There’s a simple explanation as to how Jacob Weiss – who has a Ph.D. in biomedical informatics from Vanderbilt and a bachelor’s in computer science from Princeton – became a professional juggler.
“We didn’t have a TV growing up,” Weiss said.
At age 10, Weiss was busy reading an article on learning to juggle with rolled-up socks in the children’s science magazine 3-2-1 Contact. Soon after, he was receiving juggling clubs as a birthday present.
Now all grown up and one-third of the trio behind Playing By Air Productions, Weiss has found success bringing juggling to communities, classrooms and corporate events alike. Playing By Air will perform at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Amphitheater, using juggling tricks to tie together about an hour of music, comedy and theater.
While folks may be used to seeing juggling shows with knives or flaming torches, Weiss said Playing By Air shows are less about crazy gags or danger and more about surprise and fun.
“It’s us having fun onstage together and sharing that playfulness with the audience,” Weiss said.
The Playing By Air trio, founded in 2009, includes Weiss, Ted Joblin and Michael Karas. Similar to the style of performance art company Blue Man Group, their routines include such objects as desk bells, giant yoga balls, pool noodles, violins and even a didgeridoo.
Fit for all ages, a Playing By Air performance includes “a lot of surprises that you wouldn’t expect from a juggling show,” Weiss said.
An audience favorite is the glow-in-the-dark finale, where all the juggling props are lit up with LED lights, Weiss said.
“It’s almost like an indoor fireworks show from the stage,” Weiss said. “It just has that spectacle part, but also it’s just very fun, wholesome entertainment that’s good for the whole family.”
Weiss made time for juggling with student organizations while in school, but didn’t plan on becoming a professional performer. He met Joblin after moving to Nashville for grad school, and the two later connected online with Karas, who lives in New York City and has a background in acting.
With the three performers working together, the resulting show combines some of Karas’ solo work with routines Weiss and Joblin learned as a duo.
“The characters that we play are kind of an exaggerated version of our own personalities,” Weiss said.
The best way to describe the act is “variety,” Weiss said, but there is also a storyline. The show starts with Joblin and Weiss as performers and Karas as the backstage help. As the show goes on, Karas decides he wants to join the show and starts performing.
Some people might have a full-time job as a community engagement consultant and a part-time gig as a performer. For Weiss, it is the reverse, and both jobs blend together. For each corporate event, Playing By Air donates a performance to a local nonprofit or children’s hospital.
He’s hopeful that children will be inspired by performance the way he was as a kid. His own career path may be unexpected, but that’s the case for all members of Playing By Air, Weiss said.
“No matter what, you end up being a juggler,” Weiss said.