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Altamont Fair Special Section Archives The Altamont Enterprise, August 19, 2010

Kids can create their own circus at the Altamont Fair

By Anne Hayden

ALTAMONT — Twenty-seven years ago, Bill and Lotte Carpenter started the Midway Caravan’s Backyard Circus on the Altamont fairgrounds. 

Today, it is one of the longest-running circuses in the country.

Carpenter had worked for 12 years in Broadway and off-Broadway theaters before he decided to focus on family-oriented entertainment. He started the Midway Project in 1972, as a non-profit company concerned that created the tools for community celebration. In 1984, Midway Caravan started offering its interactive shows across North America, purposely maintaining a homemade look.

“There was a request for a place where kids and adults could interact together,” said Paul Chudy, who is in his fifth year as ringmaster of the Backyard Circus at the Altamont Fair.

The free Backyard Circus will be performed three times at day at this year’s fair. Children are invited to sit on blankets in front of the “circus ring” as the ringmaster, Mr. Paul, explains that the audience is to become the stars of the show.

Mr. Paul asks for a tightrope walker, a number of ballerinas, some lions and tigers, and a lion tamer. Costumes are provided for the little performers.

Parents and other audience members cheer for the tiny tots as they use their imaginations to transform themselves into tightrope walkers, balancing 100 feet in the air; twirling ballerinas; ferocious, roaring lions and tigers; and lion tamers powerful enough to convince their beasts to “play dead.”

After the excitement of the circus is over, parents are invited to join their children in a family puppet parade. Kids can pick from a variety of giant puppets, and parents attach the stuffed figures to their fronts with harnesses. While adults hold onto the puppet bodies, kids can control their arms using attached wooden sticks.

After practicing at having the puppets shake hands and high-five each other, Mr. Paul, beating a drum, leads the kids and puppets in a small parade around the fairgrounds, so the kids can make their puppets wave to some of the fair vendors on the infield.

Finally, after the parade, families are invited into the circus ring, with or without puppets, to have pictures taken. Mr. Paul offers to take portraits for any family who wants to capture a fun fair memory.

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