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Restaurant Jugglers

Original article HERE
Written by: David Cain

At the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century,  a very popular type of juggling act was done by “Restaurant Jugglers.” Restaurant jugglers did their act in the setting of a high class restaurant, with both the customers and waiters eventually juggling anything and everything on the stage, including the food, plates, utensils, and even the furniture.

The Price Brothers

 

The Price Brothers

Despite what most juggling history books say, the first Restaurant Jugglers were the Price Brothers. Consisting of John, William, Adolphe, and Ferdinand Price, they were the sons of famed British clown Carl James Price (1801-1865). The brothers were clowns, acrobats, rope dancers, comedians, and jugglers. They first became famous for a musical act where they played violins and flutes while balancing on unsupported ladders and did contortions and tumbling while playing violins. They later did an act called the Musical Kitchen, where they created music using utensils and pots and pans.  At some point in the 1850s, they created what would be their most enduring act, Dinner At Maxim’s. In this sketch, two of the brothers played a couple dining at a fancy restaurant, with John Price dressed as a woman. The other two brothers played waiters. As the act progressed the waiters began juggling and eventually all four performers were tossing a wide array of food, cutlery, plates, and furniture about the stage. By the end of the sketch the entire restaurant scene was in complete shambles.

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Price Brothers in Dinner At Maxim’s

Henri Agoust

In 1879, French juggler Henri Agoust teamed up with the Hanlon Brothers of the Hanlon-Lees troupe of acrobats. The Hanlon-Lees were successful performers but simply did stunts on stage. Agoust persuaded them to stage their performances in a more theatrical setting. The eventual result was a production called A Trip To Switzerland, which has been called “perhaps one of the most significant productions in the history of popular entertainment, for in it a wide range of circus techniques, stage music, and dazzling scenic work was incorporated into a dramatic context and performed by a group of the world’s most talented acrobats, jugglers, and clowns.” This almost sounds like a modern description of a Cirque Du Soleil production! The production had three acts, with the third act being more or less a copy of the Price Brothers’ A Dinner At Maxim’s sketch. The Hanlon-Lees’ production was a huge hit everywhere it was performed and Henri Agoust was given much praise for both his insistence that the troupe become more theatrical in their presentations and as the star juggler in the famous restaurant scene. Unfortunately, he also took or was given credit for the creation of the restaurant juggling act, leaving the Price Brothers, who were obviously his inspiration, as merely a footnote that was almost completely forgotten until recently.

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In 1886, Henri Agoust left the Hanlon-Lees troupe to become the ringmaster of the Nouveau Cirque. While the Hanlon-Lees Troupe continued to perform the act, it wasn’t as successful without Agoust. Around 1890, Agoust hired Wallace and Mrs. Havelock and Bill Talent to form the Agoust Troupe. They recreated the restaurant scene from A Trip To Switzerland and had great success with it for more than twenty years. Below are two pictures of the Agoust Troupe.

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Amazingly, a short film of the Agoust Troupe from 1898 still exists. It’s one of the oldest films of juggling still in existence. See it below.

Copycat Acts

In either 1910 or 1914 (depending on what source you use), The Havelocks went out on their own and started a five person troupe performing the restaurant act. The Onri Family and Blank Family acts each started out doing the restaurant act before moving on to other types of juggling. There was also the Aicardi Troupe, another five person version of the act, which can be seen below.

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The Rambler Troupe

Perhaps the best known copycat version of the restaurant act was done by the Rambler Troupe. It was founded by Harry Rambler and Minni Werger-Rambler of Berlin, Germany in 1899 and dissolved in 1910. Like the Price Brothers and the Agoust Troupe before them, the Rambler Troupe consisted of four jugglers, with two portraying a dining couple and the other two acting as the waiters. We know quite a bit about their act due to an article detailing it that appeared in The Strand Magazine in 1909. Below are a few pictures from it, but you can read the entire article, which was reprinted in the Spring 1991 Juggler’s World magazine, by clicking here.

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The Charles Perezoff Company

The final big Restaurant Juggling act of the early twentieth century was the Charles Perezoff Company. Charles Perezoff was a juggler from Spain who was famous for being able to juggle 7 balls while balancing a top hat on its brim on his forehead.

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Charles Perezoff

In 1910, Charles formed his troupe with his brothers Jose and Franzisco and four other jugglers. He expanded the restaurant act to include not only the dining room, but also the entrance and cloakroom. Eventually, his company consisted of 14 jugglers, making this by far the largest and most complex restaurant juggling act. The finale consisted of of everyone juggling 6 plates a piece for a total of 84 plates in the air at once! Below are various pictures and posters of the Perezoff Company.

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Other Forms Of Restaurant Juggling

When the above acts broke apart, the Restaurant Juggling Act era ended, but jugglers still continued to use elements of the act. Gentleman jugglers continued to juggle with plates, bottles, and silverware. Plates were used by more technical jugglers like Rastelli, Jenny Jaeger, and Truzzi as well. Other jugglers formed acts set in a kitchen, using items that might be found there. Plate spinning continued to be a common element in juggling as well. However, the standard restaurant act that was created by the Price Brothers died off by the 1930s. Perhaps a small group of jugglers will attempt to recreate the act someday. The closest act today to the Restaurant Act that I’m aware of is the team of Thom Wall and Benjamin Domask. Performing as the “Dinner And A Show Show”, these two talented jugglers play waiters who juggle their way through dinner preparation and even invite an audience member onstage to act as their patron.

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Below are two videos of Benjamin and Thom. The first is a promo video for their full length show and the second is a shortened version of their act that they performed at the 2014 IJA Festival.