Denise Neil

Wichita balloons have starring role in TLC show

Wichita's collective ego is likely to inflate when a new TLC reality series debuts next week. The city is home to Pioneer Balloon Co., which will provide all of the balloons for "The Unpoppables," an "Ace of Cakes"-esque show that begins Feb. 7.

The show follows three "twisters," which is balloon lingo for artists who make fantastical creations out of twistable balloons.

In Wichita, we call them clowns, and they entertain our kids at farmers markets. But in some cities, twisters are top-rate entertainers with the skill to create everything from furniture to life-sized caricatures using long, skinny balloons.

"The Unpoppables" is a six-part series that follows Addi Somekh, Katie Laibstain and Brian Asman, the artists who make up a company called New Balloon Art.

The trio is known for its ability to create dramatic balloon decor, balloon fashion, balloon people and amazing balloon hats.

The show follows them as they're hired to make large-scale balloon sculptures for various events, and viewers get to see the creative process from brainstorming to crafting to installation.

In one episode, the artists create a life-size fire truck for a firefighter museum. In another, they design a balloon wedding, complete with balloon dress, balloon altar and a giant balloon cake. An average installation uses 15,000 balloons.

The show uses Qualatex balloons, which are manufactured by Pioneer, a company that has its corporate offices in Wichita and has a large warehouse in El Dorado, from which it ships balloons all over the world.

Julie Conner is the entertainer support manager for the company, which means that she works with balloon artists, organizes balloon art conventions and edits a magazine called Balloon Magic.

Conner is friends with the three artists on the show and also is married to local magician/twister Chris Conner, who puts his skills on display at parties, corporate events and at venues such as the Wichita Public Library.

Her excitement over the show is inflated partly because of her job, she said, but also because she's passionate about twisters, a surprisingly large community.

"I don't think the producers really realize the impact they could have on the balloon industry," Julie Conner said. "Even just in this community, Chris twists for different things and when people see what he can do, they're blown away because they've never seen anything like it."

Now you know

'The Unpoppables'

What: A reality show about balloon artists featuring balloons from Wichita-based Pioneer Balloon Co.

Where: Airing on TLC, cable Channel 43, starting at 7 p.m. Feb. 7