The Mixolydians in print

The Wesleyan Argus
Features - February 23, 2007

Alum transforms local carnivale

By Keren Daskin
Contributing Writer

This past Sunday, the small town of Chester, CT was overflowing with magicians, musicians, minstrels, jugglers, and jesters. The entertainment was all part of the 17th Annual Chester Winter Carnivale, organized by Brianna Williams '97.

"The Chester Winter Carnivale was a typical small town New England Celebration," Williams said. "It was originally started…as a way to bring people to town in the middle of February, a month when business is usually slow and not much is going on."

The Carnivale used to consist of a chili cook-off, a tractor parade, and an ice carving competition. But this year, under the guidance of Williams and her husband Ron, the direction of the Carnivale was dramatically altered.

"We wanted to create an exotic, fantastical atmosphere, sort of like a cross between a gypsy carnival and a circus. Think Cirque du Soleil," Williams said.

With this goal in mind, Williams chose to add an "e" at the end of the word carnival.

"It gave shops a chance to represent their typical Carnivale celebrations—whether New Orleans Mardi Gras or Italian Carnivale—and allowed us to bring in a costumed aspect with masks," Williams said.

The bulk of the organizating took place in just under seven weeks. Through extensive research and interviews, Williams was able to bring in a plethora of performers and artists. Performances at the Carnivale included Phoenix Swords Fire Acts, world champion juggler Tony Duncan, the Chester Fife and Drum Corps, and the Oddfellows Playhouse Youth Group.
Williams also knew that she could count on her alma mater for talented individuals who would understand the objectives of the Carnivale.

"I never considered approaching any other universities besides Wes," Williams said. "My husband contacted every group in the WSA who might be a good fit, and let me say, they were wonderful!"

Student performers included "Slipper and the Bean," also known as Nick Nauman '07 and Nick Earhart '07, two strolling jesters who mingled with the crowd, singing songs and playing benign jokes.

"The Carnivale was a great time," Nauman said. "We mostly enjoyed tweaking the moods of Chester's denizens to smiles and joy."

Even the snow could not put a damper on the audience's mood.
"It snowed so hard that we had to blow on our scores mid-pitch in order to clear the flakes that had accumulated on our folders," said Hansel Tan '10, who performed at the Carnivale with the Mixolydian singing group. "But our audiences didn't seem to mind, everyone was in a state of good cheer."

Other University performers included fire-spinning duo Albert Hill '07 and Arthur Sugden '08 of The Flaming Eagles.
"Unfortunately, due to insurance coverage issues we could not let them play with fire, but they also did a great job strolling through the crowd and teaching people how to do fire spinning, minus the fire," Williams said.

The Balkan Situations performed classic Eastern European gypsy music.

"One woman said that [the group] made her want to jump on a table and start belly dancing and it was all she could do to hold back, to which her husband replied, 'Damn, woman! Let's get back there and listen some more!'" said Ron Williams.
This year, a much bigger crowd turned out at the festival then ever before, and everyone who attended seemed to enjoy it.

"The 18th of February couldn't have been a better date for the Carnivale," Tan said. "The weather was perfect, families were out and having fun, it was also the Chinese New Year. There was an infectious air of festivity all around. None of us had been to Chester before, and I remember when we drove into the town we suddenly perked up at the sight of its quaint historical houses and wonderfully eccentric mix of shops and galleries."
"The Chester Winter Carnivale was the best day of our lives," Nauman said.

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