“It’s the largest and best coordinated nonpolitical, nondenominational, nonorganization of like-minded individuals on the planet.” The Rainbow Family Gathering blew my mind, first in West Virginia and then in Washington State. It’s an annual hippy gathering that’s been happening since Woodstock. It’s values are love, peace, non-violence, environmentalism, non-consumerism, non-commercialism, volunteerism, respect for others and multicultural diversity. As regular participants and members of the ‘Rainbow Family,’ Karolyn and Craig were probably there but I had to wait a few more years to meet them.
Always family people, they lived on the banks of a river in a tipi and the hippy town of Nevada City before making the big move to Hawaii in the mid 1980’s. While on a trip with their kids to Kehena Beach, they spotted me juggling and told me that their eldest son was a juggler too. We soon discovered we had a lot in common and have been friends ever since.
In the fall of 1990, my bonus kids Cayenne and Carla joined Malamalama Waldorf School in Hawai’i Paradise Park. The founders and parents of this community-based school were very representative of Puna at the time: many were young, ‘back-to-the-landers’ with a passionate, pioneering spirit. They created an excellent alternative school, based upon Waldorf principles, which has now served three generations of kids. It was in this pristine educational environment that I reconnected with Karolyn and Craig and then regained my interest in working in a more regular, and organised way, with children.
Craig chaperoned a class from Malamalama school to Waipio valley and on return my step daughter told me she really didn’t like him. I called him up and discovered he’d been teaching her some manners as well as insisting she did her chores. Kids never like been chastised and told to toe the line but he was on a mission to engage their responsible participation in the work of building family. I realised from that conversation with him how passionate he felt on this subject. Later on I witnessed all the young people he and Karolyn helped guide to become better human beings.
The HICCUP circus seed was germinated when I started weekly classes in September 1990 as an after-school activity at Malamalama School. Attendance grew rapidly to about twenty kids between the ages of seven and eleven and with her children, Eli and Ona, eager to learn juggling and other fun circus skills, Karolyn offered to help with teaching. Accepting her offer was one of my smartest moves. At the end of the 1990 school year we put together our first ever performance for parents and the general school body. No-one, including me and Karolyn, ever guessed that these kids would go on to perform in a multitude of shows over the next few years as the HICCUP circus mushroomed and became famous.
Challenged with finding equipment for our students I bought some scarves and spinning plates and used juggling props from my own collection. Together with Craig and other parents—we made lots of extra stilts so that each child could have a pair to walk on. Stilt-walking became our gateway circus skill and the most popular activity. I accepted an invitation to bring our group of oversized clowns to the Pahoa winter parade in early December and Karolyn organised parents to create flashy costumes and even classier make up. Everyone looked so magnificently majestic that the local newspaper published a front page photo and an article about our fun new circus activities. The interest in our HICCUP circus grew exponentially around the island and we started classes at several more venues.
Karolyn quickly learned circus skills herself and showed her aptitude as a teacher becoming my right hand helper for the next twelve years. In Craig’s world circus was fun but his family always came first. Eli was one our finest HICCUP stars but when we first started touring our popular Naturally High show Craig felt that it was more important for him to stay home with his family. It was a huge blow for the HICCUPs but after listening to Craig’s reasoning I respected his position. Fortunately, he stayed open to learning about my vision for building a circus Ohana and before long his kids Eli, Ona, and Mary became major players in the HICCUP program. Sometime later, the Allen’s formed their own ‘Big Island Jugglers’ family group, performing at community and corporate events around the island. Craig even made it on stage a few times – shaking, trembling and sweating – he was not a natural performer!
Craig came to my rescue just after HICCUP became a nonprofit corporation by agreeing to join our board of directors. Finding community members to serve on our governing body was always problematic. Ideally, I should have been recruiting professional bankers or lawyers or accountants but I didn’t know any willing and crazy enough to be part of our hippy circus experiment. We were a new organisation, a bunch of clowns, more than a bit quirky and based in Puna. Getting local residents to commit to something as scary as ‘joining the board’ was way too much bureaucratic legitimacy for Punatics. I felt really fortunate and appreciative when Craig – a Rainbow Family anarchist- volunteered to be our board President.
For a few summers, I left Hawaii for a travelling break. Karolyn with Craig and their kids took care of Bellyacres and enjoyed being close to the beach and warm pond. They also kept all our HICCUP gigs going and even ran a couple of private circus programs at the illustrious Mauna Lani resort for none other than the grandchildren of Elvis Presley.
As Karolyn and I taught juggling, stilts and acrobatics to our HICCUP stars we proved that the most essential skill was being good teachers and not great circus performers. The group we primarily targeted, aged 7-17, were often considered ‘youth at risk’ with most coming from families living well below the poverty line. All of our programs were totally open, and we invited everyone—parents, family members, friends, and local residents of all ages—to attend and participate. Over time, all ages of people, all shapes and sizes, from a broad diversity of cultures and socio-economic groups, showed up to our classes and we did our best to get them all involved playing with props or playing with kids.
The program grew rapidly and within a short period we became a multi-ethnic community based organization providing hands- on experiences. Through Karolyn I became connected to a great group of parents and volunteers who supported our activities as they developed. After a year we moved our Puna classes to the HPP activity center. We used this great facility for the next thirteen years: first one day a week, then two days, and eventually three days, when we had rehearsals for our shows. We became the host performers presenting our own shows and supporting events for other organisations. The HPP activity center was a perfect location for a circus school in many ways. Its location was close to three alternative schools and not far from Pahoa Elementary and High Schools.
By 1993 our programs were really rolling, and I was actively seeking more exciting gigs for our kids, when I saw a request for proposals for First Night in Honolulu. On a whim I called the director, she turned out to be an English woman and I talked her ear off telling her about our amazing kids. Young people learning circus arts is fairly common today but back then it was extremely unusual and our program was the only one in the State of Hawaii.
We got the gig for a troupe of twenty two performers but, being totally naive, I had no clue regarding logistics. The organisers gave us air transport, five hotel rooms and a small perdium. Coming from Puna any amount of money seemed like a lot to me so I agreed without realizing what it actually costs to transport and accommodate a large group for the two night/three day trip. First Night on Oahu became a a huge learning curve for me but luckily I had Karolyn and Craig along for positive thinking and moral support.
Everything we did we had to figure it out as we went along. The Juggling for Success program was another first, teaching 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students to juggle scarves and then balls and then creating a school assembly performance. Over six years I got grant funding and we offered the program to underserved rural schools. Karolyn—as ‘Miss Cheavious’—partnered with me and took the lead when I was off on tour or busy with other projects. We’ve both loved having young adults come up to us over the years saying, “Eh! you da juggling teacher” always with an excited and appreciative twinkle in their eye.
We tried engaging as many people as possible in our HICCUP programs and luckily, circus was a good draw. Karolyn and Craig demonstrated how it takes an ‘ohana (extended family) to raise a healthy child. For children to receive social support, build trust, develop attachments, and create a positive identity, they need to be well connected to key figures in their lives. We often became those people collaborating with family members, close friends, neighbours, teachers, and other youth leaders and the HICCUP Ohana grew. On several occasions we became the primary source of support for certain young people, and even for some adults. Sometimes this was during a short crisis, sometimes it was a more permanent situation. Over the years our team rescued kids from domestic abuse, drug abuse, sexual abuse and who knows what else? Life in paradise was not always sweet.
Although we became experts at teaching students a variety of physical circus skills our main objective was not to produce circus stars. The HICCUP focus was on developing personal and social skills and instilling in ‘kids of all ages’ a desire to become good citizens through acts of community service. I know this worked because—while we do have a handful of alumni working professionally in circus—we have many more ex-students involved in social action, serving our community and protecting our planet for future generations. Karolyn and Craig’s daughter Ona got a full ride scholarship to the University of San Fransisco partly due to her service work with HICCUP and other alumni have since shared similar success stories with us. Go team !
Karolyn and I had great fun running the HICCUP residential summer camps for many years but got so exhausted we said every year would be the last. We spent one or two weeks with around twenty kids 24/7 for five days and nights at Bellyacres! It was a time for a large dose of our usual circus fun and much, much more. The girls usually slept all together in a large house, while we spread the boys out in smaller cabins spread throughout our jungle site. On our daily trips to the local thermally-heated pond our kids made quite a spectacle for other visitors with acrobatic games and super high human pyramids. Back at camp we set up extra special activities like a zip-line, tightrope, a crate stacking game, and, of course, the trampoline on which Eli broke his ankle. Fortunately Craig was home and I still don’t know how Karolyn explained it to him.
The HICCUPs were rising stars back then and we won first place awards in almost every parade or talent show we entered. In the Pahoa Christmas parade, our contingent just kept growing larger and larger every year with mothers, siblings, aunts and uncles, and even dads joining in the fun. Karolyn was a regular face-painter with other parents helping to dress kids from the extensive costume collection we amassed. Our brightly coloured marchers were usually spread over a couple of hundred yards and we had irreverent reggae Christmas music blaring at top volume. Craig, wearing a silly clown hat, was our loyal van driver and these all became HICCUP parade traditions.
In 1999 when I needed to visit my family back in the U.K., with some hard work and guidance from Karolyn and Craig, the HICCUP program continued to thrive. During my six-month European adventure, despite suffering a shortage of funds, they ran our classes and shows and also had Eli, Ari and Marcellus and Ayla out in the community performing at birthday parties and baby luau’s. Using volunteer teachers and instructors the plans we had made in our three-day visioning retreat worked well and HICCUP not only survived without me, but a lot was accomplished during my absence. After my return Karolyn and Craig joined me to escort a big troupe of young acrobats for our annual tour doing workshops, shows and parades on the island of Kauai. We had fun but I think Craig discovered two weeks on the road with a bunch of boisterous belligerent circus kids was a bit out of his comfort zone.
I had to take another sabbatical in 2002, when my dad was diagnosed with cancer and my family needed me back in England. Back in Hawai’i, Karolyn and Craig maintained most of our regular programs which really showed that HICCUP now had a whole family invested in the community vision. In 2002, the HICCUPs presented performances at 177 community events, schools, festivals, benefits, and private parties and ran circus workshops five times weekly with 322 children while Juggling for Success served over 650 students.
We ended the year with All Together for the Pahoa Ho’olaulea, our first large scale community production. Five community groups and our local public charter school collaborated with our classes and activities. It culminated in a huge turnout for the Pahoa Winter Parade, plus two performances of Ocean Life in the school gym. We followed up in 2004 with our fantastic Malama I Ke Kai “to take care of the sea,” production. With its pageantry and elaborate costuming, our story featured unicycle dolphins, stilt-walking jellyfish, and a life-size humpback whale puppet. Over 160 local adults and kids collaborated as performers and support staff in two major presentations of the full 90-minute community spectacle.
Building on this momentum Malama Ka Aina, in 2005, united our rural and diverse Puna community in a way that had never happened before. It was undoubtedly the largest community arts project of its kind staged in Puna. After six months of workshops and rehearsals two shows took place in November with tickets offered to the community at a price everyone could afford. The result was a phenomenal turnout of people coming from all over the island. Everyone there had to notice the impact that our HICCUP project was having on the social fabric of lower Puna. Fortunately for us there was a philanthropist in the audience who later convinced his family foundation to grant us funding to build S.P.A.C.E. Years of effort from HICCUP Ohana members like Karolyn and Craig resulted us being able to provide lower Puna with a major facility that transformed the community for many years. Although S.P.A.C.E. has endured some unreasonable legal battles it still continues providing much needed services today.
In 2005 Karolyn took a well deserved full time job at a local alternative school and retired from the circus but her legacy continued. At our circus camps, and at many classes at S.P.A.C.E., Eli and then his wife Maja joined us, teaching and inspiring the new generation of HICCUP youngsters. Today, Karolyn and Craig’s grandson—Mateo—continues the tradition and has become the latest family member to become a HICCUP star.
Over the years Craig was a reliable and excellent friend. He was often there to lend a hand when needed. He did quite a bit of backyard pig hunting but was not always successful. When he brought a hundred pounder to put in the imu for Isla’s baby luau I guessed it wasn’t from his hunt when he thawed it out in my hot tub. He was actually an excellent shot. When I needed someone with a stronger constitution than me to put down my first horse Polu it was Craig that I turned to for help. Somehow he conjured up a rifle and one bullet and he put the noble animal painlessly to rest.
It was Craig who gave me my first ever wood framing lesson and helped dismantle two old tomato greenhouses so I could use the recycled materials for building my house. He then helped with painting claiming it was all in gratitude for me training his family in circus. With Karolyn and my partner we had some magical nights out on the town together, especially to Israel Kamakawiwoʻole concerts and later John Cruz and other Hawaiian giants. And then there were parties. So many great parties. At Bellyacres, at our festivals and especially at their family compound under Craig’s latest bamboo pavilion creation.
Craig sadly succumbed to illness in 2019 and is missed by many. He spent his adult life practising the art of serving as a fine family patriarch. His greatest achievement, in my view, was his nurturing of Karolyn to be the superb matriarch who now guides their dynasty. Together they lived a humble hippy life that valued family above all else. They lived it, breathed it and together they created a beautiful priceless legacy.
For three decades Karolyn and Craig have been two of my closest and most loyal friends helping create the HICCUP circus plus supporting me through my numerous trials and tribulations. I appreciate them most of all for being courageous renegade rainbow warriors and for showing me how family is the essential cornerstone of community and the measure of true wealth. With peace and love and utmost respect. Mahalo nui.
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4 thoughts on “Happy hippy family folk – Karolyn and Craig”
Yes 👏 Well done Graham. Not to mention Craig and Karolyn
Note. Maya just joined the SPACE board.
On Fri, Jan 1, 2021 at 5:49 PM Renegades Escapades wrote:
> Graham Ellis posted: ” Karolyn and Craig at the Hawaiian Jugging Festival > 1997 It’s “the largest and best coordinated nonpolitical, > nondenominational, nonorganization of like-minded individuals on the > planet.” The Rainbow Family Gathering blew my mind, first in West Virgini” >
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Thank you Graham
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Graham , you left an indelible mark on the Puna community and in the hearts of so many children. At a time when people were tenaciously trying to live the alternative lifestyle, you, Carolyn , and Craig gave these children hope, skills, and values that they could not have received elsewhere and will be able to keep those fantastic memories alive forever. I’m so glad to hear the entire story and to be a witness of the fruits of your glorious labors for the entire show!
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Incredible Tribute. Brought back so many memories. Craig and Caroline’s love shines through. What a beautiful family and lineage they created.
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