Comic thinks globally, performs locally

Joe Carlson

Ted the talking tennis ball lip-synched the Beatles’ “Revolution,” his spongy mouth and puppet eyes moving like a cross between Ringo Starr and Pac Man. Ted’s purpose was to teach an environmental lesson, and his puppeteer was illusionist and comedian Steve Trash.
Trash, who describes himself as a “world-class eco-tainer” because all of the props he uses, like Ted, are collected from the garbage cans and thrift stores of America.
“Each trick illustrates an ecological principle or an ecological concept,” Trash said. Ted the talking tennis ball, for example, was intended to show how a revolution in Americans’ treatment of garbage could lend new utility to once-discarded products.
Trash performed Friday afternoon in the Terrace Cafe in the St. Paul Student Center for a crowd of about 40 people.
He said his show equally balances entertainment and education. “If you’re going to talk about the environment, do it with a smile,” he said.
Trash, who was raised in Alabama, has been performing his show since 1984. He said he was first inspired to raise environmental awareness as a child.
“My dad was a forester, and growing up, all of our vacations were camping trips,” Trash said.
He learned a lot about the importance of the environment on these trips, and was surprised when he discovered that most people were not as aware and concerned about these matters as he was. He began performing his show to counter such apathy to ecological issues.
One of the most important themes in his routine, Trash said, is the metaphor of the web of life.
“I teach people about the connectedness of the natural world with my show,” Trash said. “People and nature are connected and they cannot be separated.”
Trash often uses volunteers from the audience to assist with his illusions. One volunteer, Casey Monear, a senior in the College of Natural Resources, said Trash’s show is effective because of its accessibility.
“It is something that kids and adults can get into,” Monear said.
Monear watched Trash in amazement Friday as Trash seemingly passed a taut rubber band through another band she was holding for him.
“It was taut and it just went through,” she said.
Trash said that although his show has always dealt with the environment, it wasn’t always overtly educational.
“Before it was sort of a figure it out for yourself’ thing,” Trash said. But the environmental disasters of the 80s, including the Bhopal gas release and the Exxon-Valdez oil spill, led Trash to reexamine his performance. “In 1988 I was at a crossroads … I decided to either get out of performing or go ahead and make it mean something.”
The program was organized and sponsored by the University Community Activities Network, with the Performing Arts Committee and the Environmental Program Committee.