by Rita Charleston
With so many things going on in his life today, Germantown’s Greg Kennedy has had to learn to juggle more than just dishes, balls and little pointy things. Co-owner of the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts with his wife Shana, Kennedy is part of Cirque du Soleil’s newest production, “Totem,” running May 30 through June 30 under the blue and yellow Big Top on Camden’s Waterfront.
Written and directed by Robert Lepage, “Totem” traces the journey of the human species, from its original amphibian state to its ultimate desire to fly. The characters evolve on a stage evoking a giant turtle, the symbol of origin for many ancient civilizations.
The cast of “Totem” comprises 52 performing artists from 19 countries. One of those performers is Kennedy, who portrays the “Scientist” and is a seasoned juggler whose new juggling forms took him away from traditional techniques, many based on his engineering background.
“I first took a class in juggling at Conestoga High School years ago,” said Kennedy, 42. “That’s what got me started. Later, when I was at Drexel University as an engineering major, I kept it up, using some of my knowledge of physics and geometry to enhance my style. I realized that juggling didn’t have to be just a throw and a catch. It could be, for example, a roll and a bounce.”
As the original character, the “Scientist,” Kennedy dons a gray beard and conducts physics experiments with his monkey as his lab assistant. At one point in the show Kennedy juggles lighted balls resembling atoms while inside a large transparent cone.
According to Kennedy, the Scientist represents reason and the quest to understand the universe in ways that can be quantified and put unto boxes. “My laboratory features an orchestra of glass containers filled with mysterious fluids and begin to juggle with luminous balls that might possibly represent planets or molecules.”
While in his 20s, Kennedy started working with different shaped items, and later developed his own 90-minute juggling show. And all through his college and employment career, Kennedy practiced juggling constantly, dreaming up various ways to make his act unique and interesting.
In 1996, at age 25, he attended an International Juggling Competition and became the World Champion. That’s when his new notoriety in the entertainment business prompted him to quit his engineering job in the Geotechnical Industry and focus on his true passion.
For more than 10 years, Kennedy showed off his skills in various cabarets, cruise ships and corporate events. He even worked with his wife, an aerial artist in her own right, until his children came along. Shana decided to stay home with them, but after many queries, she decided to start the circus school in 2008 with her husband’s help.
In the fall of 2007, Kennedy was asked to audition for Cirque. Soon, it was decided to integrate Kennedy’s unique cone act into ”Totem,” and he’s been doing it since 2010.
“At first I was reluctant to join the cast until I learned my wife and three children — Sebastian, Ayla and Isa — could travel with me,” Kennedy explained. “A tutor travels with us, and the children attend school on site. They also get to travel the world. What better kind of education could there be?”
Occasionally, Shana Kennedy travels back to Germantown to keep tabs on the couple’s circus school. And when she can’t be there, Kennedy says the day-to-day running is left in the capable hands of several employees.
Today, Kennedy admits he juggles because he doesn’t have a choice. “I love sharing whatever talent I have with the people who come to see the show. Truthfully, I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
For more information about the current show on Camden’s Waterfront, visit cirquedusoleil.com/totem.