As a kid I was fascinated by carnivals, circuses but most of all by the Sideshow. Reading about the bizarre acts used to make hair on the back of my neck stand up. It inspired me to learn sword swallowing.
As a magician, there is nothing cooler than doing something that's supposedly impossible and there being no magic trick! No secret for the audience to find out, no gimmick to hide ..nothing! With sword swallowing the magic trick happens in the audience's mind because they assume it to be impossible.
But back to sideshows....
Besides performers with dangerous or unusual talents, the sideshow often became the home for those individuals society was too backward to accept.
A bearded LadyPeople with handicaps,severe medical conditions and genetic abnormalities found a home where they were accepted and welcomed into a unusual new family. In the Sideshow they made a good living and often gained celebrity status.
( Its worth noting that many performers today deliberately modify their body with tattoos, splitting of the tongue and implants etc. to gain the same notoriety).
These "handicapped" performers educated the public, having their undivided attention to deliver whatever message they saw fit about their lives. And through satisfying human curiosity, they forced the public to make the realisation....they were just human beings. A far cry from being stared at across the street!
As an entertainer I have known the fear of stage fright ...it's nature's greatest laxative! Its humbling to think about the bravery it took for these performers to appear on stage for the first time and reveal all.
A giant with his midget partnerUnfortunately with the advent of TV, music halls, working men's clubs and sideshows began to die out.
The thirst for entertainment was satisfied without having to leave the living room. This left vaudeville performers such as Magicians and ventriloquists with a dwindling number of locations to ply their trade. Of course, sideshow performers such as bearded ladies, strong men and midgets suffered the same fate.
But to every cloud there is a silver lining ...
Today, there are still many entertainers practicing cool bizarre sideshow acts.In fact, every year at the www.SPWC.ie in Dublin, festival performers come from every corner of the globe to amaze audiences with the dangerous feats like sword swallowing, human blockhead and knife throwing that were so popular at Sideshows.
(This year the street festival is on 12th - 14th July in Dublin and in Cork on 20th & 21st July. Put the dates in your diary!)
With the recession, has come a need for people to get out of the house and cheer themselves up and as a result variety and burlesque nights are making a come back !
And the history of sideshow performers is being well preserved by cool guys like John Robinson. John has gathered the most extensive collection of sideshow articles , photos and interviews with performers who've travelled the world amazing the multitudes so give yourself a freaky treat and check out www.Sideshowworld.com.
Until next time