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Monday, May 2, 2016

Rain Forest Fair

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Barry DeVoll's roots are about as far as you can get from the world's tropical rain forests - he's an Iowan through and through.

But a chance assignment from a third grade teacher to turn a classroom into a rain forest sparked a passion in him for the steamy, endangered rain forests of the world.

While there isn't much one man can do to save the rain forests, DeVoll has set out to create an understanding of the importance of the disappearing environment, through entertainment.

The spiky-haired Cedar Rapids resident initially trained as a magician, and has appeared nationwide in that role, but his stage persona has evolved for the rain forest cause in recent years. His show, Rainforest Encounter!, will run daily at the Clay County Fair in Spencer Sept. 6-14.

He encorporates magic, puppets and stand-up comedy into the act, but the real stars are the creatures that travel with DeVoll - colorful mackaw named Juan, a huge Burmese python called Ally, a kinkajou named Tiktau. You may meet a ring-tailed lemur, a sloth, tropical frogs or other wild performer.

Even a few children from the audience at each of several free shows on the fairgrounds each day may get invited into the act.

When he isn't on the road doing up to 900 shows a year, DeVoll is production coordinator for The Blue Trunk, an educational organization dedicated to saving the rain forests.

Under the green lights inside the show tent, DeVoll becomes "Bixby," a crazy character with a serious message.

"Every two seconds that passes on your clock, 60 acres of rainforest is being chopped down," he says. "The animals that live in this forest have to move or they die with it."

Even as crowds are laughing and oooh-ing over exotic animals, they are learning about the role of the rain forest in the circle of life, and learning what they an do to help - including recycling in their own homes.

DeVoll also educates audiences against ownership of exotic animals. Feeding one macaw can cost $2,000 a year, and the bird can live 50 years, he says.

He works with zoological staff and a veterinarian in caring for his exotic animals, and his show is specially-licensed by the USDA to present the creatures.

DeVoll began his program with plans of taking rainforest information into Iowa schools, which he still does with his Blue Trunk shows.

"I wanted something that was going to be educational but also entertaining for them," he said. "I want to inspire people and get them feeling good about themselves."

The money he raises from his fair shows nationwide is used to subsidize productions in rural schools that otherwise could not afford the shows.

DeVoll spent two years researching in order to begin staging his shows. His own learning curve is never complete he said. He has traveled to rainforest regions in Puerto Rico, and next hopes to visit the South American Amazon.