Rolling around on a giant ball that looks like a huge jawbreaker candy, while juggling medieval-style weapons, might not seem like the best career choice.
But street performer Alex Elixir wouldn’t have it any other way.
The busker put on an irreverent show for Red Deer audiences this weekend that included everything from a woman pulling off his shorts to expose his Canadian flag boxers to incorporating audience members into his show to do balancing acts and juggling.
Alex Elixir was one of around 15 street performers that took part in the eighth annual CentreFest Street Performer Festival in downtown Red Deer on Saturday and Sunday.
The 51-year-old performer from Victoria has lived a bohemian lifestyle since his teens.
As a 16-year-old he read Tom Robbins’ book Even Cowgirls Get the Blues and it inspired him to hitchhike from Chester, NS, out west, with him going to California and Arizona.
Everywhere he went there were jugglers and so he was inspired to take it up himself.
“I turned out to be a very slow beginner, but I was kind of stubborn and I stuck with it,” he said.
He wound up in Vancouver, with two local jugglers Dick and Dick becoming his mentors and alternately encouraging and badgering him.
When they weren’t willing or able to do a show at one point, Elixir and another hobby juggler agreed to take the gig, which involved performing during a bachelor party.
“I remember it well because it was an absolute travesty,” Elixir said.
It was November 1982 and he had no idea what to expect. They walked into the hotel and there were around 50 men standing in a circle. As the two jugglers arrived an adult film was playing on a film screen. A man organizing the event told them, “Go get ‘em boys.” Elixir asked about the movie and the organizer said, “We’ll turn the sound off.”
“The whole thing for them was an opportunity to heckle us,” Elixir said. But the man of honour got a kick out of it and the jugglers left with $200.
That same December, Elixir and his juggling partner hit the streets around Granville Island in Vancouver, performing for crowds and honing their show and he has never looked back.
“It’s always kind of fresh, especially when you work with volunteers you never know what is going to happen,” Elixir said. “With the street there is this element of anything can happen, really. To be 51 years old and have people cheer and applaud you, you know I’m not immune to that kind of an ego boost. It’s fun work. It keeps me in shape too.”
This year, CentreFest had a number of local performers, including the Red Deer Rhythmic Gymnastics Club.
Stephanie Fleming, 16, of Red Deer, performed with a group of other young women. Dressed in vibrant green costumes with decorations in their hair and painted faces, they looked like a group of fairies, showing off acrobatic and dance moves, while incorporating hula hoops, ribbons, ropes and even a ball into their routine.
Fleming has been doing gymnastics since she was four, but the group worked on the routine for just two weeks before trying it out on the Red Deer audience.
“I always seem to do better in front of crowds, especially when they are clapping,” Fleming said.
CentreFest Festival Director Randy Butler estimated that the event drew around 13,000 people on Saturday and they were hoping for another 7,000 to 8,000 people to take part on Sunday. CentreFest is put on with the help of more than 50 volunteers and is supported by the Red Deer Downtown Business Association.
Butler said there was great weather both days, with highs of around 23 C, which brought big crowds to downtown Red Deer. He said the performers were very happy and excited about the enthusiastic crowds.
It was the first time Basketball Jones, also known as Sean Kaata Dwen, visited Red Deer. The New Zealand performer wowed audiences doing a variety of tricks on his storey-high unicycle, while balancing and juggling basketballs. He played basketball from the time he was a child, but didn’t start juggling until he was 20. He said he prefers performing in the street to any other kind of work he has ever done.