Documentary focuses on abandoned amusement park

Performers explore a world of rotting roller coasters and crumbling carousels in ‘Trespass’

By Joy Hirdes

Special to The Advocate

Photo provided by Tonya Armbruster -- The documentary 'Trespass' showcases a circus troupe among the relics of abandoned Jazzland in eastern New Orleans.
Photo provided by Tonya Armbruster -- The documentary 'Trespass' showcases a circus troupe among the relics of abandoned Jazzland in eastern New Orleans.

They were guilty of trespassing, handed a summons by police and told to leave. But they had no intention of committing any offense.

Members of a troupe of circus artists — hand balancers, a contortionist, a fire breather — simply wanted to shoot photos showcasing their talents inside what’s left of Six Flags New Orleans, the former Jazzland Theme Park, in east New Orleans.

“We want people to get a better understanding of why we do what we do,” said Lorelei Ashe, an aerialist. “We were facing our fears in an abandoned park.”

It has been tough for the multitalented group of artists to watch the amusement park die.

The grand park, once featuring rides such as the Mega Zeph, Ozarka Splash and The Big Easy, has been shuttered since Hurricane Katrina floodwaters overwhelmed the place in August 2005.

Last year, city officials gave the green light to investors to turn the land into an upscale outlet mall with adjacent amusement park, but nothing has developed since.

So one day, the artsy troupe decided to make its way in, during the day, when the light was ripe for picture taking.

“It’s all opened and abandoned, and we actually made it nicer,” Ashe said. “There was trash everywhere; we actually cleaned up a lot.”

“It’s all graffiti and run down, definitely dilapidated and trashed,” she added. “You can tell kids have been drinking in there, making out in there, having a party in there.

“Thank God, none of us were arrested.”

The group of eight friends took several reconnaisance trips to Jazzland to scout locations for the shoot. Each time, the gates were open, and the artists simply drove in, Armbruster said.

On the final day, several of the participants were discovered by police and issued citations for trespassing. The citations later were waived.

Other than that, “we only encountered others once: a couple that were exploring the park, taking pictures,” Armbruster said.

There was a theater just inside the park gates. “I never knew it existed when the park was open, but we just loved the Steampunk-ish vibe of the stage,” Armbruster said.

“Trespass” — an art opening, documentary screening and live performance — takes place Saturday at the St. Joe Lofts in the Warehouse District.

The public is invited and admission is free. There will be live music and carnival snacks.

“We are all dedicated to doing more art in New Orleans and having that change New Orleans for the better,” Ashe said.

Other performers in the production are Sam Bourgeois, Ginger Schweikart, Aaron Lind, Leah Kahn and Brett Oncale.

Todd Whittington is filmmaker and Armbruster is photographer and producer.

For more information, call (504) 256-5678.