A juggling life

On November 5, Darragh McLoughlin of contemporary circus company Squarehead  Productions brings his beautiful and challenging circus project ‘For As Long As We’re Here’  to Uillinn: The West Cork Arts Centre in Skibbereen. This innovative concept will see world  class performers push their bodies to their limits by performing single circus actions for  four hours within a gallery context. Ahead of the event, Darragh chats to Mary O’Brien about the project and the path that juggling and circus performing has brought him along. 

Circus performer Darragh McLoughlin, 34, is the son of well-known West Cork chefs Karen Austin and Con McLoughlin, who ran the successful Lettercollum Kitchen Project in Clonakilty until their recent retirement from the business. Currently living in Berlin with his partner Sophia and their one-year-old son, Loki; although he doesn’t see himself there forever, for now Darragh is enjoying life in a city known for its diversity and inclusivity. “Weird is normal and normal is weird in a city like Berlin,” shares the performer. 

Growing up in Timoleague, circus performing couldn’t have been further from Darragh’s mind. “I was never into playing sport, in fact I avoided it at all costs,” he shares. “I remember not being very flexible and thought that was just the way my body was. I didn’t have much interest in the arts, performance or anything of the sort.” 

He says that one defining feature that connects teenage Darragh to the person he is today is that he’s an independent thinker. “Some might say stubborn!” he laughs. “Unless I saw a good reason for doing something, you would have to drag me to it. Which was basically how I went through the whole Irish school system.” 

This changed however when Darragh learned to juggle at the age of 15 – a life-changing experience. “Juggling taught me to love learning,” he says. Completely addicted from the get-go, Darragh practiced his new-found skill for hours every day. “It also made people ‘see’ me, which was great for my confidence.” 

Hailed for its cognitive benefits, juggling has been known to actually change the processing speed of the brain. 

A few weeks after finishing school, Darragh packed his bags and headed for Berlin where he joined the Jonglier Katakomben School of Juggling. “I didn’t know anyone in Berlin or speak any German,” he shares. He now holds a Bachelor Degree in Circus Arts. 

He began making money – on good days pulling in €30 an hour – by performing short juggling routines in front of cars at traffic lights in Berlin. 

“You’d basically have to find the right light that gives you enough time at rush hour to jump out in front of the cars and do a flashy 30-second routine, and then you have around 20 seconds to walk down the rows of cars and anyone who liked what you did would roll down their window and give you some money,” he explains. 

With tough competition for the best locations, he used to rise at 6am in winter, performing in the snow to make sure he got the best spot.

Darragh has been performing and teaching full-time for the past 10 years, creating performances in more than 20 countries and gaining recognition internationally for his work. He measures his success by his freedom to do and make what he wants. “I (almost) never make compromises in the type of work I do.” 

His interest and studies into psychology, philosophy and cognitive science help him to understand his audience. “I like to think I’m doing my part in human exploration, finding strange things nobody thought of looking for before,” he says. “It can be exhausting having to constantly make decisions about abstract things that nobody (yet) cares about! Still, I believe in what I do, and that keeps me going clear and steady into the abyss.” 

Darragh’s upcoming project at Uillinn, ‘For As Long As We’re Here’ (FALAWH) will include the audience. “I want them to stay with us long enough to look past the obvious skill and see the human that is in front of them,” he explains. 

Circus is normally known for routines of quick, exciting and difficult tricks. However, this dramatic performance will last for hours pushing the minds and bodies of the performers to their limits. 

Darragh will be accompanied at Uillinn by two other amazing artists, Namer Golan and Theresa Kuhn. It’s a collective of nine artists; the rest will be performing at another festival on the same day. 

Each of these world class performers has a different circus discipline: Darragh’s involves laying flat on the floor and balancing a (broomstick length) stick with his sternum for four hours without break. 

The performers will be accompanied by folk singer Branwen Kavanagh, who is half of ‘Twin Headed Wolf’. She will aim to sing one song that lasts the full duration of the performance. A durational feat in itself! 

“I think a lot of people can empathise with the feeling of enduring. No matter who we are, we are all enduring a lot. Especially over the last few years. I hope this work can inspire people to stay strong and keep pushing. There is something beautiful to be found when we overcome ourselves.” 

For now Darragh is happy to keep on doing what he’s doing but he would love to one day have his own space to work from, perhaps even in Clonakilty or somewhere else in West Cork. “West Cork is really lacking proper alternative spaces for people to meet and express themselves in a platform that isn’t connected to pubs. I think it would be a game changer. The old brewery in Clon would be a perfect space: Anyone want to set up a theatre with me?”

FALWAH will happen in Uillinn on November 5 from 12-4pm. 

For more information go to westcorkartcentre.com

Mary O'Brien

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