Eugene Weekly : 7.12.07

Oregon Country Fair 2007

Fair-ly Important Movers and Shakers in the Country Fair Family
A Decade of Peace and Community Chela Mela, Altared Space and Library celebrate the big 1-0
Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine Energy Park at the Country Fair
Growing Up at the Fair Advice from an expert
Living Large
Walking on cloud nine … feet above the ground
Heart First, Music Second
Folk musician Peter Thompson gives back through music
Spoken Word Program
Wavy Gravy

Living Large
Walking on cloud nine … feet above the ground
by Adrienne van der Valk

For centuries stilts have been used to navigate swampy marshland and elevate shepherds so they can better protect their flocks. But despite its practical applications, the exaggerated, spidery gait of the skilled stilt walker fascinates adults and children alike and has come to be one of the most anticipated and beloved sights at the Oregon Country Fair. The human faces connected to these seemingly non-human bodies belong to a variety of performers. Some started as jugglers, others as fire dancers or puppeteers, but all eventually made the leap three feet into the air and into the surreal realm of the impossibly tall.

“The first ten minutes on stilts is terrifying,” says Jay Hogan, a long-time fair performer and stilt walker. “Your instinct is to lower your center of gravity, which is the opposite of what you want to do. But anybody who is really motivated and reasonably fit with their legs can do it, and it’s really, really fun. You start to develop a new body awareness and feel like you really are this size and shape.”

Hogan started his career at the OCF making giant puppets, an aesthetic he eventually applied to his own elongated persona.

“I put feet on the bottom of my stilts,” he explains. “They were soft sculpture, and I even cut up yogurt containers to make toenails. The kids loved it. Being nine feet tall and having the best view at the fair is pretty fun.”

Nathan Wallway is a stilt walker with the Portland-based March Fourth Marching Band and has been walking tall for over 11 years. Wallway agrees that as a performer, being on stilts gives him a special kind of relationship with his audiences.

“It can be very interactive and playful and fun,” he says. “It is something a lot of people can see themselves doing, and the barrier between you [and the audience] isn’t always there. You can be closer and more personal. It’s not like ‘He’s over there performing.'”

Both Wallway and Hogan note that being able to stroll amongst the Fair-goers requires a sophisticated level of skill and control.

“Lots of people who do stilt walking do it in urban areas, and being at the fair is not like that,” says Hogan. “I always recommend having a spotter in a crowd.”

Wallway feels the fair environment has advantages and disadvantages for the über-tall.

“Mud is dangerous around stilts, holes in the grass or loose dirt. But on the other side, falling on dirt or grass is much nicer than falling on pavement!”

Both Wallway and Hogan have taken tumbles while wearing stilts, but neither has ever been seriously injured. Hogan recently decided not to push his incident-free track record and hung up his stilts after 25 years.

“I turned 50 in the last year, and I can pass these on to someone else. I have a friend whose 18-year-old son is a juggler. He’ll be great at it.”



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