Edutainment: Juggler, storyteller Izzi Tooinsky offers new online curriculum for youth
Special to Prospector
According to entertainer Izzi Tooinsky, in times of economic hardship, clowns tend to be the first casualties on the budgetary chopping block. The longtime Nevada County resident and well-known performer has weathered economic ups and downs for decades. Tooinsky, who has been a street performer for most of his life, has reinvented himself once again, this time offering “edutainment.” The popular juggler/storyteller has developed online curriculum for youth that is both entertaining and educational.
Tooinsky first came to Nevada County over 40 years ago. “I was attracted to the bohemian lifestyle of the San Juan Ridge in the late 1970s and early 80s,” he said. “I was already making my livelihood as a street performer in San Diego and LA and was certain I could go to San Francisco once or twice a month and perform at Pier 39 and make enough money to live on the San Juan Ridge.”
As it happened, he bumped into a network – and that was county fairs. “I did our local county fair and it was so successful and fun that I began to do others. “ He continued. “There was a very active arts council. It was envisioned first by a guy on the San Juan Ridge, probably our most eminent person who lives here, Gary Snyder.”
Tooinsky said in the early 1980s Snyder and Jerry Brown envisioned the California Arts Council. “The California Arts Council began to give out grants to performers. They were wonderful grants that would pay half of our fee to any nonprofit organization, so I won that grant and suddenly I was getting offers to perform all over California and beyond.”
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Tooinsky went on to perform all over the world including in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand doing fairs and festivals, mixing juggling and storytelling. He moved to Australia for about six years, but said he underestimated the value of deep relationships with people. “Kids that I had known for all of their life and how sweet that is and old people I had known for decades. I was kind of like a stranger in paradise and I finally came home and was really happy to come back to Nevada County in 2008.”
“I came back just in time for the last financial crash,” he said. “The first thing people get rid of when there is a financial problem is a clown. Nobody wants to pay for a clown when there is financial trouble.” That lead the performer to begin working in the local schools as an assistant teacher, working primarily with abandoned, abused and neglected children. And later, as a substitute teacher.
Tooinsky said, “In addition to the curriculum, I would always do shows for the kids in the class. I would bring juggling balls or other equipment for them. I teach them and everyone really enjoys it — from the administration to the children.”
Having a foot in both worlds – substitute teaching and performing – he was looking forward to some of the busiest months of his career in 2020 until everything was canceled due to the pandemic outbreak. “I was booked at the Center for the Arts to teach circus classes and I had a tour of libraries and a few other weekend festivals and now all of that has been canceled.”
As an innovator, he developed what is being called “edutainment.” Tooinsky said, “I love what I do, and I am really happy to do it for the children, but I am also doing it for myself. I am a survivor. I don’t want to sit back and wait for world events to turn around so that I can do what I do.”
In just a few weeks he learned how to work with online meetings, PowerPoint and payment platforms. The result is a series called, “Zoom with the King of Hotdogastan.” Tooinsky explained in jest it is important to understand he leads a double life — living part time as a regular performer and part time as the King of the little-known country of Hotdogastan. “It is a floating monarch that finds him all over the planet. My father was King, so I became King also. It is a friendly occupation.” It is as King of Hotdogastan that he brings joy and enrichment to the youth via social media platforms.
During the 30-45-minute programs — one geared for preschoolers to age seven and another for eight to 12-year-olds — he tells stories, plays games and throws in a little bit of fun education. “I did a presentation to the kids on the history of crackers. It was during Passover so I did a presentation on the origin of crackers, why they are flat, why there are holes in them, how certain holidays are built around crackers and how you can make your own.” This week he will be doing a program about sharks. He hopes the kids hold onto a fact or two while enjoying the experience.
He is finding people are really interested, and it seems to be working effectively. Without physical limitations, Tooinsky finds himself responding to inquiries from far reaching locations including Pennsylvania and Australia. He is happy with the support and excitement for the programs
Tooinsky said he works hard to keep a balance between watching and participating, utilizing games that any kid can do with things they have in their house. “The games are made up of things that are accessible to them right now. I’m teaching them how to do simple juggling tricks with socks or tricks with a wooden spoon,” he said.
Tooinsky concluded, “I firmly believe that every situation is an opportunity for creativity and here we are. This is our situation. So, let’s find the creativity, the fun, and the joy of this moment with what we have. “
For more information contact Izzi Tooinsky at https://izzitooinsky.com/.
Hollie Grimaldi Flores is a Nevada County resident and freelance writer for hire. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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