WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP | Having an unusual talent, such as being a living statue, can bring unusual problems, like living, pooping pigeons.
As I said Thursday, Statue Viva is one of the most unusual performers ever to appear at the Porter County Fair. The fair, in case you haven't been paying attention, concludes tomorrow, so you have only a short time left to put your foot on some genuine cow doody.
Michelle Harrell, of Pensacola, Fla., created the character of Statue Viva 19 years ago while traveling in Europe. She first created the Living Doll, a kind of music box dancer on a steamer trunk, to use as a street performer to pay for her travels. After a few months, she developed the idea of the living statue - Statue Viva.
"I was in Barcelona when I first tried the statue, and people seemed to like it," Harrell said. "My first costume was a bed sheet." (Hopefully not from her hotel.)
She calls herself an accidental performer, not because she tends to fall off her pedestal a lot, but because she never intended for it to become a career. Originally she planned a year of travels in Europe and ended up staying for four.
"I'm stunned it has lasted this long," she said.
A fit 50, she said she power walks for an hour and a half and tries to keep in shape so she can continue to perform for years to come. She does three one-hour sets atop her pedestal on the midway each day starting at 4:30 p.m., and she certainly gets most people's attention with her alabaster-like look.
"I have two audiences: the ones who are watching me and the ones who are watching those watching me. Seeing their reactions is the best. The children really get caught up in it. Creating a memory is always my goal."
Having done it for 19 years, she has learned to do a bit of people watching of her own to spot potential problems, usually from hormonally-challenged teen males.
"I have a way to bring them closer and defuse any kind of negative energy so they forget about causing a problem. I turn it into a fun thing, and usually they walk away happy."
That's no easy trick when it's all done with subtle gestures because she seldom breaks character, remaining silent and expressionless while periodically changing her pose. It's often not until she does that that some people realize she is a real person.
"I was at a fair recently, and a young girl came up to me at the end of the day. Her mother said, 'Her day is complete now because ever since she saw your picture she just wanted to touch you.' That was so nice."
Harrell spends about six months a year doing her statue act and also has a "magic" poodle act she'd like to bring to the fair next year. She said it takes her only about 10 minutes to get her makeup and costume on to become a statue and uses a corn starch-based baby powder to hold up on those hot summer days. (I'll have to try that.)
And speaking of those pigeons, while performing with a male statue street performer in France many years ago, a pigeon did drop a "gift" on her companion. She said that's supposed to be good luck. Statues must be the luckiest people on the planet.
The opinions are those of the writer. He can be reached looking for the deep-fried pigeon booth at firstname.lastname@example.org or (219) 548-4352.