Circus Folk at the Carnie

It isn't uncommon for non-circus folks to mix up circus folks, those who perform skills for audiences, with carnies, those who travel with carnivals to run the rides and man* the booths. Last night, Chautauqua, the band of 45 or so circusy folks I'm currently running around Alasqua with, camped at the Alasqua State Fairgrounds outside of Palmer and the two worlds merged.

Led by a veteran Chautauquan looking to recreate fond memories of the Alasqua tour 11 years ago, we hopped a fence to frolic among the not in use tilt-o-wheels, mini-roller coasters, ferris wheels, and hall 'o mirrors. While being amongst abandoned carnival rides was a little creepy, it was also really fun. And since we are in the land of ridiculously long day light, at least it wasn't dark at midnight when the frolicking reached its peak.

Next time I visit a [working] carnival, I will have a better understanding of the machines from having climbed on and explored them unhampered. But I will also feel slightly less safe knowing that all it takes is a hop, skip, and jump for anyone so inclined to do exactly the same thing.
Monday August 1 2011File under: chautauqua

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Kitchen Crew Takes the Stage

I'm not a performer. I think I must have stated that 100 times on the trip (and hundreds more throughout my life). I just don't really enjoy it. I wish I did, but I don't. I've come up with many rationalizations for it, but the root of the matter is that it just doesn't do it for me.

That said, I made it on stage for the last show of the tour. For some reason, "Kitchen Bit" made it to the line-up. Originally it was just supposed to be a fake fashion show for the awesome recycled aprons we had been wearing all tour, but since everyone in the kitchen can juggle as well*, we decided to spice it up a bit. Lime juggling, broom chin balancing, padiddling*, and more: we took out all the stops for the final show. My part: besides being a padiddling model and group juggling a huge pot, pot lid, broom and water jug, I ended the bit by juggling 5 raw eggs. Of course half of them ended up on the floor (after a solid run), but the audience wouldn't have liked it any other way.

I had a blast and was glad to be able to contribute to the show part of the tour (which is the most forward facing aspect). I had such a good time that I catch myself thinking that maybe I should rethink my non-performer title. Perhaps "semi-reluctant rare-occasion performer" is better.
Saturday August 8 2009File under: chautauqua

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Random Chautauqua Pics



Finding internet has been hard, so I haven't been able to post as much as I would have liked. I'm also kind of slacking on the picture taking front. Hopefully now that tour is over, I will be able to find a little more time and a few more pictures to eke out at least one more post. Until then, here are a few random pictures to tide you over.
Tuesday August 4 2009File under: chautauqua

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Group Dynamics II

As a people watcher, I see group dynamic watching as the next logical step. (Last time I ran away with the circus, it was one of the first things I posted about.) When you put 60 or so people (with people coming and going daily), group dynamics is something that exists in abundance. Who contributes and who doesn't really pull their weight, who complains and who makes due, who gets along with whom, who are snuggle buddies, etc. etc.

One of the things that intrigues me most about this ever-morphing animal that is called Chautauqua is the way responsibilities are handled. There is no end-all buckstopper to whom you can take your questions or even figure out who you should take your question to. In general, if you start asking the questions, you become the one that has to answer them. Take "When are we going to leave?" for example. A simple question, right? Well, try asking it around a Chautauqua camp the day before a travel day. You quickly become the one to coordinate between all the people that know what else has to happen and when, such that you become the authority.

This whole concept of responsibility for the taking is one that has its ups and downs. Ups: everyone is responsible for the experience, rather than being able to point to just one organizer; each year is very different (so I'm told); everyone has a say in how things go down; you can be as involved as you want; the fact that it works is just plain amazing. Downs: it is easy for people to decide not to pull their own weight since there is no one to call them on it; each year is different*, the people who care often get overworked and burnt out; personality conflicts can have a bigger impact.

Sufficive to say, it is a trip, both on the performance/travel/circus side as well as the group dynamics side.
Thursday July 30 2009File under: chautauqua

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Show Day

Salt Spring Island B.C. is the third stop on this tour. Three stops is enough for me to start to get down the routine. The big day of every stop is Show Day, the day where we get all dressed up in costumes, parade through "town"*, put on a teaser show and workshops (in hopes of drawing as many people in), and finishing the day with the big show. As a non-performer*, it isn't as stressful a day as it could be, but it is still a lot of hustle and bustle, and we all play our role.

The reward, however, is worth it. Between the logistics of camping, food, and transportation, etc. and hanging out with awesome people, I sometimes forget that the focus of Chautauqua is on putting on a quality vaudeville show for the communities we visit. After the show, and usually until we leave the community, the people let us know how much they appreciated and enjoyed it. Hearing, "Hey, aren't you those circus guys? You were awesome!" does the whole goosebump thing for me, even though my role in getting the show to go on simply involved mathematics of erecting a trapeze set and putting oatmeal in the performers bellies.

Anyway, Show Day is a good day. (Actually, they've all been good days, but show days are particularly fun.)
Saturday July 25 2009File under: chautauqua

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Breakfast for 60

Cooking for 60 people is a slightly different experience than cooking for a few friends, or even for a reasonably sized dinner party. Cooking for 60 people requires planning, huge pots and pans, a knowledge of your eaters, and having a little help in the "kitchen" doesn't hurt. The role I've fallen into on this tour is that of breakfast buckstop. That means that I am responsible for making sure there is breakfast every morning. That doesn't mean I necessarily have to do it, but I gotta make sure it gets done. So far, it means that I've been up before anyone else getting the water boiling for coffee, cracking eggs, and delegating to my helpers*.

What makes the experience that much more exiting is the facilities. For the past 3 mornings, we've been camped out on Gabriola Island with an outdoor kitchen consisting of 2 propane fueled burnings, a picnic table for prep, pots and pans in totes, and food strewn about in boxes and coolers everywhere. That didn't stop us from making a kick ass sausage, potato, etc. scramble one morning, and some delicious oatmeal another. At our last stop, Lasqueti, we had a nice indoor kitchen at the community center which facilitated delicious berry pancakes among other deliciousness. Who knows what Salt Spring Island will hold breakfast-wise.

The combination of cooking for a large group of people with whoever happens to be around helping out is really an inspiring experience (as long as there isn't too much griping, which there hasn't been at all). And knowing that I have the easiest meal of the day*, I have that much more respect for those putting together the other meals. Then there's the guy who plans and shops for the food we should have on hand, the people who organize the finances of it all, the people who move it and sort it, and the people who help clean up after it all*—feeding a traveling circus of 60 people ain't a small job. But like with everything here on Chautauqua, it can be a fun job.
Thursday July 23 2009File under: chautauqua

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Chautauqua in 3 Words

So far, the experience of Aqua Chautauqua II is beyond words*. So instead of trying to capture it all in words and failing or waiting until I have the time, thought processes, and pictures to make a respectable post, I've put together a few 3-word phrases to at least hint at the wonderful time I've been having. (Apologies for any insider jokes that found their way in. Ask me any particular one someday and I'll explain.) Enjoy!

Epic tent camp. "Type of Mushroom?" Mayonaisse eating contest. Pancakes for 50. Breakfast buck stop. Juggle and snuggle. Bioluminescence night swimming. Strangley's handstands happen. Magic juggling clubs*. "Hop on in."*. Load and unload. Load and unload. (Load and unload.) "Where's my beachball?" Hurry-up n wait. Fake mustaches everywhere! "Where's the coffee?"* Never grow up.
Saturday July 18 2009File under: chautauqua

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Running Away with the Circus...Again...

Remember that one time when I ran away with the circus? While this go round is a different circus, a different country, and a totally different dynamic*, I still get to say I'm running away with the circus*!

As for what this experience is going to be like, I don't really know. What is my role going to be? I don't really know much about that either, although on my application I said I'd do pretty much anything (except perform). Besides our itinerary (Canadian Gulf Islands), about all I know about what I am getting myself into is what I've read on the group's website. From the sounds of it, it'll be an adventure.

I'll do my best to keep you all, my friends, in on the fun by posting about my adventures. The last time I went to Lasquiti Island, however, the place we stayed had only minimal solar power and not a wifi signal to be found. Point being that updates might not be as frequent as we'd all like. But when I return, at least, there will be pictures and posts and stories to tell. Yeehaw adventure!
Tuesday July 14 2009File under: chautauqua

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