Sowing the Festal Seeds

Bisbee stilt workshop underway! photo courtesy of Paul Weir.

by Jhon Sanders

At the heart of Many Mouths One Stomach, Flam Chen and Tucson Circus Arts is a common vision and will; to inspire creative action and strengthen community through a vigorous, grassroots festal culture. We find such things as imagination, play, celebration and the shared experience of these to be vital to the well-being of both the lives of individuals and of society as a whole. There are many ways by which the world at large might be made into a happier, healthier, more fulfilling place to be for all of us. Festal culture is our chosen way.

Crafting stilts for the kids workshops in Bisbee. photo courtesy of Paul Weir.
A Bisbee stilt-walk workshop participant shows her stuff at the New Year's Eve parade, 12/31/09. photo courtesy of Ariel Campbell

When something resonates with the deepest needs of the soul, it often catches on quickly and easily. Let’s face it, people love having fun. They love to discover, use and develop their talents. They love being together and taking part in something greater than themselves. Often all that’s needed to stoke those fires within each of us is a little encouragement from without by being shown what’s possible. When we come alive to those possibilities and begin to manifest them through our acts in the world, we become part of an extended family of co-inspirators and will in turn relay that energy on to others who will do the same, and so on.

An essential part of our mission as transmitters of the festal culture meme is to ensure its perpetuation and nurture its growth where we find it. To that end, MMOS, Flam Chen and Tucson Circus Arts work in tandem on an ever-widening path of public outreach.

One example of these efforts is the ongoing partnership we’ve struck with our friends to the south in the city of Bisbee.In 2007, Flam Chen was contacted by Bisbee artist and organizer Shawnee Hicks to help revive their informal New Year’s Eve festivities with a fresh focus and renewed exuberance. Since then, with the support of local merchants and the Bisbee Arts Commission, the MMOS/Flam Chen/TCA contingent has been able to provide the citizens of Bisbee not only with the peak experience of a midnight spectacular in City Park that caps off an evening of parades and street gatherings but perhaps even more importantly with the free stilting workshops for youth and the beneficial relationships that are evolving out of that. Since involvement began in ‘07, Flam Chen has offered these workshops each New Year’s Eve, but this year, for the first time, TCA brought in four instructors to teach stilting over a three day period in the run-up to festival day, free of charge as always, and with newly-made stilts available for use or purchase at a small, sliding-scale price. Eighteen kids took part in these workshops, and twelve of those went on to sport their new found skills in the evening kid’s parade. The interest this year was such that some of these families have already brought or will be bringing their children all the way up to Tucson for the weekly Sunday stilt clinics at Mansfield Park! In addition, a weekend stilt workshop is planned in Bisbee for the spring as a follow-through on our commitment to the youth there. Other plans for the future of Bisbee New Year involve the continued expansion of participatory elements, including the possibility of installations by local video artists along the parade route.

Residency programs have been an integral part of the TCA mission from the start, locally, regionally and internationally. In 2006, the Crimson Coast Dance Society of Nanaimo, British Columbia solicited the help of TCA confederates Flam Chen and the Carpetbag Brigade to collaborate with them on the development of a festival-worthy performance piece that drew on the history and folklore of their locale. A four-week series of stilt-walk, fire-dance and physical theatre workshops were held for youth, families and some two dozen semi-professional performers that summer. A return visit two years later involved follow-up workshops and rehearsals that finally culminated in the multi-media extravaganza know as “The Whizzbang!”.

"The Whizzbang!", a collaboration between Crimson Ghost Dance Society, Flam Chen, and Carpetbag Brigade. Nanaimo, British Columbia, 2008. photo courtesy of Sean Fenzl.

Exploring the magic of possibility goes with the territory of childhood, and Tucson Circus Arts seeks to make the most of that opportunity through their youth-based outreach. TCA began hosting the Circus Arts Summer Camp at Rhythm Industry in June 2009, with expanded class schedules on tap for this year’s sessions. Here, a variety of performance disciplines are taught to kids from age seven on up – taiko drumming, poi-spinning, stilt-walking, ballet and aerial arts– all in a safe, supportive and non-competitive environment. These Circus Camp kids all go on to graduate with honors in a showcase performance at the quarterly

Rhythm Industry Review where they proudly display their skills and self-belief for the community. Some of these children may not go on to pursue these particular arts, but will surely apply the discipline, poise and confidence gained during their time at Circus Camp as building blocks toward whatever they do with their futures. Others will come to look back on Circus Camp in later years as a formative experience in their journey on the path of performing artistry. Already there are kids who participated in Circus Camp and the ongoing TCA classes open to young people that are involved with Flam Chen and Many Mouths-related events. Some of them performed at last year’s Procession of Little Angels and in the All Souls Procession grand finale, and will appear in the upcoming Tucson Carnaval as well. Four TCA youths also appeared on stilts with Flam Chen in last December’s Angel Charity for Children benefit event.

Most people know Many Mouths One Stomach through our stewardship of the All Souls Procession Weekend, a role of service to the community that is our great honor and privilege to fulfill. What drives our efforts is a wider mission to inspire festal culture of all kinds throughout the year, in which to creatively process and celebrate our most valued human experiences, aspirations and desires together. We will continue to grow this family and its activities as they evolve into a movement that we hope will do its part to bring people toward a greater understanding of themselves and each other.

Poi-spin at TCA Circus Camp, June 2009.
TCA students learning taiko drumming at Circus Camp, June 2009.
Circle-up for stilting at Circus Camp, June 2009
TCA students appearing with Flam Chen at Angel Charity for Children, December 2009.
TCA students onstage at Angel Charity, December 2009. photo courtesy of Ariel Campbell.
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