There really is nothing quite like watching a convicted inmate act like a clown onstage in front of an entire prison, or run around like a child with a giant red heart in his burly arms. Or to see a 25 year old serenade an 80 year old woman with “Won’t you be mine tonight” and her beaming smiling answer “Yes.” These are the moments that make sense of this adventure, but first, some details.
We camped at Union Creek Campground, about 20 miles from Baker City. We had a beautiful spot nestled in the pine trees along a lake-shore. The elevation was 4200 feet. The camp host was very hospitable. As we were cleaning up she said, “You guys are a very wonderful group. It’s been a pleasure to have you here. I didn’t have to work that much at all. You kept the bathrooms clean and the neighbors happy. We hope you come back.”
The first two days were spent with meetings, rehearsals, band practice, swimming, and various sorts of preparing. Buckstop positions were assigned, as in the buck stops here. That’s how we make tour work. Everybody is responsible for at least one job. For example, recycling coordinator, truck loader, kitchen guru, shower set up, Lou upkeep, photographer, coffee maker and so on and on.
Then suddenly it all began! We paraded through main street Baker City in full flying colorful regalia. Marching band tooting away, jugglers everywhere, clowns and capes and costumes galore, a sight to behold, we frolicked with vigor and finally made it back to the park for the free workshops.
Juggling, drumming, mask making, clowning, acrobatics, ukulele, word portraits, and an interactive digestive melodrama were all included. They were well attended by children and adults alike. It’s a beautiful thing to see someone learn to juggle for the first time, or watching 10 people sing and play along in an easy to learn ukulele jam.
That night was our first “big show.” We performed well but there was a feeling of anticlimax as we only had about 40 people in a theatre for 800. This was somewhat related to the degree of prior preparation by our local sponsor. But they did help get us there and we remain thankful. These things happen, we make the most of it.
The next day was when the magic really started kicking in. We performed at the Powder River Correctional Facility minimum-security prison. and wow what an incredible experience for everyone involved. We made through the security checkpoint (easier than TSA), and entered the yard. Inmates gradually made there way from work out stations, basketball courts, horse-shoe games and other activities over to our corner. Somebody asked “How do you pronounce that word on the banner?” (Referring to Chautauqua of course)
“Guess,” said our MC StevenWeven.
“Shuh-Tawk-Wa.” And powerful cheers erupted from both sides of the dividing path as he pronounced our name correctly. The atmosphere was set. We did a mini parade and the show began.
The first act was Scramble the Clown who brought up several inmates as audience volunteers. He immediately got them to start walking like him, a joyful skipping clown strut if you will. Laughter filled the yard and quite immediately it became apparent that something special was happening. Yes they rode around on an invisible motorcycle with a clown, like children frolicking at recess. They loved every bit of the show, but the audience involvement bits were over the top hilarious. ClayMazing brought up 3 or 4 people for Bee Bones (an interactive theatrical ridiculous song play). Someone played Love and someone else played Sunshine and the whole crowd acted like the ocean as the act unfolded in spontaneous silly beauty.
These are criminals? At least that day, it looked a lot more like summer camp for adults. After the show we shook hands with everyone we could. One man said, “I have been here for 20 years, and that’s the most fun I’ve ever had.” I think that sums it up.
From there we went to a retirement home and did another community show. The wonder of these shows is apparent in the faces of the people we perform for. Wide eyes and wider smiles locked onto the stage for the entire duration. Afterwards we got to hang out, shake hands and talk with the residents.
When we got back to camp that night, festivity was in the air. There was feeling of success and clarity. Like, oh yeah, THAT’S why were here, okay, it makes sense now. The campfire burned late and song after song was sung into the night as people slowly trickled off to bed.
That was Baker City, the first town of the trip. Yesterday we traveled, and now here we are in Enterprise, a little historic town in far North-Eastern Oregon. It rained hard last night, many of us awoke with puddles in our tent, but alas, it’s already clearing up and we’re off to go do some more community shows.
Thanks for reading and check back in to hear all about Enterprise.