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Photos by Sydney Cromwell.
Collette Ellis walks around Trim Tab Brewery on stilts.
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Cozmic was one of several bands that performed at The Happening.
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Visitors enjoy food and crafts on the Trim Tab back patio.
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Leisha Knight performs on aerial silks.
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Vendors sell artwork and crafts at The Happening.
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Jennifer Colvin demonstrates a pole routine.
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A henna artist works during The Happening.
The circus is alive and well in Birmingham, but it doesn’t look like the three-ring acts you’re thinking of. It looks more like a group of friends coming together at a brewery to share their art and unusual talents.
I first heard about The Happening, a roughly once-a-month event at Trim Tab Brewery, through friends. Billing itself as a “spark of collaborative expression,” The Happening’s Facebook page invited artists of every stripe — singers, painters, dancers, storytellers and more — to join them for an evening of shared, sometimes impromptu, creativity.
Now, I’m nobody’s idea of an artist, but I was more than a little curious and it sounded like a good way to spend a Saturday night.
Surprisingly, Trim Tab had everyone sign liability waivers before they could enter. That was a little daunting, but what’s a good evening without a little danger? At least, that’s what I told myself as I signed.
I was expecting something fairly subdued, perhaps a series of local artists taking the stage to perform for a small crowd. Since The Happening was new to me, I assumed most other people in Birmingham hadn’t heard about it yet, either.
Instead, The Happening was more like creative chaos. A crowd packed the brewery, their attention wandering between the beer, the art on the walls, passing performers and a DJ whose dancing was as entertaining as his music. Trim Tab’s warehouse played host to live musicians and a man creating a “painting” with strips of newspaper on wood. Vendors in the warehouse and the back patio sold everything from paintings and candles to henna and animal masks.
And I haven’t forgotten the circus I promised you. Aerial silks and straps were hung from the warehouse ceiling for Leisha Knight, a former member of Cirque du Soleil, to perform several routines — costume changes and all — throughout the night. Another acrobat performed on a ring, called a lyra, suspended near the DJ. Jennifer Colvin, the owner of Vertically Fit, gave demonstrations of her pole fitness classes.
One of my particular favorites was Collette Ellis, a stilt-walker from North Carolina. It was more than a little eye-catching to see a nine-foot-tall woman carefully striding through the crowd.
“It’s always tricky to pose for pictures because I can’t stop moving,” she said as I made my third or fourth attempt to photograph her throughout the night. But she gamely posed for me, rocking back and forth to keep her balance, before ducking to avoid the exit sign over a doorway.
Though I didn’t see them that night, I’m told that fire dancers and spinners have brought their talents to previous months’ Happenings. I did get a small dose of flammable fun with Incendia, a geometric dome with a ceiling that spouted fire to light up the couches underneath.
Walking into The Happening, I felt out of place. I’m not artsy or acrobatic, and I had nothing to contribute to the collaboration.
I forgot that feeling a few steps through the door. Everyone there was in love with what they were doing, and they wanted to share it with me and as many people as possible. Even my camera, which makes most people nervous, didn’t faze anyone.
It was hard to feel like a stranger in a place with so much enthusiasm. There was no separation between the performers and the rest of us watching with our mouths hanging open. Since it started in October, The Happening seems to have found its groove and the night was unlike anything I’ve experienced in this city so far.
If this is the modern face of the circus, I’ll take the brewery over the big top any day.
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