Vevay Media Group intern Anthony Henderson did some wandering during the recent Swiss Wine Festival, and spent some time with some of the performers; getting their take on the touring life; how they found their talents; and other aspects of their lives.
Here’s a more intimate look at this year’s festival:
The air full of fried foods, booths packed to the brim with scented soaps and the harsh visual sting of novelty tee-shirts, kids screaming while getting swung and flipped by an army of machines.
The Swiss Wine Festival is a sensory overload, and it can be easy to miss some of its more intimate offerings. This year, there were plenty of performers providing talent, energy, and personality to an already packed event, each a part of various showings fighting for your attention, hoping you’ll pass by during a “step right up!”
I was able to capture intimate moments with a handful of these visiting performers: Father and son Wild West actors Jamie and Scott Eiler, browsing cowboy hats on their way to the day’s first saloon shootout from Six Guns Entertainment, that group’s president and creative mind, David Huff, strongwoman of the World of Wonders travelling performers, Luella Lynn, and balloon artist Aaron Messer.
Interview with Luella Lynn, strongwoman with World of Wonders
A: How long have you been doing this?
LL: This is my first season. I’ve been training, though, to be a strongwoman for over two years, or two and a half years.
A: Is it intense training? Is it challenging?
LL: Yeah. I do horseshoe-bending, I rip phone books, I do stuff I did in the show [referring to snapping a steel chain with cuffed arms and tearing a deck of playing cards in half, and later positioning herself in a small box to avoid inserted blades]… I’m a professional coach.
A: How long do you see yourself doing this for?
LL: It’s hard to say. I dunno. However long I still enjoy it [laughs].
Interview with Jamie and Scott Eiler, father and son actors for Six Guns Entertainment
A: How’d you get into this?
Jamie: As far as me, four years ago it was New Albany’s bicentennial… that’s my hometown. Jenny, who is our president’s [David Huff’s] partner… she wanted some reenacters. Now, we’re also involved with reenacting locally in New Albany. So, we had all these folks come together… and [Dave] came on as Wyatt Earp [Old West Gambler depicted in the 1993 film Tombstone] and Jenny came on as Josie [Earp], they did a beautiful dance as part of this performance, and they said “Hey, why don’t you join us?” and I said “Could I please?” [laughs] And we’ve been shootin’ ’em up ever since.
A: Are the shows based on actual events from the particular time?
Jamie: Sometimes. It’s based on scenarios that might’ve happened at the time. We’ve done Billy the Kid and [Doc Holliday] [other Old West historical figures, associated with gunfights], but we do general performances and stories that mostly come out of Dave’s imagination.
Scott: The timeframe we do is the 1870s to the 1890s. So, we doing anything from stagecoach robberies, to goldmining, to saloon town holdups… you know, different scenarious that the president [imagines], but all that would be relevant to that timeframe.
A: Are you yourselves Wild West buffs? How often do you watch the movies?
Scott: Dad probably does more than I do, but I’ve seen my fair share.
Jamie: I probably haven’t seen ‘Tombstone’ more than once or twice in the last few weeks [laughs]. We call it living the dream, and it’s a lot of fun.
A: Are there any actors in those movies that inspire you?
Jamie: For me, Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday… I figure if Doc had lived, he’d have a handlebar mustache and a little goatee like mine, just gray [laughs].
Scott: I guess for myself it’d probably have to be Clint Eastwood. He plays several of the old-time cowboy characters in several of his movies. I love Clint. Great actor.
[they took me back to “headquarters,” or near the prop-filled truck facing their black-top performace space, to get a closer look at what they do, where I was able to talk to the Six Guns president]
Interview with David Huff, President of Six Guns Entertainment
A: How’d you get started on this?
Pres: We’ve been doing this about 13 years, 14 years. I’ve actually been doing Civil War reenacting for almost 20 years. I met with a friend of mine in Harrison County, Indiana at a Civil War event… he and I were great friends, and I had this idea to start a Wild West show. He said “I like that idea,” so we put money into it, and for the first show we started we had six members and we weren’t even a name. Now we’re up to almost 40 members, 14 years later, and now we’re Six Guns entertainment. We travel around… this is our first time in Vevay… this is actually the biggest show of our career, here… the biggest we’ve ever had.
Of course all 40 can’t always make it… I think thirty-something of us are here today. We perform [three times] today, we do six shows tomorrow and one Sunday.
A: How does that feel?
Pres.: I imagine at the end of this weekend we’ll be drained. Saturday night we’re camping here of course… it takes a lot out of you. The adrenaline, the excitement, the heat… it’s not bad today. We’ve done some shows where the heat index got to a hundred degrees… events like that usually whip our behinds.
The guns we’re using are real. We just use blanks, obviously. They do give off a loud bang, but people are highly entertained by it. This is our biggest year, 2017. I don’t even know how many shows we’ve done, or how many we’ve got so far. If folks wanna find out more about us, they can visit our website at sixgunsonline.com, and we’re also working on an independent miniseries, “Bound in Blood,” that I wrote and directed. We film that in our off-season. Most of these guys here star in that.
A: Do you have any competition?
Pres.: There is a competing group out of La Grange, but we’re great friends with them. I know a lot of them, and I’ve actually trained a lot of them. They started their own group, and they’re doing quite well. But we put on one heck of a show. We’re looking forward to this weekend. It’s a blast, it’s fun. I can’t believe we got this big. [laughs] Everyone seems to be excited about this, they’ve never had nothing like this at the Swiss Wine Festival, so hopefully they’ll enjoy the show.
Interview with Aaron Messer, balloon artist, while he twists parts to form a balloon baby
A: How long have you been making balloons animals?
AM: I’ve been making balloon animals for a little over 11 years.
A: How do you get into this sort of thing?
AM: I started by going to clown school. I learned how to be a hobo clown, I learned six different balloon designs, then I did an apprenticeship with a professional balloon artist, then I started going to conventions, and then high-speed Internet was invented. ‘YouTube’ videos became available, [allowing me] to learn even more, and I’m still learning today.
A: How many designs do you have?
AM: I have too many designs to count. I have a list of about 50 I can make in under two minutes. I work a lot off of requests. I kind of compare it to like a painter knows the techniques to put paint on canvas any way they want, I kinda know the techniques to make a balloon do… almost anything I want. There are some things that are just difficult to achieve with balloons, that might be beyond my skill level, but for the most part, I can take a request and make it for ya.
A: Is there any particular design you’ve been struggling with?
AM: There are a few that I’ve settled on – the shark and the frog – that I have great designs for, but they’re not good enough for me. I’ll make it, and they’ll say “Oh, it’s a shark!” or “Oh, it’s a frog!” but I know I can do better. There are some other designs I’m trying to work on as well. You know, you get those few, and you just keep working at it until you get to a place where it’s quick enough to make for people, and it looks as close as possible to what they’re asking for.
A: So would you consider yourself a balloon animal perfectionist?
AM: Yeah, I suppose you could put it that way. I refer to myself as a balloon artist, but balloon perfectionist sounds even better.
A: Do you see yourself stopping anytime soon?
AM: It’s hard to say. I don’t plan on stopping, but you never know. I might get arthritis or get my hands cut off, so who knows. It’s something that I did to pay for college. I’m an elementary school teacher by day, a balloon artist by night (and weekends and summers). No, I don’t think I’ll ever stop, to be honest with you. I might slow down at some point. Maybe when I get old and frail I won’t do it as much. It’s something that I really like to do. I’ll probably never stop.
A: What’s the difference between clown school and college?
AM: I did clown school when I was 13, and it was somewhat informal, but it was a rigorous training process I went through to become a hobo clown, and for College I went to Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana and studied elementary education. Different things. One was a little harder than the other, and I’ll let you pick which one you think is harder.
A: What inspired you to start doing clown stuff?
AM: Somebody I knew told me that they thought I’d be really good at it. I tried several things when I was younger: football, baseball, all that… and I wasn’t bad at it, but it wasn’t something I looked forward to doing at the end of the day. I thought “I’ll give it a shot,” and I did it, I loved it, it’s something that stuck. I did it for free for a very long time, and about four years ago I began my own business. It’s allowed me to quit my job at the Kroger deli and pay for tuition, and all that kind of stuff. It’s been a blessing to have been able to turn a talent into something monetary, and it’s also great because it doesn’t feel like work. It feels like having fun.
[he handed me his card, and I asked if he could make a balloon version of it]
AM: Can I make my balloon card? I could. When people ask “can you make this?”, I usually say “no” when the answer is “yes.” Just because of the amount of time it would take to make something like that. If somebody said “Could you make a life-sized me?!”, The answer’s “yes” but I would say “no” because it would just take forever.
– Anthony Henderson