“Run Forest run!” was the shout as Sean ran through towns in Alabama, Minnesota and Florida. Running was just one of Sean’s many talents and he completed a marathon while juggling three balls in a time that has still only been bested by one of the world’s top professional jugglers. He later got hired to replicate Forest Gump’s epic cross country runs – from the 1994 movie- to promote the Bubbagump Shrimp Company when they opened new stores. It was a good choice since Sean looked a lot like Tom Hanks, could do a great Forest Gump impersonation and was a natural warm hearted, dramatic comedian.
Sean was living on a boat in Lahaina, Maui when he attended our second juggling festival in 1986 and became a buccaneering pirate juggler in our ‘Sailing Circus’
In 1987 he was the first to plonk down 2,000 – hard earned dollars- to become a member of the jugglers collective that I founded on a ten acre slice of sub tropical jungle that I had bought. Sean took a break from his clowning gigs and stayed on the Big Island to help explore and tame the newly purchased land we called ‘Bellyacres.’ He was always proud of the fact that he was the first person to hack himself enough space to pitch a tent and sleep in our new wild jungle home. As a member of our original pioneering team he helped machete the first trails, searched for boundary pins, and fantasied about our future.
We were a motley bunch of anarchist jugglers, vaudevillians, street performers, renegade prop builders and me- a visionary ex-school teacher who loved to juggle. Just outside our impenetrable jungle we pitched teepees and yurts, bought our first solar panels and started to wonder “what the hell are we doing?”. We drew some doodles on a chalk board, partied plenty and dreamed about creating a jugglers nirvana in paradise.
Juggling together was the glue that got us through those early pioneering days. We were all travellers and many of us met up and played together at juggling festivals, theaters and street pitches around the world. I joined a rich eclectic community of friends who rarely, if ever, met all together but who always maintained a strong bond. We became exceptional club passers, got a jump start with poi and club swinging, and loved fire shows, especially on the flowing lava fields – celebrating Madame Pele our adopted Hawaiian Goddess.
In May 1987, Sean joined the second Jugglers for Peace tour to Nicaragua with Sara Felder, Mark Deutchmann, Cort Peterson, and myself. A big part of this tour was our participation in the protest march organised as a tribute to Ben Linder. He was a young engineer from Seattle who moved to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua in 1983. Ben felt inspired by the 1979 Sandinista revolution, and wanted to support its efforts to improve the lives of the country’s poorest people. The Reagan administration however, was determined to cripple the revolution. Beginning in 1981, the C.I.A. secretly trained, armed and supplied thousands of Contra rebels. A major element of the Contras’ strategy was to launch attacks on government cooperatives, health clinics and power stations — the very things that most exemplified the improvements that had been brought about by the revolution.
In 1986, Linder moved from Managua to El Cua, a village in the Nicaraguan war zone, where he helped form a team to build a hydroelectric plant to bring electricity to the town. While living in El Cuá, he participated in vaccination campaigns, using his talents as a clown, juggler, and unicyclist to entertain the local children, for whom he expressed great affection and concern.
On 28 April 1987, Ben was killed in a Contra ambush while traveling through the forest to scout out a construction site for a new dam for the nearby village of San Jose Da Bocay. The autopsy showed that Linder had been wounded by a grenade then shot at point-blank range in the head along with two Nicaraguans — Sergio Hernández and Pablo Rosales. Ben was the first American executed by Ronald Reagan’s “freedom fighters” and was posthumously granted the Courage of Consciousness Award on September 26, 1992.
During our peace march through this area we encountered the beautiful people who lived in the co-operatives and farms oppressed by the contras and went to the places Ben lived and worked. Sean was hugely popular with his balloons and clowning antics. The young Sean had a very loving clown connection with the children and became their pied piper.
His skills, improvisational talents and courage travelling through the contra war zone are immortalized in this 32 min. video:
Back in Hawaii he returned to Maui and, in the fall, rejoined our slim team at Bellyacres continuing the tough jungle work. He took a break to ride his bike, circumventing 265 miles around the whole Big Island, and discovered a great love for his new home. On one of his trips to Maui to sell his boat, he fell in love with a dancing gal Lisa, and persuaded her to move with him to Puna. They rented one of the ten homes in Seaview, later known as Duke’s House, and tried to make a go of it but it was a bit too wild for Lisa. She later described it as, “the jungle for sure, huge mango trees equipped with repelling ropes, a yurt, mysterious paths leading through the jungle, bugs and giant red ants everywhere with an outside kitchen, outhouses, and tent platforms built from wood pallets above the lava rocks.”
After a year of this rustic lifestyle they returned to Kehei, got married, bought a house, had two kids, and Lisa built a very successful entertainment booking agency. Sean returned a few more times to our Juggling Festivals to sharpen his talents, rejuvenate his spirit and help me teach the next generation of young circus artists until his family needs grew.
He then served many, many years as a birthday party clown, sometimes doing four or five gigs in a weekend. He also did loads of corporate work in hotels throughout the islands; as a juggler, stilt walker, 50’s or 60’s dancer, or other character work. He created Mr. Melonhead where he sat under a buffet table with his head adorned with fruit appearing to be a simple fruit platter until he shocked unsuspecting guests with some hilarious comment.
During this time, being preoccupied with providing for his family, he missed coming to Bellyacres or festivals; however, some of us would see him on Maui. For 25 years, Lisa booked convention work for resident Bellyacres members and some HICCUP kids and we all appreciated hanging with Sean, and well as getting paid. They both were also extremely significant in the HICCUP Circus being able to make regular school performance tours of Maui. They opened their home – providing our low budget group of nine with free accommodation, a totally fun tour guide, and pick up service for our van. We slept on their floors, couches, in their garage and even on their rooftop – thankfully they had a really big house. We couldn’t have done our “Naturally High” school shows without this support.
For me personally, and for other Bellyacres members, Sean and Lisa always provided us a place to stay while visiting Maui and kept our connection alive. Sean was also able to attend two of our last festivals held at Bellyacres in 2004 and 2005. We learned through this that he was tired and frustrated with performing as a birthday clown while the convention business was dying – but he was committed to finding other work to support his family.
For a few years, he crewed on a large tourist sailboat that went daily between Lahaina and the island of Lanai. Because sailing was a passion of his, he did his studies, got his captains permit, and seemed satisfied and settled in his new career at sea. Unfortunately, this all crashed when he was fired for drinking on the job. This issue was not something new; however, but he’d previously been able to hide his drinking problem from his employers. Sean struggled with this demon for the rest of his life: he attended AA meetings, joined Lisa’s church, and had periods where he got it under control and felt better about his life. He started a landscaping business, did some house painting, and also went through rocky periods were he was unable to work at all.
It seems that along the way the energetic and passionate person I remember as Sean gradually was replaced with cynicism and hopelessness. I’m so happy to say that when Dena and I stayed with him and Lisa in 2016 he still had his sense of timing and sharp improvisational wit and he kept us laughing and amused the whole trip. Tragically, he succumbed to depression a year later and decided to take his own life. His memory remains forever as a master clown, my fellow juggler, my Bellyacres partner, my friend, and a true renegade ‘companero’ – Sean Minnock. R.I.P.
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