Team Clowns

Anne Quam, Caleb Niles, Abby Olson, a representative Jack Heckathorn, Carter Heckathorn, Patrick Kastning and Jacob Peirce are team Clowns in Town, which won third place at Destination Imagination Globals in May.

What happens when you take seven analytical, creative perfectionists and ask them to break a law (a scientific law, that is, and just on film)?

They win third place at Destination Imagination (DI) Globals last May.

The students – senior Abby Olson; juniors Jack Heckathorn, Patrick Kastning, Caleb Niles, Jacob Peirce and Anne Quam; and eighth grader Carter Heckathorn – are Team Clowns in Town, part of EPJ’s DI program. That program encourages them to use skills across several disciplines and combines STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathemathics) with performing arts. This team has between two-10 years of experience in DI. This is the fifth year in a row they’ve qualified for Globals by winning the state competition.

The challenge they chose was to break a scientific law in a unique way. Many teams at both the state and global level picked gravity or climate change. Team Clowns chose biogenesis, the hypothesis that living matter arises only from other living matter. They brainstormed a Frankenstein theme. The team had a $100 budget and most of the school year to complete a documentary-style video (no live performances this year).

The students had to do all the work themselves, from formulating the plan and writing the script to building all the electronics, performing and filming the final product.

The documentary portrayed Olson, a scientist, trying to explain how a college student, Peirce, brought to life a pile of trash. An iron pole Peirce stuck out his dorm window was struck by lightning. The result, Starvin’ Marvin, was portrayed by a costume worn by Niles, but the team could not cause any of the movements first-hand, only second-hand.

Kastning and Niles used complex electronics to make Starvin’ Marvin’s eyes pop open. To make him sit up, they dropped a jug of water attached to a cable that used the leaf of a table as a fulcrum to raise him up.

“The hardest part was the electronics,” Niles said. “We used a toy food mixer, attached string to the eyelids and turned it on to make the eyelids pop open.”

Peirce thought filming that scene was the most difficult.

“We filmed it at so many different angles,” he said. “It was hard to prop up the fake trash monster, and then having to move it without us actually moving it.”

Carter Heckathorn agreed.

“The hardest part was getting everything to line up perfectly in all the scenes,” he said, “to make sure that the light effects, the lifting up, the water and everything would go smoothly.”

Carter Heckathorn portrayed a French filmmaker, with Jack Heckathorn as his assistant. Quam was a neighbor who was interviewed by the filmmaker. A cat resting on her lap also had animated eyes.

“It was really hard finding a mechanism that would work for that,” Quam said.

The eyes were made of Christmas ornaments attached to ping pong balls. They, in turn, were attached to popsicle sticks, which Olson moved to work the eyes.

Their adult team managers, Christy Heckathorn and Kim Quam, could do no more than ask the team questions about what problem they were trying to solve and keep them on track.

See full story in this week’s Leader-Courier.