I posted this to my blog, but thought someone here might like to read it:
I'm not sure where this is going, but I have to write something. Luke Wilson died a few days ago, and the news hit me really hard. Hopefully this can clear up, for myself and anyone interested, just what he meant to me, and what's going to change in my life now he has gone.
Pretty often I'd meet a juggler for the first time, and after a brief introduction, they would ask me: "Are you Luke Wilson?"
"No," I'd say, "I'm the other British professional juggler who lives in Germany, has a German girlfriend, travels and performs around the world, hosts shows at many conventions, etc, etc... and who is also called Luke. I'm the tall skinny club juggler called Luke, and Luke is the small skinny club juggler called Luke."
I can see where the confusion might arise. Luke and I acknowledged the confusion, and our position of being the two Lukes in the juggling world, with a our online rivalry both claiming to be the Real Luke.
Back in early 2001 I invented a ring trick. You place a ring on one ear, and with a shake of the head, you transfer it to the other ear. I showed it off in a best trick competition at the BJC 2001, and it got a good reaction. Other jugglers started calling it Luke's Ear Ring Trick, which I thought was pretty cool. Then someone said they had seen Ian Merchant doing it a few months before. Which I also found pretty cool, as so many times two jugglers build on the same existing concept to come up with the same new trick.
After writing about this on my website, I got an email from Luke Wilson saying:
"What is the trick? If it involves hanging the ring on one ear, and then
flipping it around your face to a catch on the other, then the name is
If the trick is another: please expand details!
Luke (Not Barrage But Wilson)"
As you can see, right from the start, we had more in common than just our name. We'd both invented the same trick! The ambiguity of "Luke's Ear Ring Trick" seemed to make sense. We stayed in contact from then on for various reasons, including the fact that people presumed that the email@example.com email address would reach the Luke Wilson, and not the actual Real Luke (why would the non-Real Luke have the juggler.net address?).
Later in 2001 I attended Luke and Ben Richter's workshop at the London Juggling Convention called "Encyclopedia of Contemporary Club Juggling". It inspired me to write up my thoughts about ring juggling in a similar categorical way, leading to The Endless Possibilities of Ring Juggling essay/workshop guide.
I could go on and on about the small ways Luke Wilson influenced and inspired me in my early years as a juggler. I'm sure everyone has similar stories. His presence in my life grew though, into a friendship. We weren't as close friends as others, but we were good friends, and constant friends, due to the similar paths we'd chosen in life, and due to the similar paths life had chosen for us.
It's only now Luke has died do I realize that Luke's constant presence became the guide for my entire life. I never thought "If I could be like anyone, I'd be just like Luke Wilson!" and, as I said, so much of life is outside of anyone's control.
But Luke was four years older than me, and so often the same number of years ahead of me in terms of his juggling career. Sometimes more, sometimes less, I guess. If ever I wondered if I was doing okay in my progression as a juggler, Luke's life and career was my go-to guide to know I was on the right track.
Luke Wilson performed in the BJC public show in 2000 as a Gandini, and in 2003 in his Luka Luka double act with Ilka Licht. Well, once I'd performed in the same show, I knew I'd be on my way. In 2004 I performed in the BJC Public Show as a solo act, and headlined the Dutch convention gala show... but then I met Luke backstage at the EJC that same year, and he was performing his devilstick act. In the Gala show... for second year in a row, having already performed with Ilka in in the 2003 EJC Gala.
Well, not to worry, the EJC Gala was a still a few years off for me. Pola and I performed our double act in both the BJC and EJC Gala shows in 2006.
At Bamberg Zaubert, a street show festival, I noticed Luka Luka listed as a previous winner. Once Pola and I won the main competition, I sent Luke a message about it. His response?
"I won it twice, once with Ilka and once as a solo magician."
12 months later, when Pola and I won the same competition for the second year in a row, I felt I could continue the conversation with Luke as an equal.
"Luka Luka" and "Luke and Pola", two English-German juggling couple duo club juggling shows. Here's Luke Wilson and Luke Burrage similarity trivia fun fact number 83: both Ilka and Pola, our respective juggling partners and first German girlfriends, lived in Aachen. Ilka also studied architecture, and Pola worked as a graphic designer for an architecture firm.
Of course, both of our relationships with our German juggling/life partners ended, and we both had to go through the same issues that brings up, professionally and otherwise. Thankfully Luke had gone through that years before me, and while I we didn't talk about that in depth, I remember thinking "It won't be a problem... Luke's been there and done that, so I should aim to be as professional about it as he was." Pola and I went on to perform our last contracted shows together, despite the pain and annoyance of breaking up, and we've stayed friends since. Both Luke and I found new German girlfriends (you know, because we both lived in Germany), and earlier this year he followed my lead, for once, moving to Berlin.
So it was never conscious decision to do what Luke did, but in any professional situation, Luke was my go-to guy. Often we'd chat online or in person, and our conversations would typically revolve around our common job and work. To be clear, our work was traveling. We had ongoing battles comparing how many flights we took per year... with the loser being the one who'd flown more times.
But our common job was performing juggling. We weren't just jugglers, we were performing jugglers. I don't remember a single conversation in the last 6 years about juggling itself, or any kinds of trick. It was all about performing. Which is good, because we could both talk endlessly about our views on performing and our approaches to stage craft.
Here's a random exchange from Skype:
Luke Burrage: Just found a video on an old hard drive of you performing a club routine, outside, in the wind, with trees behind, and you're wearing a pink top. When was this?
Luke Wilson: EJC Edinburgh opening show, 1998.
Luke Wilson: I think, to my shame, that I even hold up a moistened finger to indicate the wind...
Our onstage personas and juggling style differed in so many ways, with his based on crisp precision and mine on exuberant freedom. However, at the roots of both our shows we always found similar ideas and ideals, with both of use knowing the reason for every single element of our acts, and why we included or excluded simple things such as individual blinks or turns of our hands.