Cirque Mechanic performers enjoy life on the road

Steven Ragatz of Bloomington balances a ball atop a suitcase during a performance of the Gantry Show at the Indiana State Fair Aug. 5. The troupe is based out of Las Vegas. Jonathan Miksanek/ BSU Journalism at the Fair
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From atop a 22-foot-high mobile stage called “the Gantry,” circus artists drenched in sweat entertain crowds at the Indiana State Fair.

To the average spectator, the acrobatic flips, juggling, dancing and hula hooping probably look like tiring work. But to the performers, it's not so much strenuous as it is playful.

“I play for a living,” said Steve Gale, the group's current point man. “I'm going to keep this going as long as I possibly can.”

Gale has been traveling across the United States for 20 years performing at large venues, state fairs and everything in between. For the next eight days, he and a group of five other circus artists will perform three shows a day from atop their medieval-looking, machine-ridden stage.

As intimidating in appearance as its name sounds, the Gantry is the brainchild of Chris Lashua. He founded Cirque Mechanics, a Las Vegas-based circus, in 2004. Each of his shows incorporates the raw, industrial theme that makes the Gantry unique.

Three steel beams form the rigid square frame that rolls on two large wheels. A pulley fueled by a set of pedals on one side of the frame moves a large hook that looks more suited for a construction site more than fairgrounds.

On the opposite side, a round pedestal about five feet across often serves as a stage for Helena Reynolds. The 30-year-old Chicago native, whose featured act with this group is hula hooping, is just one hand-picked performer in the group.

Lashua recruits artists that he feels will mesh well for each of his shows. This specific group has previously performed together, so the chemistry is already there.

“It's great when you get to do a show here with friends,” said Reynolds. “It's really fun to get to come together and do a show.”

In between performances, the crew rests in a cargo box about 14 feet shorter than the Gantry and nestled in a corner near the Grandstands. It's a pretty cramped space, so the crew travels light, often with just one suitcase.

Each night the team travels to a local hotel where the real work begins. Gale said he spends his evenings sending e-mails, selling himself and trying to find the next performance area he will call home. After tearing down and packing the Gantry on Aug. 12, the team will travel to Louisville where it begins performing just two days later.

It's a strenuous travel schedule, filled with work and, from time to time, a little play.

“You take from it what you want. If you want to complain you can, but I'm very grateful,” said Gale. “I can't complain.”

Dakota Crawford is a writer for BSU Journalism at the Fair, a Ball State University Immersive-learning project placing 25 student journalists at the heart of the Midway to tell the weird and wonderful stories of the 2014 Indiana State Fair.