a juggler," he quipped.
Still thinking that juggling was more of a hobby than a career, Wall weighed a career as the ESL teacher and appeared headed to a graduate program for that when he was informed that his place in the program had been lost to budget cuts.
His friend Jeremy Fein had just been accepted to NECCA and urged him to check it out. He did, but still hung on to a backup plan -- he just completed a master's in non-profit administration.
For now, though, things are looking up for Wall and his juggling career.
"Juggling requires a lot of optimism. There is a visual difference between success and failure -- if objects are in the air, you're succeeding; if not, you're failing," he said. "Circus in America, I think, is really exploding. For juggling, as a whole, it's a period of massive growth and massive exploration."
That, too, is what NECCA's Circus Spectacular celebrates. The lineup includes: NECCA's Advanced Youth Troupe, Morgan Oldham (Lyra), Tommy Tomlins (juggling and aerial sling), Elsa Hall (straps), Daniel Obey (handbalancing), Alyssa Morar (aerial silks), Troy Wunderle (Rola Bola and comedy act), Alissa Feller (solo trapeze), Elsie Smith and Serenity Smith Forchion (duo trapeze), Mario Diamond (mime), Fe Fox (dance trapeze), Panela Donohoo (swinging pole) and Molly Graves (rope).
Proceeds benefit NECCA's community outreach programs, including programs in local schools, collaborations with other local nonprofits, free workshops for other underserved populations, performances at community events, programs are for cancer survivors and more.
Tickets are $50, $25 and $15 for adults, $25 and $10 for youth under 12. For tickets and information, call 802-254-9780 or visit www.necenterforcircusarts.org.
Sponsors include Brattleboro Savings & Loan, World Learning, the Richards Group, Verizon, Brattleboro Ford/Subaru, Trust Company of Vermont, Price Chopper/Golub Foundation, the Brattleboro Reformer and WKVT.