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Robots, grizzly bears, life-sized animal puppets and more are at the 2021 Carolina Classic Fair
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Robots, grizzly bears, life-sized animal puppets and more are at the 2021 Carolina Classic Fair

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Patricia Hymes and her husband, Harold, of Winston-Salem were walking the fairgrounds at the Carolina Classic Fair Saturday on a “day date” when they spotted a bright, yellow Camaro morph into a nearly 7-foot tall robot right in front of them.

Hymes approached the robot and posed with it as her husband snapped a photo.

“I want a picture for my grandbaby,” Hymes said.

After the photo, she asked the robot called Yellow Jacket to transform again.

“Yellow Jacket” drove around in circles as a car before morphing back into a robot and walking toward another section of the fair.

Someone else in the group of fairgoers around them said, “That is really neat.”

Yellow Jacket is one of two RoboCars roaming the grounds at the fair, which will run through Oct. 10. The other one is Big Red, a box fire truck.

This is the first year RoboCars have made an appearance at the Carolina Classic Fair, formerly the Dixie Classic Fair. Other new attractions include Animal Cracker Conspiracy, grizzly bears from Bearadise Ranch, Circus Shane’s Rock-N-Circus and K9s in Flight.

The roaming grounds performers have been part of the fair’s attractions for years, but fairgoers will probably see more of them at the 2021 Carolina Classic Fair.

“We have many more of the roaming performances to keep people moving at the fair and not congregating around and not staying in one place for a long time,” Siobhan Olson, spokeswoman for the Carolina Classic Fair, said. “It’s all part of the COVID protocols. That helps keep crowds dispersed and all of that kind of thing.”

RoboCars

RoboCars Entertainment, based in Florida, offers a range of brightly colored, life-size, transforming robot vehicles that appear at fairs, festivals, car auctions and other events across the country. In addition to cars and trucks, the company has tractors, motorcycles and police cars. Drew Beaumier, who makes the character costumes, and Jane Rooney, are the co-owners of RoboCars Entertainment.

Rooney often surprises the operators at events and takes video and pictures.

“I love to listen to the crowds and what people are saying,” she said. “They are all ages. I mean, little, tiny, teeny children go charging up to them and hug their legs, to very elderly people in wheelchairs. They go up and shake hands. The whole family seems to enjoy seeing them, which is lovely.”

Rooney likes to have tall RoboCars operators.

RoboCars at the Carolina Classic Fair

At the Carolina Classic Fair, Jeremiah Trippett, who is 6 feet 4 inches tall, wears the Yellow Jacket costume, and his brother, Thaddeus Trippett, who is 6 feet 3 inches tall, is in the Big Red costume.

The brothers live in Orlando, Fla., but grew up in Fayetteville, N.C. Jeremiah graduated from N.C. Central University in 2012 with a degree in mass communication and Thaddeus attended Fayetteville Technical Community College where he majored in culinary arts.

Although they didn’t do RoboCars appearances in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trippett brothers are going on their sixth year with RoboCars Entertainment.

Rooney said the RoboCars operators, who don’t talk while in costume, are in athletic shape.

“If they’re not, they soon are,” she said laughing

Jeremiah said operating the costume is taxing on the body.

“You have to keep yourself in some type of condition and be flexible in a sense,” Jeremiah said. “I’m not saying you have to be flexible, but it helps. I play basketball.”

“I play tennis,” Thaddeus said.

Thaddeus said he did well the first time he was in a RoboCars suit, but Jeremiah had bruises everywhere.

“After a while your body gets used to it — muscle memory, or whatever you want to call it,” Jeramiah said. “It becomes more easier.”

Often the brothers walk out at events in robot form or drive out as cars then morph into robots.

Jeremiah said some people think they are remotely controlled when they are in the car shapes.

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Thaddeus said he is the most animated of the two brothers when he morphs.

“I can literally scare people,” Thaddeus said.

The brothers said they love traveling across the country, entertaining families and making children smile.

They often dance when they are robots.

“The people love to see robots dancing and interact with each other,” Jeremiah said. “It makes it fun.”

Animal Cracker Conspiracy

The Carolina Classic Fair said in a press release that Animal Cracker Conspiracy, based in San Diego, Calif., is a “contemporary collaborative hybrid puppet company invested in peering under the surface of things and pushing the boundaries of live kinetic performance. Mixing and mingling styles of puppetry, with masks, circus and visual arts, Animal Cracker Conspiracy will bring their unique live street performance/theater to the fair.”

Animal Cracker Conspiracy at Carolina Classic Fair

Animal Cracker Conspiracy, which started 17 years ago, has received grants from the Jim Henson Foundation, Heather Beth Henson Fund, San Diego Foundation and the Puffin Foundation.

Bridget Roundtree and Iain Gunn are the company’s co-artistic directors.

Gunn said Animal Cracker Conspiracy is not your typical puppet company.

“We are literally a roaming dance party with larger-than-life animals,” Gunn said.

Megan Fontaine and Chadwick Waite of the troupe are performing at the Carolina Classic Fair. They walk on stilts, which makes their animal characters — a zebra and a giraffe — 10 feet tall to the top of their hats.

“They are kind of like animals that have escaped from the carousel, because they’re wearing outlandish costumes, and we have our own music,” Gunn said.

Typically, people “dance with us or stare with their mouths hanging open, or want to hug us or high-five us,” he said.

He said Animal Cracker Conspiracy has been touring the past three months and has done 14 fairs.

“We’ve been on the road every summer, except 2020, for the past seven years doing this,” Gunn said.

Bears and more

At the age of 3, Shane Hansen joined his parent’s acrobatic roller-skating act. From there, he created a variety act with juggling, trampoline stunts, magic, fire, balancing maneuvers and more in Circus Shane’s Rock-N-Circus. Hansen works hand-in-hand with a nationwide addiction program and helps provide information to millions of people who need help.

This is the first time in a very long time bears have been at the Carolina Classic Fair, Olson said.

Johnny D. Welde, a third-generation animal trainer, is offering an education exhibit at the fair that will feature grizzly bears. His fascination with bears started in 1926 in Trondheim, Norway. He joined the circus and put together his first trained bear act.

In 1948, he made his American debut with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus for the 1947-48 seasons. Now, he continues to train bears and educate people about the importance of habitat preservation and conservation for all bears.

When the bears are not performing or appearing in movies, commercials or advertising, they live on Bearadise Ranch in Myakka, Fla.

It has been 16 years since K9s in Flight appeared at the fair in Winston-Salem.

John Misita, the owner and “pooper scooper” for K9’s in Flight, a company based in Dawsonville, Ga., has 10 dogs at the fair, all of which are adopted or rescue dogs.

The dogs range from mutts to Border Collies to Australian Cattle Dogs and working breeds. Usually, five of them perform in a show.

“They are world-class frisbee dogs and world-class dock-diving dogs,” Misita said.

Misita said each dog has its own personality.

“They are basically our kids,” he said.

In addition to fairs, festivals and theme parks, K9s in Flight does half-time entertainment for the NBA, NFL and NCAA.

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@fdanielWSJ

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