Whether sitting on a patron’s shoulder or urging the throng toward the stage, the grace and agility of the stilt walkers amaze children and amuse adults. As their performance begins, the quips and antics of the three cause low chuckles here and there in the audience, swelling to all out laughter as the show progresses. Renaissance Festival Podcast listeners voted them the Best Non-Musical Group of 2007, an award they richly deserve for consistently experimenting and bringing new bits to their audiences. Let me introduce you to Barely Balanced.
Original photograph found on Barely Balanced gallery
Cameron Tomele was originally from Scotland, and then moved to Ohio. After high school, he studied nature and history, preparing for a degree to teach or work as a Naturalist with the National Park Service. He holds a world record for the fastest escape from a straight jacket while standing on stilts (25.37 seconds).
Casey Martin grew up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, participating in school and community theatre programs. She is currently taking classes for a degree in elementary education. Her talents include both breathing and eating fire.
Dreagn Foltz of Virginia Beach, Virginia, has been performing since high school, and earned a college degree in Theatre from Virginia Tech. He is also a musician, performing both solo and as part of the piratical band “KeelRake.”
In addition to their performances at Renaissance and Medieval faires, they appear at corporate events, schools, and camps.
Cameron, Casey, and Dreagn, all in their early to mid 20’s, have toured together for the last two years. The three met while working at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, Cameron as part of Barely Balanced and its predecessor Bardic Wind, Casey and Dreagn as part of the performing company. Cameron recognized the pair’s talent and commitment and, when the opportunity arose, recruited them for Barely Balanced.
As a trio, the group has developed a show full of bits and routines involving stilt walking, improv, juggling, acrobatics, climbing on others, and general mischief. It’s not unusual for Casey to search the audience for two kinds of volunteers who, with their unknown reaction to the bits, bring an added dimension to the show.
• The first is a volunteer to stand between Cameron and Dreagn as they toss knives in front of and behind the motionless assistant. Sometimes Casey will join the assistant, though not always. The three fondly recalled a woman who involuntarily screamed each time a knife passed before her, saying that it really helped to get the audience involved and even caused a pause in the show a couple of times as laughter overtook Cameron or Dreagn.
• The other person Casey looks for is someone sturdy, there with friends, and having a good time. When brought to the stage, instead of standing between the throwers, the new assistant becomes the base of Cameron’s two-person balance while Casey ascends to Dreagn’s shoulders. The day I watched this stunt, their assistant was Gylfi, a solid young man who Cameron said was great because of his nice wide stance. Sometimes the base is a little wobbly and the climber has to know how to move his body in opposition to where the volunteer is in order to keep the balance. With Gylfi, Cameron said he could have climbed circles around him. When he finally reached the pinnacle, Cameron and Casey juggled clubs back and forth.
In addition to knives and clubs, the trio juggles torches. When asked for the funniest prop failure story, Casey burst out laughing and reminded the others of the time she balanced on Dreagn’s feet while juggling the torches. She missed a toss and dropped the torch, which fell, hit Dreagn’s butt, ignited the back of his pants, and then bounced away. Dreagn stayed calm and never dropped Casey as Cameron slapped the fire out with his hands. “It’s one of the weird things about our profession, the things that can go wrong become common place and something like ‘Am I on fire?’ begins to sound normal. You learn how to handle things and take care of each other, so that if we are all knotted together and things go weird we know how to help each other out and smooth it over,” Cameron said.
The three are constantly teasing each other, the ad-lib and improvisation changing from show to show, inserted where it will draw the largest audience participation and keep them on their toes. The trio agreed that they love what they are doing and performing is the best practice, keeping it interesting and fun. However, there is some physical danger in the work, as evidenced by the blood on Casey hand during the interview. She had caught one of the knives in a way that had broken the skin. Scrapes and bruises are common but she worries more about making sure they all wear sunscreen. Bruises and scrapes heal but skin cancer; that scares her.
Barely Balanced has just finished appearing at the Medieval Faire of Norman. Their schedule for the rest of the year includes the Georgia Renaissance Festival outside Atlanta, Georgia, which opens this coming Saturday; Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin; and the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire at Manheim, Pennsylvania in the fall. They are still in negotiations will several smaller faires and may be adding dates to their tour schedule as those talks bear fruit.
The group is also looking to develop a routine that would be appropriate for the theater type shows and add that their repertoire. Dreagn laughed when we talked about the future saying, “Who knows, maybe I’ll be the first juggling Presidential candidate.”
With three individuals, I had expected diverse final thoughts but their answers were surprisingly similar. Cameron paraphrased his friend, Emrys Fleet’s, favorite quote, “Today is the present, treat it as a gift,” and said he strives to live by that thought, treating each day as special. Dreagn said that it’s important to decide what your attitude will be, that it’s up to you to decide to be happy, that if you choose to be you will be. Casey advised that we should follow our dreams, having fun and trying because we never know what the outcome will be.