by Gene Perry
A crowd has gathered on the streets of Norman. Maybe it’s the Norman Music Festival or the 2nd Friday Art Circuit. Everyone is enjoying the music, art, and food. But then the sound of approaching drums heralds a more unorthodox entertainment.
A wildly costumed group of clowns, jugglers, unicyclists, fire-twirlers, hula-hoopers, stilt-walkers, and dancers appears. Has the circus come to town? No, this circus is native.
The PFC, variously known as the Prairie Fire Circus, the Prairie Folk Circus, the Polar Fowl Collective, the Pee F Cee, and many more, is a 40 member improvisational street performance troupe based in Norman.
Fire-spinner and dancer Katie Robertson said the overall reaction to the PFC has been “a general mixture of amusement and joy and fear. Unadulterated terror.”
“But definitely attention,” said juggler Steven Spallone.
Their first choreographed production, “March of Spring,” debuted at the Norman Music Festival. Kids screamed with excitement to see unicyclists and jugglers on the streets of Norman. As one performer emerged from a cocoon dressed as a butterfly, someone exclaimed, “Did you see that? She sprouted wings! Where did those wings come from?”
In the review of another (somewhat intoxicated) audience member, “That was the greatest thing I have ever seen in my life.”
Robertson said the PFC was a unique addition to Norman entertainment.
“There’s been a lot of attempts at community theater over the years, but I’ve never heard of somebody trying to attempt something quite like this,” she said.
The PFC wants to expand people’s views of Okie art.
“Art inspires,” said performer Kara Joy McKee. “I want the people of the prairie to feel inspired to create their own reality.”
They have performed in the Oklahoma City Ghouls Gone Wild and the Norman Mardi Gras Parade. They most recently performed in the 2nd Friday Art Walk, in which they plan to be regular participants. Performer Jennifer Robertson said she especially loves the opportunity to bring art onto the streets.
“I think in many places in America we miss this aspect of the street and the town square because we are isolated in our vehicles,” she said. “This is something I love about Art Crawls and Summer Breeze concerts… You could see anyone, the mayor, your high school math teacher, Barry Switzer, anyone. Something outrageous could happen. Brilliantly clad people might be spinning fire and riding unicycles and dancing in the street. That’ll give ’em something to talk about.”
Spallone said the circus helps to bring together the talents of Norman, whether costume-makers, musicians, or performers. All of the PFC’s costumes are hand-made with recycled art props.
“To me, the circus represents an example of collaborative art with multiple mediums of expression through the body,” said PFC dancer Carrie Leslie. “If you view art as the highest manifestation of human behavior, then collaboration of authentically diverse artistic expressions is a necessary and vital element of existence.”
Or as the circus might say: “We are a trashcore drum tribe with scavenged construction clowns. We are not Private First Class or Peoples’ Film Channel. I mean it is Pretty Freakin’ Classified and though we have been called a Precambrian Folklore Collection some think we are more like a Positive Frenzied Circasaurus. I decline to comment about what I think of being called Platypus Fried Chicken, but I’m sure you can guess such discussion could lead to Parliamentary Fatigue Condition. This is the prairie. You are the people. And we? We are the circus.”
They will be at Tribal Revival on May 23 and Dfest in Tulsa on July 24-25.