Who knew what Stephen Gratto had up his sleeve this time? The man already had balanced a bowling pin on his nose, balanced a stroller on his chin, and chomped hands-free at an apple that hurtled through the air with two machetes as part of his juggling act.
“All right, no more foolin’ around,” he promised parents and children who occupied a shaded patch of grass by Schenectady City Hall. “Now, ladies and gentlemen, let me do a trick that involves the audience. I brought with me today a ladder.”
He pulled out a heavy-looking metal ladder about five rungs long.
“I will balance this big heavy ladder on my chin, but I will do it while putting at risk the lives of little children,” he shrieked.
The kids gasped and looked around excitedly. Gratto, a high school principal in Champlain by day and comedy performer in his free time, asked for volunteers from the audience. Little hands shot into the air, their owners glancing warily up at their parents, who gave a reluctant nod of approval.
He plucked four kids from the audience, had them lie head-to-toe on the ground, and told them to cover the body parts they didn’t want crushed by the ladder. Just in case, Shyanne Powell, 8, covered her face. Her 11-year-old brother, Andrew Delarosa, covered his groin, prompting roars of laughter from the crowd.
“Smart boy,” yelled his mother from the sidelines, as Gratto hoisted the ladder onto his chin and began his precarious walk over the children, each wide step guided by the audience shouting “left,” “right” or “straight” so he wouldn’t step on them.
The journey was a success, but not before a few fear-inducing stumbles. Gratto’s performance took place at Saturday’s 19th annual ElectriCity Kids’ Arts Festival, presented by the ElectriCity Arts & Entertainment District and funded in part through the County Initiative Program.
Nearby, families roamed freely along Jay Street, stopping at various booths to do crafts or lured in by balloon artists, refreshments, bubble pools and clowns.
The sweltering, sunny day was picture-perfect for a downtown festival. Hundreds of people of all ages turned out to make rainbow streamers, clown hats, stick puppets, murals, T-shirts and more. They decorated bags and used clay, duct tape, pencils, paints, markers and crayons. They panned for fossils and made dinosaur masks at a booth sponsored by miSci, designed to promote its current “Dinosaurs!” exhibit on display through Sept. 29.
Kelly Fitzgerald sat on the ground over a round piece of cardboard she had painted blue, gold and pink.
“I’m making a sunset,” she said, resting her brush in a container of blue paint.
The 7-year-old had so far blown bubbles and filled bottles with beads to make maracas. Painting, however, was her craft of choice. In art class, she paints owls and trees and sunsets. But in her free time she paints instruments — drums, wind chimes, guitars, violins, the triangle.
“I love the shapes and colors of the instruments,” she said.
Down the street, Ryder Cooley was a sight in Victorian garb, slick hair and a stuffed sheep jutting from her back. She played a creepy carnival tune on the singing saw as Mike Purcell took a break from his keyboard. Fast-tempoed waltzes played over loudspeakers as kids with their faces painted into lions and butterflies and zebras strolled by.
Ashley Rivera found relief from the full-bore sun in a pocket of shade along the Jay Street Marketplace. Her son also happened to spot a booth about insects nearby, so it worked for the both of them.
“He loves bugs,” she said, as 4-year-old Carlos Harris peeked over the table at a tray of mud, leaves and twigs taken from Wilsey Creek in Montgomery County.
An instructor with the Schoharie River Center Environmental Study Team was pointing out a tiny worm that wriggled from under a leaf. The boy plucked it up between his thumb and forefinger and stared at it in fascination.
“I like the little ones,” said the boy, after he had put the worm down and walked back to his mother. “I like their colors. I like flies too. But I like to pick worms up. I can get wing worms, though.”
“Ring worms,” his mother corrected, with a laugh.
Rivera had taken her son to the festival last year, and she wouldn’t have missed it this year, she said.
“It’s cool because it’s something new for the kids to do and is affordable for parents who can’t always take their kids out and do stuff,” she said.
“And it’s a lot of different things that, actually, you could do right at home but wouldn’t even think to do.”