Spotlight On: Edmonton, Alberta
The only limit is your imagination
For most people, balloons are just brightly colored bags of rubber used to decorate a party. But for British balloon artist Phileas Flash
(a.k.a. Rupert Appleyard) in Edmonton, Alberta, they are the keys to opening a world where everything is a possibility and the only limit is imagination.
For the past decade he has traveled all over the world entertaining crowds with unique balloon sculptures, including full size caricatures and fan based balloons. Party & Paper Retailer was lucky enough to nail him down to get the story on all his success.
PPR: What drew you to balloons and how long have you been in this business?
RA: I kind of fell in to making balloons. About 10 years ago, I was a Ringmaster for a small touring circus, and my brother, the clown, twisted balloons. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to make anything, so I didn’t try. Then one Christmas I was working as an elf in a mall and the manager gave me a bag of balloons to play with when things were quiet. When I had nothing better to do, I worked out how to make a six-petal flower. A few months later I was broke, so a friend suggested I busk with my balloons to survive. I did exactly that and have never looked back.
PPR: What made you start entertaining?
RA: I’ve wanted to entertain ever since I was young. I started out as an actor specializing in villains, but it’s hard to find acting work in a small English town. Eventually my brother Justin decided to start a circus and gave me a job as the main villain of the show, the Ringmaster.
PPR: How did you get the name “Phileas Flash?”
RA: It came in two parts. The first bit was Flash, which I stole for my villainous Ringmaster character from George MacDonald Fraser’s excellent Flashman chronicles. A few years later I was in a double act and our schtick was that we were traveling around the world in 80 ways. To keep it themed we each changed our character names to incorporate the name Phileas Fogg, I got Phileas, my partner got Fogg.
PPR: Do you have a “home base” store or do you just constantly travel?
RA: Although I’m always flying to exotic climes, I’m now based in Edmonton so I can be with my Canadian wife, Tanya. I’m incredibly lucky here because I have a balloon wholesaler just down the road called Bazaar and Novelty. They are great and always look after me really well.
PPR: Do you have a favorite sculpture that you’ve created or character that you play?
RA: My favorite sculptures change all the time. If you’d have asked me a month ago I would have said my version of the Iron Throne, but right now it’s Doctor Nefario on his mobility scooter.
Each of my characters has a special place in my heart (even the ones who haven’t seen the light for a few years). The one I play the most is the Time Twister, as he’s become an extension of myself. My favorite heavily characterized creation would probably be Graves the zombie butler, because it’s so much fun to be spooky!
PPR: Can you talk about the education you’ve received? How have you been able to become such an expert?
RA: Although I studied performing arts at college, I really learned most of my stage craft and improvisational skills from just going out there and doing it. In my opinion there is no substitute for hands-on experience.
The balloons have been the same too. There are twisters who plan everything out to the smallest detail, but I have learned more from just going for it. I know that’s not right for everyone, but free styling works best for me.
PPR: How has the industry changed since you began?
RA: When I started making balloons, I was very poor and had no way to buy DVDs or books, so I invented all my own versions of things I imagined other twisters made. Nowadays even the poorest of us has access to the Internet, and it is a great resource for balloon artists. I took a break from making balloons in 2010, but when I came back in 2012 I found the talent pool in the balloon world had skyrocketed due to the increase of social media and the Internet. I was forced to up my game.
PPR: I noticed you use Facebook and your website for marketing and interaction with fans. What are your top social media tips for other balloon artists and performers?
I love Facebook
. It’s my favorite social media platform as it really allows you to keep engaging your followers. My top tip is just common sense — play nice and try and always treat others as you would like to be treated yourself. This shouldn’t even need saying, but I’ve seen a ton of people who have alienated whole Internet communities simply by forgetting this point. I also head up a group on Facebook dedicated to making Random Acts of Balloon Artistry that I’d like to encourage everyone to join; https://www.facebook.com/Randomballoonartistry.
In addition, always try and watermark photos. I’ve increased my online presence hugely by doing that. Not only does it stop other people claiming your work as their own, but it also gives potential clients a reference point if they need to contact you. Another thing I’d recommend is take every opportunity you can to get your work seen. There are some fantastic balloon groups and forums online filled with twisters who are just as obsessed with balloons as you are, so why not join in?
PPR: Any final notes, tips or tricks you would like to share with our readers?
RA: Just be yourself, make the best balloons you can and hopefully we can make the world a better place. Remember that even your smallest effort can put the biggest smile on someone’s face, so never stop making that effort!