Richardson: Number of culturemakers in Toledo is growingWritten by Rachel Richardson | | firstname.lastname@example.org
“Life in the circus ain’t easy. But, the folks on the outside don’t know. When the tent goes up and the tent comes down, and all that they see is the show.”
— Ani DiFranco
Living in the Old West End and being involved with the art and culture that often bring people from outside the Downtown area into the parts of town where I (and a large number of artists and activists) live and work, I very often find these lyrics from Ani DiFranco’s song “Freakshow” comforting. For me, it’s completely common to be scampering around the Warehouse District or UpTown during one of the Arts Commission’s Art Walks, setting up a table, playing music or riding in a Glass City Pedicab. I’m thrilled but not at all surprised to see stilt walkers or breakdancers in the middle of an intersection stopping traffic.
I’m conscious that this isn’t normal activity for the occasional patron and that they aren’t accustomed to this spectacle. The visitor’s only job here is to enjoy what is being shown to them, but those of us behind the scenes have a larger role to play. Event planners from every industry understand what I mean when I say that the week leading up to a fundraiser or performance has the coordinators running in several directions at once, seeking a stressful balance between what is important at the last hour and what may just need to work itself out, so that the “show” comes off looking effortless and solid.
We have a stellar group of people in the UpTown/Downtown/Warehouse District area who are making the entertainment for an evergrowing number of participants from all over the city. The number of culture makers is ever growing. And even better, some of them are recent Toledo transplants!
My favorite — a literal group of circus performers has come to town within the past two years and is even giving some of us who thought we’d seen it all a fresh dose of culture. Bird’s Eye View Circus Space has found its home in the Collingwood Arts Center and is brought to us by partners in life as well as art, Erin Garber-Pearson and Erik Bang. Garber-Pearson, a visual artist whose installations open viewers’ eyes to local and global issues simultaneously, can demonstrate aerial silk with such grace that your mouth hangs open and your body makes chills. And Bang, a bicycle aficionado/repairman with Toledo Bikes!, eats fire, walks on stilts and contorts his body in ways I had only seen on television before their 3 Penny Circus performance in May. The talent is immense and is matched only by their enthusiasm and willingness to try something new in a city that is defined by pure culture.
Not to mention the acts that came in from out of town for the 3 Penny Circus and had a sold-out theater full of people chanting their names in show of love and appreciation. I’m still thinking about the performance and it happened months ago. And now, Bird’s Eye View Circus Space is offering classes in fitness and unique circus skills to amateur Toledoans. I recently participated in a class teaching skills in aerial silk routines. It was not only extremely fun but very difficult and my body feels stronger for experiencing that hour and a half of exercise. Classes in acro-yoga, aerial hoops and an open gym are also offered. I encourage everyone to look into this opportunity as I promise you that you have never seen or done anything like it.
The location is half the experience. To be surrounded by the history of the Collingwood Arts Center while contemporary and off-the-beaten-path art is shared by wonderfully patient and competent instructors creates a sense of cultural evolution. I’m looking forward to the next 3 Penny Circus and know to look for Garber-Pearson and Bang and their local cast at most art events. They are the ones on stilts, bringing smiles to the faces in their wake.
What about you? Have you ever thought that one of your talents was just a little too weird and that you might never find a venue to express it? As progress and art have looked more and more alike in Toledo during the first half of the 2010s, I’m willing to bet that whatever you are good at is getting less and less weird. An audience awaits.
Email Toledo Free Press Star columnist Rachel Richardson at email@example.com.