(Photos by Randy M. Cauthron) [Order this photo]
Barry DeVoll has spent the last nine years providing a mix of entertainment and environmental consciousness to audiences everywhere.
Young audiences screamed and squealed in delight as DeVoll introduced them to Burmese pythons, tortoises and his new friend DJ, a ring-tailed lemur, and talked about the issues facing the natural habitat of the animals. Stops included Fairview Elementary, Iowa Great Lakes Lutheran School, the Spencer Family Y and The Underground at the Spencer Dream Center.
DeVoll is the creator and executive producer of Bixby's Inflatable Rainforest, which will occupy the main auditorium at the Clay County Regional Events Center from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
In addition to the inflatables, the event includes a live show, exotic animals and opportunities for interaction for a low ticket price.
Bixby interacts with his animals and costumed characters to share a positive message.
"We focus on the preservation of the rainforest and ways we can help save the rainforest in our own communities. Something as simple as recycling can have a huge impact," DeVoll said.
He continued, "One plastic bottle takes 100 years to decompose. That's space taken up in the landfill.
A bottle could be used to turn into fleece instead. There's thousands of different things it can be made into. My wallet is made out of recycled bottles."
"Especially with the 'going green' movement that happened a few years ago. There's more awareness and a shared knowledge of recycling. You see bottling companies reducing how much plastic they put into a bottle. They've invested a lot of money in that," he said.
DeVoll's Blue Trunk Educational Series was founded nine years ago. Today, he and the other members of his "creative team of five" produce 750 nationally touring shows, delivering a curriculum-based theme with a message to inspire people. The series includes three different touring units comprised of stage shows, a water and amusement park division and arena shows.
The current arena production is focused on rainforest preservation. A new show, with a focus on Africa, is currently in the works and will include a completely new touring performance with live animals from Africa including a giraffe. Bixby will become a costumed character next season to allow DeVoll to focus more on the production aspects of the effort.
"Our primary mission is to produce educational shows that are also entertaining and leave people with an impact at an affordable price. We're not like your typical show that's here for profit. We keep our ticket prices at $10," DeVoll said.
"It takes one year and $1.5 million to build a show. We raise the money through the stage shows," he explained.
DeVoll got his start as a magician in school.
"I enjoyed entertaining people and making them smile," he said. He loved magic but abandoned it as a career, as he was unwilling at the time to travel outside of Iowa.
Instead, he took a job working the third shift at a convenience store.
"I got frustrated. I asked myself, 'Why aren't you using this talent God gave you?' One day, two minutes before I was supposed to start my shift, I turned my life over to God and told him to lead me."
DeVoll wrote down all of the things he was passionate about. Family, friends and animals joined other items on the list. He shared his new direction with a friend who took it upon herself to write a script for him. DeVoll said he had no idea she was a writer.
"I didn't want to let her down," he said.
Inspired, he borrowed $5,000 from a friend and created a stage show for assemblies.
"It was a hit," DeVoll said, calling it one of the most amazing stage productions created for school assemblies. "A few years of successful shows in the schools and I started looking at fairs and festivals. Then we started indoor shows and large stage productions."
DeVoll and his team are in the process of creating a children's pilot, "Bixby and Friends," to pitch to PBS.
"Bixby has a museum. But it's not like regular museums. It's a museum where you can touch everything. That's how Bixby learns best - with hands on," DeVoll explained.
"We're excited," he said. "From where we started nine years ago to where we are today is very humbling. ... To do this every day of my life, I couldn't ask for anything better."
(Photo by Randy M. Cauthron) [Order this photo]