Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Chris Rowlands at the Ansonia Nature Center AKA the Return of Ray Cycle

My recent pictures on social media seem to have confused some of my followers. Why was I posting shots of a childrens concert? It's a long story, that goes back a good 20 years. Anyone that grew up in Connecticut in the late 80's and early 90's will remember a special school assembly. We were taught about recycling by none other than our own superhero, Ray Cycle. A green spandex wearing muscle man with a belt buckle in the shape of the state of Connecticut and green goggles, Ray Cycle was a hit amongst the kids. An article from the New York Times written by Robert A. Hamilton, explains Ray Cycles creation story as: "the character was born in a dump when lightning struck a cartoon character drawn on a piece of paper. After coming to life, he said, he used his X-ray vision to see the ''dump juices,'' including motor oil and other nasty substances, moving toward drinking-water supplies."

About five years ago, my coworkers at the newspaper and I brought up Ray Cycle in conversation. We all remembered the school assemblies and the songs that went along with it, but none of us knew what became of Ray Cycle. That's when I found the article from the NY Times, which revealed Ray Cycle's true identity: Chris Rowlands. With a little more searching, I found that Chris was still a performer, making his own puppets and singing environmental songs, living in Ohio. My coworkers joked about booking him for a party so we could all relive the Ray Cycle memories of our past.

A couple weeks ago, as I was checking over the Valley Gazette before sending it to print, I noticed a picture of a man with a large puppet and a guitar. I zoomed in to take a closer look and excitedly exclaimed to my coworkers, "Ray Cycle is coming to Ansonia this Friday!" Yeah, it's pretty ridiculous that I remembered the performers name off the top of my head, especially because we hadn't talked about it in five years. I went right to the editor and offered to take pictures of the performance. I was in grammar school the last time I'd seen Ray Cycle perform and I wanted to let Chris know that he had made a really positive impact on a bunch of people's lives.

The director of the Ansonia Nature Center brought up Ray Cycle as she announced Chris, much to my excitement. Chris went on to explain that it was his first job right out of college. He also pointed out had he known ahead of time that he would be wearing green spandex for several years as he toured schools in Connecticut, he most likely would not have taken the job.

Today, Chris Rowlands engages the children in a very similar way to his Ray Cycle past: through song. His lyrics are factually accurate and really gets the kids excited about nature and animals. As I watched his performance, I was struck by how similar his sense of humor is to my brother's shows. (For those of you that don't know, my brother is a shadow puppeteer.) Chris makes sure that the adults are laughing along with puns specifically for them.

The tiny space in the Ansonia Nature Center was completely packed with kids and their parents, which made shooting a little difficult. I would have loved to have gotten some reaction shots of the kids, but there was no room to move.

At the end of the night, I waited for the families to clear out before heading down to talk to Chris. I brought up Ray Cycle and he was genuinely touched that he'd made such a lasting impression. We also went on to talk about puppeteers in the area, and as it turns out, he is in fact friends with my brother. Who would have thought that all these years, my own brother is friends with Ray Cycle? What a crazy night!

I'll be sure to post when Chris is heading back to the area, because he performs in Connecticut often. If you would like more information on Chris Rowlands, check out his website here. Until then, sing it with me:

Re Re Re Re Recycle! Re Re Re Re Reuse it! Don't, don't don't abuse it!

Here I am with Ray Cycle himself, Chris Rowlands. Of course, I wore green in honor of his super hero past!

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