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Making Mischief - published in Local Flavor Magazine

Wise Fool's annual fundraiser, the Feast of Fools, was featured in Santa Fe's free monthly Local Flavor Magazine. Scroll down or click here to read the story on the original webpage.

Making Mischief

“We’ll make people sing, and we’ll dance on their tables!” laughs Wise Fool’s Amy Christian, recalling that one year the “Feast of Fools” April Fools’ Day celebration culminated in a gustatory and performance finale that was a giant sheet cake iced to resemble a dollar bill. The performers dramatically cut it up and distributed it to the people. That, in a nutshell, is both the philosophy and the style of performance troupe Wise Fool New Mexico. “We’ve done this before where people got so into it, they were so raucous, we actually couldn’t really perform after a while–the people just went crazy.”

Back through the centuries, April Fools’ Day has been for many cultures a time when all social restrictions and taboos were cast off. Rulers and kings were openly mocked, slaves and masters traded places, and all propriety was set aside. Wise Fool New Mexico feels that there is no better time than the present to call attention to the mayhem and madness of politics, commercialism, and the social conventions that we hold sacred by jesting, mimicking, and generally inciting laughter about it all. The circus’ Feast of Fools will be held at, and in collaboration with, the Railyard Restaurant, one time only, on the evening of Tuesday, April first.

Yes, yes, it’s a circus of sorts, says the skeptic, but will it top this guy, “Alex the jester,” who does this thing that involves spitting water, and then it comes out of his ears, and then there is a handkerchief which turns into a roast chicken, after which he balances one recorder on his forehead while playing an Irish jig on another recorder through his nose? Indeed, assure the Wise Fool performers, it will reach heretofore unheard-of heights of clowning. Furthermore, audiences will delight in sidesplitting self-mockery and ingenious magical trickery.

“It’ll be theater in the round,” promises Christian, one of the group’s founders and artistic directors, “though a lot of things will actually happen in and among the tables. We’ll be putting up a big scrim and doing shadow puppetry. We’ll be doing aerial arts hanging over the audience...using the whole space as much as we can.” Every act will relate to the food served for that course while immersing the diners in a humorous, dramatic, and altogether entertaining spectacle that includes and involves them and reminds people that we–performers, audience, chefs, waiters–are all a community together and that life is, above all, fun. Warns Christian, “From the minute even before you enter the door you’ll be part of the experience...it’s in the spirit of ‘we’re all celebrating something.’ I think it’ll be super fun.”

Louis Moskow, chef and owner of the Railyard Restaurant, promises a menu with a whimsical edge. “How about mahi mahi over cous cous, dusted with piri piri, and agar agar?” suggests the Wise Fool fan, who enjoys catching the group’s stunning Circus Luminous. That grand annual event is a showcase of the best of Wise Fool’s circus talent, featuring aerial acts, a contortionist, and superb clowning. “I was inspired by the space,” states Moskow, whose open, high-ceilinged restaurant is indeed perfect for Feast of Fools’ multi-dimensional interactive experience. “How about black and white bean harlequin soup? How about amphibians and arthropods? The world’s smallest quesadilla!” Brainstorming is key to his method for selecting a menu for this unforgettable event, where everything is guaranteed to be both fanciful and scrumptious.

Yes, yes, yes, says the skeptic, but will it make me gasp and gawk like those Chinese acrobatic contortionist people? Will the performers be as good as The Flying Wallendas, with their seven-person chair pyramid on a tightrope? Will it make me have to cover my eyes with my hands and then peek through my fingers? Skeptic, Wise Fool’s beautiful and talented mostly female group of performers laughs at your simplicity and doubt. Wise Fool guarantees that your eyes will pop, your mouth will gape, and most of all–you yourself will feel a sense of unlimited potential.

Championing the potential of each person, no matter what their personal challenges may be, is Wise Fool’s raison d’être, and the Feast of Fools itself is more than a good time; it is a fundraiser to help support Wise Fool’s outreach programming and ongoing mission to awaken the community. “We don’t just do circus,” says Amy Christian. “Circus is a medium through which we do what we do–the bigger picture, which is all about igniting our imagination, building our community, teaching life skills, strengthening people. Things like that.” The group’s workshops and performances have raised awareness about domestic violence, native issues, and social justice, while they have helped the disabled, the incarcerated, and the financially disadvantaged by teaming up with other organizations already established in communities throughout northern New Mexico. Wise Fool’s after school programs and circus workshops for all ages help people overcome perceived limitations, and their puppet plays spark conversation, creativity, and physicality in a world where so much is virtual, digitized, and abstract.

“Circus inspires people,” smiles Christian, “People leave with a sense of possibility. Anything’s possible! It’s so delicious and enjoyable. And you do it with your body. That’s something we all have. Our giant puppets are made with everyday objects–things you probably have in your house right now. That is part of our message.” She adds, “Our workshops inspire people and make them feel–not that they want to become a circus performer necessarily but that in their lives they can do things they never thought possible.”

While Wise Fool’s performers are astounding acrobats who can perform breathtaking high-flying maneuvers as well as hilarious and provocative clowning, many of these individuals have learned their skills from Wise Fool’s own workshops. They are Santa Feans who live among us and they mill around in the crowd after each performance, emphasizing the accessibility and humanity of each performer and of the circus arts themselves.

Yes, yes, of course, of course, says the skeptic, but really, will the aerial routines top this one I saw where a lady emerges from a hanging silk cocoon and performs gymnastic maneuvers to lively gypsy music while appearing to grow butterfly wings? Will there be acrobatic clowns who can balance one person, on her head, on top of another person’s head? Will there be jugglers who can keep 15 balls in the air while passing banjos back and forth? Will there be ribald mockery of public figures and scathing social commentary?

Let’s put it this way. Sarah-Jane Moody–one of the mistresses of ceremony for the Feast of Fools–can only tell us that one year, for the serving of the bread, she wrote a waltz all about bread, and the performers emerged from the wings waltzing, followed by a giant puppet with huge hands filled with 50 loaves of bread to be distributed by the waltzing couples. One year the dessert was a flambé paired with a stilt-walking, fire-juggling act. Then there was the time a giant puppet of a butternut squash played a large role in the entertainment. Skeptic, do not underestimate these people, their imaginations have been honed to fine, fine pencil points that dare to sketch the unthinkable on the tablets of our lives. Says Moody, “It’s a wild dinner theater, very much in the style of vaudeville. Everyone is having a great time–there is lots of hooting and hollering and drinking, laughing, toasts, and zaniness.... One year salad fell from the sky. Yes, I think I remember that correctly.”

You never know what calamities and hilarities may befall you at the Feast of Fools, so buy your tickets early, bring your sense of humor, and dress for an elegant apocalypse.