Taking things to an extreme is something that I have always enjoyed.

Before heading to university, I spent a year learning basic stunts, jumping out of four-story buildings, and learning how to skydive, all well before YouTube was popular. While spinning through the air is entertaining, as a performer I was going to need to learn much more. I enrolled at the University of Waterloo as my career seemed to have no real path unless it was directed by gravity. 

Joining the Arts program in 1998, I completed an Honours Rhetoric and Professional Writing, Fine Arts Minor, Co-op degree. While not as physically extreme as skydiving, it was a packed degree that covered a variety of disciplines, and thanks to a rather intense schedule, it helped keep the foundation of pushing the limits.

During the 2009 recession, after several years in Bioenergy as an event and policy advisor, I transitioned into my own family entertainment company. As a kid in the 1980s, I still remembered the David Copperfield show that I was fortunate enough to see live in Vegas. With that show still stuck in my mind, and a sudden death in the family acting as a serious kick in the pants, it was time to combine all of it together. Thank goodness for co-operative education. It was like an accelerated experience path, learning from every employer along the way both good and bad.

giant dragon made of balloons featured at maker expo

Kayloth the sea serpent

Drew Ripley Entertainment specializes in whimsical shows and large displays. My company continues to push our skills as far as possible. In 2016 the company built Kayloth, an enormous 38-foot-long sea serpent that also doubled as a water fountain. In 2017, the company made the first two-person balloon puppet that was rideable by a grown adult! And a massive 28-foot-long Baulder the Dragon wandered out of his cave to entertain an audience at MakerExpo.

As an individual artist, I have been fortunate enough to have travelled to many parts of the world to entertain, including Israel and Qatar. Twice I have competed at the World Balloon Convention, being part of a CBC short documentary in 2018. For both trips it was the first Canadian team to attempt to compete at that level.

Girl with balloon dragon wearing a dress made of balloons

Baulder the Dragon

My company has two core goals. One, to provide a whimsy and wonder with every project that allows the viewer to create a special memory with family and friends. And two, the company must leave the world environmentally better than it was.

Having spent almost 20 years in events, the waste that can occur in the event industry is remarkable and totally unacceptable. To counter what I saw over the years, I developed an environmental plan both for myself and the company:

  • Carbon Offsetting – Calculated yearly, and always double the amount used.
  • Use of Carshare – Only use the size of vehicle that fits the job.
  • Balloons – Only from companies that source from certified Rainforest Alliance trees
  • Reuse – Choosing not to use helium, but instead reusable structures
  • No single use plastics for any of our crew.

Balloon arch for Alumni Black and Gold Day

Balloon arch created for Alumni Black and Gold Day 2019

Every balloon from every one of our major projects must be sourced sustainably, starting from a tree, used for a display or a show, and then must finish in our experimental composting process.

Many of the reusable products that allowed me to hit the company’s core goals were made at Kwartzlab, a not-for-profit maker society in the Waterloo region, providing tools, community connections and learning opportunities for makers in our area. Members at Kwartzlab include self-driven learners, long-time enthusiasts, artists, advocates for maker culture and owners of maker-themed businesses.

After three years as a member, I was elected as Chair in 2017 and President in 2018. In the past two years, the Board of Directors and a very dedicated group of volunteers has doubled the community to 6,500 square feet of building space with over 120 members. Makers are a creative bunch, and with the facility many are able to reclaim, repair and rebuild new and exciting projects.

I continue to push through art and by giving back. It is that diversity in knowledge that leads to strength in our projects.

Drew Ripley (BA '04) is a graduate of the Faculty of Arts. He specializes in one-of-a-kind balloon art, décor and entertainment, using his finely tuned balloon skills to create unique balloon shows, costumes and displays.