Where on Earth is Joh? #1

….I’m home. In Canberra. Exciting right?

To be honest, I was possibly biting off a bit more than I could chew when I came up with the idea for this series. I imagined myself sitting on the balcony outside my cabin at our accommodation in Albury/Wodonga, sipping on infinite cups of tea and joyfully blogging away. There were definitely no dark circles under my eyes in this picture; none to be found.

Oh how I laugh hysterically at past-Joh.

I had no idea just how tiring touring would be. I don’t think I’ve ever been that exhausted in my life. But please don’t get me wrong. Whilst the week on tour was intense, it was also intensely rewarding and a ridiculous amount of fun.

But I should really start at the beginning.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m one of 16 scientists from around Australia, chosen to be a part of the Shell Questacon Science Circus. This is a joint initiative run by Questacon (the National Science and Technology Centre in Canberra) and The Australian National University with support from Shell. As part of a Masters in Science Communication, we develop science shows to perform in schools all over Australia. This year, I get to travel to do shows in primary schools on the NSW Central Coast, organise Public Exhibitions in Albury/Wodonga, run workshops in the Northern Territory and facilitate teacher professional development sessions in Victoria.

You know, among other things like sleep and assessments… and sleep.

Science circus group
What a good-looking bunch

It occurred to me that some of you may be interested in what we do when we’re out of town.  A tour, in my admittedly limited experience, generally runs something like this.

Day 1:

First things first, it’s truck-packing time! We travel in a convoy and a half: ten cars and an 18-metre semi-trailer. Since our truck is home to our show props and our travelling exhibition we need to get it all packed. We get there at what I like to call “stupid O’clock” in the morning (you know, the sort of hour that requires consuming your body-weight in coffee before you’re kind of functional?) and get everything loaded. And then, we’re off to the Albury/Wodonga region. The rest of day 1 is filled with travel which is, quite frankly, horrifically boring and so we’ll move on to:

Day 2…. 3 and 4:

This is where it starts to get interesting… and exhausting. Most of any one of our tours is taken up by school visits. These run in a sort of “rinse and repeat” pattern. We split into groups of two, go into a school, introduce ourselves to the teachers, set up in the space we’ve been allocated, perform shows, pack up the space we’ve been allocated, say goodbye to the teachers and re-group at the accommodation.

Rinse and repeat.

crazy lady with glass
Not sure if opera singer or crazy lady…

This is, without question, my favourite part of tour. Despite the pattern, no one day is the same. Each school I visited was different and awesome in their own special ways. At the first school, I had an eleven year old call me out on resonant frequency (not kidding – this kid was on it), and another ask if I could feature on his YouTube channel (presumably there’s a Minecraft let’s play out there with a random cross to “mad woman attempting to break glass with voice” for no apparent reason; I desperately want to find it). At the second school I experienced the most adorable lunch break ever where my partner for the day, Nicole and I were surrounded, and entertained by, about ten kindergarten kids telling us all about their chickens. And at the last school, I discovered that “Equine studies” is a legitimate high school subject. I’m not going to lie, most of our time back at the accommodation was spent sharing anecdotes. And if nothing else, it’s a joy to see children loving the things you’re passionate about and getting really involved and excited about your shows.

But it’s not all about the schools…

Day 5 (aka “the day that wrecked me”):

The last of our major operations is the Public Exhibition, we call it a PEx. Since there’s no way 16 people would need an 18 metre semi-trailer’s worth of show props, the majority of the truck space is taken up with over 40 hands-on exhibits. Usually, PEx days, like school show days, follow a pattern. We roll into town, unpack the truck, set up all of the exhibits, set up the shop, set up the show space, run the PEx for about 3-5 hours, breathe for a few seconds, pack everything up and roll out of town.

It takes a lot of coordination and practise to get that pattern done in a small amount of time and efficiently, but I think we’re all getting there. Throughout the day we entertained 1496 people with exhibits and science shows (I get to lie on a bed of nails and have someone smash a brick on my chest with an axe… no big deal). It’s a crazy day but again, heaps of fun (are you sensing a pattern here?).

On a side note, we do get some down time. Our school days do tend to finish at around 4PM and we’re free to explore and, within reason, do whatever we want to relax. I spent a bunch of time walking around Lake Hume with some fellow circus members, cooking dinner, playing games and just chatting. It was really lovely to hang out with the circus; they’re a great bunch of people.

Lake Hume turned on the sunset for us! Credit to fellow Circus presenter Mizaan for this amazing shot.

Anyway, day 6 is a travel day and boring so let’s finish up this contrived recount shall we?

Touring is, I’ve decided, one of those things that’s so intense that you end up sleeping for a week when you get back, but you absolutely can’t get enough of it. There are a bunch of things that could have gone better upon reflection but if you can’t think of ways to make things run more efficiently you’re not doing it right… right?

So tour is intense, exhausting, rewarding, entertaining and ridiculous amounts of fun. 10/10, would totally do it again… which is lucky seeing as how I’ll be travelling to the NSW Central Coast in May. Hopefully I’ll be able to update you all at the end of every week but, given my past record of less-than-clockwork posting, I am making no promises. Next time it’ll be for three weeks. A crazy-awesome, exhausting three weeks…

Bring it on.