Grand Scale Ingenuity
A thin layer of mist had just set upon the forest as Ellery and I approach Brett’s cabin. His vast yard is piled with rejected furniture. I look around and chuckle at the unlit fireplace, which holds a pile of letters. On the dashboard of Brett’s truck, skillfully parked on a sloped driveway, sits a plate of cold, oily pizza. But regardless of the mess outside, the redwood house ahead seems like it emanates warmth and promises delightful treasures. A dog trots up to me, her heavy flank pushing against my legs, not letting me take a single step forward without paying attention to her first. In her jaws, the dog clenched a fistsized brown ball. She looked up at me with big brown, pleading eyes and panted with anticipation. I thought I understood, so I took the ball out of her mouth, realizing it was a worn down tennis ball covered in pine leaves and sodden mud. “Catch!” I shout, giving my best, 10 yard-ish throw. Kicking up a storm of dirt, she pounces off, stalking down the ball in no time. Brett’s house is filled with an eclectic collection of “ingredients” for his next invention. We ask him where he gets his inspiration.
Brett sits up a bit in his chair and look around for a simple explanation. His gaze finally ending up on Ellery who is standing above him, carrying the reflection board upon her shoulders behind her head. Brett starts describing that creative inspiration comes from the most basic visuals in real life; how Ellery’s simple positioning could be interpreted as a beautiful function with her limbs positioned and outstretched artistically. Halfway through his explanation, the dog reappears and reenacts the catch game with Brett. Brett takes the ball, fakes a throw to his left, so the dog instinctively runs off far into the forest, but then he actually pitches it to the right, into the clutter of unwanted furniture. “This’ll keep her busy”, he explains, “or else she’ll be back in no time”. Ellery and I are getting used to the dog re-appearing intermittently to ask for Brett to throw the ball. As we film, the dog has become a good humored but annoying disturbance. Why is the dog so obsessed with catching balls? I didn’t want to sound rude, but I wanted to make the dog stop. Brett’s voice falls lower and quieter, telling us the story of how after losing her puppies, Brett used the balls helped pull her out of her deep depression. I was really touched by Brett’s effort to help his dog. It truly showed how compassionate Brett is for everyone. Brett Packer is a stilt performer. Tall, broad shouldered, and wild haired, he creates a presence. Kelly, his younger sister of 4 years, explains Brett’s passion in her own understanding: “He stilts because it’s different, and he’s just so different from lots of other people, and I think he can make a statement”, which points to the truth that Brett uses his attention as a performer to introduce social issues, ecological problems, and sometimes political statements to the audience. Not only does Brett enlighten his community, he reaches out to each individual and brightens their day by bringing a bit of his gift and light. “When I’m performing, I can touch a lot of hearts and minds...and that feels good” Brett says.
“When I’m performing, I can touch a lot of hearts and minds. And that feels good” 1
Growing up in Los Altos, the tiny town was too quiet, too eventless, too culturally boring, and too unchallenging for him. Brett’s father owned a little menswear store on Main Street in Los Altos. He knew everybody in town, he was in Rotary, and the children knew everybody. “It was kinda cool to grow up like that, kind of boring too” Brett said, as the days dragged on. Yet without the constrictions, Brett would never have felt the uncomfortable restraint and desire to be different. 2
As a kid, Brett and the neighbor boys would spend a lot of time together. Once, they took two bikes, somehow put them in a fitted framework, and they built this tank around the two bikes, all made of wood. This tank, propelled by the two cyclists, was as large as a station wagon. Brett and his buddies would get into this tank and climb up to a turret on the second level where they could stand up.
Mounted slingshots and little trays of berries and rocks waited for them up there, and Brett and his friends would just ride down the street in this vehicle having fun! The root of these activities were from Brett’s ideas and innovative activity designs. Brett’s creativity spawned from his boredom and confinement. “I appreciate [weirdness], and I think it makes people happier and healthier”.
Brett’s current Burning Man costume is, from my point of view, a towering, steampunk meets gypsy costume, with lots of gadgets. Lots of bronze and a tank that is worn on the back. This tank has a tube and suction cup powered by geared egg whisks, which is supposed to go on a festival goer’s head to suck the gray matter out of their minds. It collects in the tank; in a way like a mosquito, taking a bit out of one, and transferring to the next, he spreads the “energy” and mindset throughout the people so that they share one mind. It’s weird in a beautiful way. The development of the character Brett performs in is from an idea of a time and universe traveling being, who is “passing through [the festivals] on an adventure, sort of in a Baron Munchhausen kind of guy.” 3
Brett hopes to make more time to perform. He wants to bring stilting and costumes to the younger community too, as a way to teach and entertain. “[Performing is] kind of silly and beautiful. And I really, really, really enjoy doing it because when I’m on stilts, I get to be somebody completely different. I am almost not a human anymore, so I can get away with being ridiculous, and a little bit rude, and very silly.
“Stilting changes everything, and one of my favorite things is to inhabit that space as that other part of my other person” 4
“And I can really touch people’s hearts in a way I can’t if I’m on the ground.
And I can really touch people’s’ hearts in a way I can’t if I’m on the ground. Stilting changes everything, and one of my favorite things is to inhabit that space as that other part of my other person”. Brett very much so embodies his character, that other part of his person. Though with a taller height and more elaborate accessories, I think that Brett is channeling his true side through letting all the ridicule drop away. Kelly, who has never watched his performance, but completely supports Brett’s choices agrees that stilting has become a channel of creativity for Brett. “I think that’s just how he does most things - pretty much just on a grand scale”.