DECATUR - Before Steve Trash was a "rockin' eco hero and kid comedian," he was just a humble, run-of-the-mill street garbage magician, turning found objects laying by the roadside into illusions that would dazzle passers-by.
Since he graduated from college in 1984 with a degree in theater, Trash has been ever on the road, refining a series of shows that blend environmental awareness and "green magic" with wit, humor and children's entertainment.
Wednesday morning, he'll bring this message to a school audience and the public with a show at the Effingham Performance Center.
"I can remember being 7 or 8 and it occurring to me even then that trash is valuable, and that people were throwing out things that I could use," the eco-magician said. "So I started performing magic tricks with the stuff I found sitting out on the curb. I think the neighbors all knew that I was an odd little kid."
Trash has been performing variations on those first tricks ever since, all of which contain an "eco-conscious" lesson behind them. Through making an everyday, discarded object appear extraordinary, Trash is able to share his belief that the planet's finite resources shouldn't be discarded without thinking.
"All of the resources we ever use come from one planet," he said. "Not only is it fun to reuse, but it's smart. When I do a trick where I'm turning discarded pieces of paper into money, it's a visual metaphor that reinforces the idea that all resources are inherently valuable."
In his personal life, Trash lives by the tenants he espouses on stage. His "Frog Pad Manor" home in the tiny town of Frog Pond, Ala., is an earth-birmed house, meaning that it is partially buried underground in order to take advantage of the soil's natural insular properties. Nearly every aspect of the home is focused on saving energy through renewable resources, with the heater and air conditioning on stand-by as rarely used supplementary options.
"One side of the home is almost entirely floor to ceiling-length windows to take advantage of the greenhouse effect," Trash said. "The walls are solid concrete to retain the temperature, and the earth around us regulates it all year round. In the winter time, it warms us up naturally, and in the summer, it cools us down."
It may sound like a show that would have an almost unavoidable political edge, but when speaking to students, Trash said he simply allows ecological science to speak for itself. Awareness is his chief concern, not blame.
"There are zero politics in my green magic show because the planet treats conservatives and liberals exactly the same," he said. "It's totally grounded in science. Music is also an integral part, and magic, of course. I'm trying to use a larger than life character to teach a concept."
Trash accomplishes this on stage through the use of deceptively simple props, such as "Ted the Tennis Ball."
"It's just a battered old tennis ball that I found with some googly eyes and a mouth," he said. "But when I stick him under a cloth and he flies around the stage, the kids love him. I even get letters and fan mail addressed to Ted the Tennis Ball. The point is that trash is only trash when you think it is."
This enthusiasm is indicative of Trash's overall optimism when it comes to the effect that eco-education can have on future generations of business leaders. In fact, perhaps unexpectedly, Trash said he's very optimistic for the future and believes we are already witnessing the beginning of a period of greater environmental enlightenment.
"It's a very exciting time to be alive I think, because people are learning about sustainability," he said. "Sustainability divisions are present at all of the biggest retailers now, and it's because the students of the 1980s and 1990s learned some of these lessons. In general, human beings respond well to crises. We are laying the bedrock of understanding now that will teach us how to react when those crises come."
In the end, Trash places his hopes squarely on the children he attempts to educate.
"I'm thankful that you can influence kids in a positive direction with something like magic," he said. "I want the world to be a better place when I'm gone than when I got here."