July 25, 2008

Caldwell is Nationally Known for His Tricks

By Imani Tate

Art and entertainment collided when Don Caldwell of Garden Grove was 18, giving him the chance "to be an artist and a ham all at once."

Caldwell, a nationally acclaimed balloon artist and entertainer for schools, libraries, community centers, clubs and corporate affairs, has been best known as Buster Balloon for more than 20 years.

Remembering his childhood treks to four libraries within a 10- mile radius of his family home, Caldwell confessed that libraries are still among his favorite places to perform, read and interact with children equally enthusiastic about books.

His first art was created at age 3. He added magic to his creative outlets when he was 5. He was 18 when he combined the two and created "the best job in the world" for himself.

He blends vaudeville-style comedy, cartoon characters, slapstick and balloon wizardry for his children's and adult shows. His entertaining reputation led to his selection as a regular performing artist for the Disney Co., Jim Henson Studios, Nickelodeon, Magic Castle, Candy Cosmetics and Bank One.

Caldwell was named best balloon entertainer for 2007 by Los Angeles Magazine. For the past four years, he and approximately 60 other national balloon artists build a Halloween haunted house completely out of balloons in Rochester, N.Y.

Besides entertaining children and adults at the holiday-themed house, he serves on the design committee and helps write the script accompanying the haunting entertainment shows.

Caldwell uses humor, balloons and magic tricks to encourage children to come to local libraries and to read. He quickly admits his shows have an ulterior motive for young audiences because he hopes his funny antics will help make reading a lifetime passion for them.

"I can reach more kids and audiences by combining entertainment and education," Caldwell said. "When I was a kid, I went to the library to read. Without that, I wouldn't have the life I have now. I want to give kids a chance to get excited about learning as I did.

"I'd hit all four libraries within the 10-mile radius of my house every weekend. I was always happy to find new books, but if I didn't I'd just re-read ones I'd already finished," he added.

Caldwell's wife, Laura, is also a balloon artist and entertainer known by her stage name Annie Banannie .

He is working on a "top-secret" project, he said, whispering at first and then laughing as he shouted out "It's a Web site and live show interactive program that will probably debut in January 2009."

Caldwell's 5-year plan is to create a nonprofit organization with corporate and community sponsors so he can present neighborhood programs for low-income and at-risk children and for groups who can't afford to pay for the Buster Balloon shows.

(c) 2008 Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.