“My favorite part was watching Scramble strap a massive black inmate onto his rear end and ride an imaginary motorcycle in circles.” Said Chloe as she put her trumpet in its case after performing at Eastern Oregon Correctional Facility.
This was a medium security prison, so getting 50 Vaudevillians inside was quite the task. The security checkpoint was hilarious as juggling clubs, instruments and costumes slowly trickled through the X-ray machine. Finally I got see the inside of an accordion! The beauty! The drug sniffing dog turned into a cute little puppy and started rolling around and frolicking with us. We cracked jokes with the guards as they slowly brought their first vaudeville circus through the stringent security zone. (Harder than TSA this time.) Ten by ten we were escorted to the Chapel, where the show was, and yes, it was Sunday.
The show began with invisible clown motorcycles and progressed through various forms of jugglery, acrobatics, music, audience participation and general merriment. Some of the acts included PepperJill and Jack, a musical duo, The Flying Karamazov Brothers, Clay Mazings’ interactive musical, Dr. Bonkers jugglery, Mamazons’ acoustic freedom songs, Princess Sha Sha the acrobat and her entourage, (aka Shannie, Alex and Jemiah), Chautauquapella, a 5-person acapella song that explains what Chautauqua is, Vanessa Vortex and Revolva team Hula Hoops, Richard Hartnells’ contact juggling, Rio the diabolist, and Poetic Motion Machine. The finale was our usual “Big Juggle,” where every club passer we have helps project over 50 clubs into pattern.
Clad in blue jeans and blue inmate shirts, the audience was incredibly receptive. With every act they cheered and screamed. They laughed from the gut and acted silly. They were truly a captive audience. At shows end we received a roaring standing ovation.
As they filed out one by one, we lined up to shake their hands. They were so utterly appreciative. With their kind eyes, beaming smiles, and gratuitous handshakes, it was hard to believe that these were criminals. To us they were just more people. People who needed a show, who just needed a little love and light.
And how could we ever expect a criminal to change without love and light? How could healing commence without opportunities to see and hear and learn and marvel at the possibilities beyond bars? This prison provides opportunities for the inmates. The superintendent, Ron Miles is at the forefront of creating programs to enrich the lives of prisoners. With good behavior, the inmates get opportunities to learn skills they can then take to the outside world, for example, plumbing, haircutting, or baking.
Ever heard of Dave’s Killer Bread? The ex con turned famous bakery located in Portland Oregon. He is an example of someone whom these programs benefitted greatly. And it’s probably not my place to talk about the prison industrial complex here, but after going inside two of them, I can’t help it. It’s a bizarre institution, and the only thing that is apparent to me, is that the fundamental nature of prison needs to shift from extended punishment, to one of healing and curing, creating people who can be responsible citizens, because they have been enriched somehow while locked away. They need the tools to build a new life. Anyway….
We walked away from that razor wire fence with the feeling that this truly embodies the Chautauqua mission. There is a lot of interest amongst us to go to more prisons. The superintendent was and is extremely supportive. With these two shows under our belt, his help, and some fresh motivation, I think we can look forward to more prison shows in the future.
The whole event was filmed and will be sent to us soon, so keep a look out for video links in the future.
Well we’re in John Day now, preparing for another huge day, parade, workshops, Show. More updates coming soon. Thanks for reading, 1-2-3 Fantastico!!