What Sideshow Is Not . . .


Sideshow is not:

1. “Jackass” in any way shape or form.  Just because you are a fan of the show or the movies does not make you an expert in the centuries old arts of Circus Sideshow, the Bally Stage, the Old Ten in One, or simply stapling your ball sack to the side of your leg (reference on the last one, see: “Jackass”)

2. Magic.  Magic is trickery, sleight of hand or “gaffing”.  Sideshow is real, real nails, real glass, real fire, real danger.  In the words of a great Sideshow artist, George the Giant, “Magic tries to make you believe that it’s real; Sideshow makes you wish to hell that it wasn’t.”

3. A Party Trick.  It is a “Stunt;” because of the fact that Sideshow is real it takes a lot of training and discipline combined with proper technique and skill level to not get hurt.  Half of what we do during any given performance can quite possibly kill us several different ways if we do not perform the stunt properly.

4. For Children.  Due to the fact that Circus Sideshow is real, dangerous and life-threatening, it may not be the kind of entertainment you would want to bring your child to.  Though that being said we have performed to the delight and extreme delicious horror for older children in the past.  Some kids are just built for it I guess and we will probably be seeing them on stage in the future – who knows?

5. For Women.  Women are far to delicate for this sort of thing and really we don’t want to mar their pretty faces.  I’m sure they would jus faint and pass out at just the idea of the stunts let alone performing them, and . . . and . . .  ——- I’m sorry I just can’t say this with a straight face and without laughing.  Who are we kidding?  I work with the most rockin’ group of Ladies that do things that make the burliest me squeele.  Lol! (www.sideshowsirens.com)

“Freaks” and Geeks

If you have not already been privy to the movie “Freaks” you have seriously missed out.  In 1932 Tod Browning brought together a group of natural and self-made freaks to create the largest sideshow ever to exist real or fictional.  These wonderful people had the opportunity to show themselves and their skills off in a way and to a wide an audience that was previously inconceivable.  Tod Browning’s intention was to take down the veil of the creature from these performers and show their more humanistic sides, their loves, their sadnesses, their everyday lives.  Though the ending does takes away from that intention, in real life the people portraying the freaks earned a certain level of fame in their lifetime.  The Hilton Sisters were most famous conjoined twins due to the movie, their musical skills and certain publicity stunts. Schlitze the Pinhead while always beloved, was never forgotten by his fans. Johnny Eck could arguably be the most famous of his time due to him having no lower torso or legs. With an identical twin brother who was born in complete form they made a successful career on the stage with acts like sawing a man in half (well you can just imagine).

But these smartypants weren’t just pretty faces.  Oh no.  The Hilton Sisters played the piano in tandem and sang like nightingales. The diminutive Daisey Earles was a professional actress as was her brother Harry an actor.  There were fire-eaters and knife-throwers among them.   Even the infamous “Bird Girl” Elizabeth Green knew how use showmanship to her advantage.

The movie is categorized as Drama/Horror; but while there is intrigue and drama and action at the end I supposed in the 30’s it would be seen as a horror.  Nowadays the only horror I would see is in not accepting this movie and these people as – and yes I’m gonna say it – “one of us.”

Tod Browning w/ some of the cast.

Circus Sideshow “Geek”

GEEK: \’gēk\, noun
From the low German geck, meaning “fool” (1914).
1: A carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off of a live chicken or snake.
2: A person often of an intellectual bent who is disliked.
3: An enthusiast or expert especially in a technological field or activity (computer geek).
— geek•dome, noun
— geek•i•ness, noun
— geeky, adjective
— geek, verb

Merriam Webster On-Line

I am actually considered a geek because I eat, or geek, fire. Any time we eat random items nowadays (lightbulbs, bugs, etc.) it is considered geeking. Though originally this term was reserved for biting (geeking) the heads off of chickens with great show, usually dressed is white.

Shiny, Dangerous, New Toys

I got new toys Thursday. Shiny new toys. Sharp, dangerous, shiny, new toys. And I’m so giddy I may throw up 🙂

I bought the swords I need for my Ladder of Blades act. I’m building the ladder from scratch. I like this idea because in the process of building it not only will I learn a lot, about the blades and the construct of the ladder, but I will gain a stronger connection to my gear. I’m hoping it’ll end up feeling like an extension of myself. This is really important because I’m stepping it up with this act, it’ll officially be the most dangerous act we do. Let me reprise a part of an earlier blog where I mentioned injuries I normally only associate with shark attacks. And then Thursday I was additionally cautioned against loosing my acheles tendon. So this is where I say “Don’t Try This At Home,” there is no please about it. As if filleting my calf wasn’t caution enough, or repeatedly cutting my feet; but for some reason I am still gung-ho about this act. Thank you Mom for the ballet lessons, they are about to come in very handy. I need to work out, build my muscle strength up so I don’t wibble wobble. My center of balance has to be true. I can’t make a mistake. Which is why I was insistent about spending my own money to build the ladder so it would be mine, so I could connect with it. Any blood will be my own. Slightly grotesque, maybe, I prefer to think of it more as ritualistic. Like tearing down and rebuilding your first motorcycle engine.

First thing I did was to go to someone who knew what the hell they were talking about, our trusted Mike Todd. Sideshow, sword-swallower, weapons-master extraordinaire, he has even defied death in the name of Circus Sideshow. A wealth of facts and a library of history, he takes our art with an air of respect and glee. Needless to say I trust him. So I called him up, 6 months ago, just to get info and the specs of the ladder, what I would need and the like. He took the time to expand on the info and give me more information I would need, cautions, etc. He even went so far as to say that when I was ready he would go with me to help pick out the blades. Disco! Because you know I don’t know what I’m doing with it comes to swords you step on. Besides, I’m a knife girl, short blades I understand, but long blades escape me.

Thank you Dad! He’s the one who insisted on giving me an American Express gift card for my X-mas present. He said that if he gave me cash it wouldn’t feel like a present and besides I’d just spend it on bills anyway. Dang you Father and your generosity! (shaking fist in the air) What am I going to do with a gift card? Bing! My dad totally solved a problem for me, because all those blades were not going to come cheap and I had been saving up – sorta. I called up Mike and he was a bright ray of sunshine on the phone, I nearly fell off my chair. Hey I live in LA, no one is that happy on the telephone here, we think you want something. But it’s Mike, so I was okay. We went last night to a couple of shops, turns out military supply shops are a good place to start, but apparently they had a run on their machetes – which makes me concerned on a few levels – so we went to the mall. You know those Oriental stores in the mall full of things you can get in Little Tokyo for cheaper? Well as it turns out in the back there’s weaponry, who knew? Oh what a plethora of swords, knives, axes, and blades they had; but I had criteria to stick to. The blades had to be of stainless or carbon-steel, preferably shiny and wide because it reads better from stage. Some blades are harder to walk on than others while they might seem easier to the audience, and other turns of thought. But no matter what it’s still a blade that can cripple me, there’s no faking it, so no matter how giddy I was I had to take this seriously. Fake or cast metal ran the chance of breaking under my weight and that’s when I lose a body part. I took a few deep breaths while I was there. I was nervous no matter what.

But I found four beautiful blades, I want one more. I think an odd number is more pleasing to the eye. I am happy. I picked out four different shapes and looks to go with an aspect in the show we are working on. Since the ladder itself is being custom-made this is not as big an issue as we can design the recesses in the ladder to match the blades to make them as level as possible. I’m going to help with the design and the building so that I know my ladder that much better. The way I figure it, the better I know it the better off I will be. But for now I’m enjoying being giddy over my new swords. The simitar is awesome, I finally have a pirate sword, one is super ornate – which I think is good for stage, and one is a down and dirty machete – though it may need to be prettied up just a bit. You gotta just love new toys!

Holding Friends Hostage Proves Useful


Oh, it proves ever so useful. Just strap them down. I prefer to use straightjackets, double reinforced cotton duck. Or if you find yourself without, and following a theme (I love themes) use duct tape. In this case tape them to their chairs. I am also fond of packaging twine. Thin yet strong these little wonders are very deceptive. Bonus – got some old dentist chairs lying around? They allow you to strap their heads back so they’re always facing towards your stage. They won’t be going anywhere. Now you have yourself a captive audience. If you feed them and promise to release them unharmed they also might provide you with some (honest?) feedback.

Ladies and Gentlemen, enjoy the show!

This gives you a chance to improve, to work out an idea you’ve had, to stretch out something to an extreme to see if it works. It’s like a mini workshop. You want to try out a new character you been batting around your head for a month, whip it out. Want to see if that extra flip or stunt will fly or flop with the audience, let ‘er rip. How about that secret new act you’ve honed on your own, shine baby shine!

Performing in front of your friends isn’t just a great workshop it’s also great chance for simple practice in front of an audience. Cirque and Sideshow performing is still performing and some still have stage fright. Wonderful point here is that with your bondaged audience members they really are captive and they aren’t going anywhere, so you have no fear of someone getting up and leaving for any reason. Potty breaks are just going to have to wait. You can relax, breathe. Take an extra moment and then start. Adrenalin will be pumping and half working against you in this respect, so just breathe.

Friends are wonderful, so giving, so accommodating, so selfless in giving up their time without hardly having to be asked. Their gift to you is your extra preparation and workout with your art, act, and self. *Just allow an hour of lead time to catch and tie down said friends.

(*this blog is assuming an audience of 5-10 friends, depending on how fast they all are)

Oh, This Old Thing?

I am amazed, in awe, truly dumbfounded that anything we do could possibly become old hat; but sometimes to us it does. I have to wonder if my fellow acrobats go through this as well? Let me explain.

Sideshow by definition is based on the different, the oogie, and the thing that gets a visceral reaction out of people. A common pitfall in performing these stunts is that we become used to doing them, compare it to a long run of a theatre production if you like but on a longer scale. We get so used to the stunt we start to become numb to that which makes it special. What may be even tinged with a little sadness is we forget what it was like the first time we did the stunt, all those emotions rolled up into a tight little ball inside us. I dare say we may even become just a tiny bit jaded in this amnesia.

I recently had the luxury of watching my troupe’s latest round of trainees, whome I’ve termed our ‘Debutants’, train in fire eating – my specialty. Now I would hope I have not become jaded in the least with my love, but you never know. I just so happened to catch them on the night, after all the nights of lecturing and safety rules and prep, that they were going to put fire to torch and do their first eat. I was giddy.

I was amazed and in awe. I couldn’t take my eyes of off them, it was rivetted. It was as if I was seeing fire eating again for the first time, so raw. They were fighting with themselves. Well, actually to be more precise they were fighting with the human ingrained fear of fire hard-wired into the amegdala – it resides at the center of the brain and is the oldest and one of the first parts of our brains to evolve. It’s like stepping in the ring with Ali him-own-self. Believe me the first time you eat fire that torch looks for all the world like a flaming meteor coming towards your face. Every fiber in your being is screaming at you, “DO NOT DO THIS.” But we have a great coach, our Yoda, and we trust him enough to think for us in this moment – if need be – as our own thinking might be overwrought by the all too human fear of fire. These Debutants fought with themselves, which is a unique sight to see. A one-handed fight, torch in hand the other hand on hip; bicep, trice and carpi all in dynamic tension not knowing if it’s coming or going. She is trying to lower the flaming torch into her mouth and her amegdala is trying to save her from herself. Some balk and don’t finish the eat without shame. It is a difficult struggle undoing milliniai of genetic programming; but those who do succeed are forever changed. Those who conquer their ingrained fear of fire and finish an eat, even if they never eat another torch in their life, come away from the experience a different person. For at the very least, whether they know it or not, if they can do that they can do anything.

My eyes are wide, and my jaw is dropped, there’s a chance I might be drooling I’ve been frozen in this position for so long. But that is how drawn in I am by what my girls are going through. Their experience is captivating, so literal. I remember my first eat, the nervousness, the sweat, my flinch, the elation after the eat. I was Wonder Woman and I felt so free.

I don’t ever want to forget what that feels like, the fear, the fight and the triumph. Teaching and watching the lessons is a wonderful way to remember and keep the old feelings fresh. Even something as simple as remembering what the stunt looks like to the lay man helps. In glass walking I kid about “make the noise, we live for the noise” from the audience. But it’s also about the noise of each pop and crack of the glass that is singular and unique to the audience like their gasps are to us. So if they aren’t making the noise we’ll pick and pop through the glass until they do, and then we smile 🙂

Grotesque Like Me

Elly del Sarto; from a c. 1910 postcard.
Image via Wikipedia

I was well over two years into sideshow before it even occurred to me that a woman performing circus sideshow stunts might be viewed as “grotesque.” I don’t think of these things, the weird, the freaky, the odd. I see something I’d like to do and I do it. Not until much later does it enter my mind that any of it might veer a little to the left of the norm. But then I guess that’s what sideshow specifically chooses for, doesn’t it?

My troupe is made up of a lot of very beautiful women, most of whom you would never think did this sort of thing, the oddity, the absurd. We even have one Lady who would pass for a Disney princess. Really, I swear! And we all have had this talk a bunch of times that we’ve never felt quite a part of normal society. Oh sure, we can pass with the best of them; Beverly Hill events, high intellect societies, professional businesses and the like, the whole kit and kaboodal. But none of us ever really felt like we fit — I’d like to think of it as a really long run of junior high. And then the clouds parted and the universe gave us SIDESHOW! and we found a home and a family with each other. Strange, no? In reality not so much. In truth, I would think this story is much more familiar to everyone than we all would think. It’s just that in those who are a little “left of center” it is more apparent. If we listen to each other we begin to understand that not only did we probably have that outside time when we were younger, but we still have something now that may make us feel like we are not a part of the collective. Sometimes it can be so much so that we might very well feel like we have a glowing incandescent sign with a big red arrow pointing at us screaming “one of these things is not like the others, one of these things is just not the same!” Or is it just me?

My Ladies and I get up on stage with our Yoda each night we perform our mind bending stunts of outrageous human feats revelling in this strangeness. We long to hear those noises of gasps and eeks and inhales – Make the noise, we live for the noise. In the process of being the freak working acts we have concered our most primitive fears of fire, creepy crawlies and pain, and we offer it up to you. At the same time we stand virtually naked in front of our audience in all of our grotesque and freakish glory and unarm you of your own insecurities – if only for a moment – without you even knowing it. And we ask you to be “one of us.”

Don’t Try This At Home . . . For A Reason

“And the risks are what?”

Ok, so technically I’m not supposed to say that out loud.  I’m in sideshow.  I risk my safety, and sometimes my life,  for your entertainment.  But here I am about to learn a new stunt and we’re going over the details, and it just pops out of my mouth.  Oh, my new stunt?  It’s the Ladder of Blades.

I’m giddy 🙂

But first I have to build the thing, and my coaches have this very wax-on-wax-off philosophy about teaching.  It’s like this TV show I saw once where this kid wants to learn to ride a motorcycle but first his dad makes him take apart and rebuild the engine first.  So I’ll need wood, nails, and – oh yeah – 4 to 8 sharp blades.  Hehehehehe.  So, I’m writing down all the specs for the build and some notes on the stunt itself, and then he gets to the part about the hurting.

Course I knew this.  I mean come on, it’s a LADDER OF BLADES.  My feet are good and we can all thank my parents for the ballet lessons so my balance is fine, so I’m not too worried about slicing my feet open.  Sure sure, he says, but if I slip – and here it comes – I run the risk of taking a CHUNK out of my CALF.

Ok, let’s take a moment a give the public service announcement and say, Please for the love of all that is good -> Do Not Try This At Home.  Thank you.

Now back to you regularly scheduled blog.  Now normally I associate a chunk of missing calf with a shark attack.  Then again I eat fire, so this isn’t stopping me; I’m hand picking my blades this week.  But still it gives even the most hardened sideshow freak pause, and I’m thinking frankly it should.  Cause the day I stop worrying about the dangers I should probably hang up my top hat, for I shall be on a short time line to a mortal accident.  (Yeash.  Ok I’m starting to understand why my family looks at me funny now.  Ah well.)

So for now I’m thinking that I’m going to build one very sturdy ladder and get back into dance class, ’cause I am way too pretty to have asymetrical legs.

Welcome to MeghanLand

Good morning, and it is technically still morning for another 18 minutes here in sunny Los Angeles, CA.  Greetings and salutations to you all, I am Meghan.  Excuse me, let me try that again so that you can hear me better.  Ahem, ahem, cough <<clearing of throught>>  *HACK* …

STEP RIGHT UP! Step right up, that’s right Ladies and Gentlemen, right this way.  Why right behind this curtain I have sights your eyes have never seen before, sounds your ears have never heard before, feelings your tender young heart Miss have never even dreamed before.  Sir, yes Sir, you Sir. Have you Sir ever hear of the Tahitian Mirmaid? NO?! How about Zip the Pinhead?  Come now surely you know about The Hilton Sisters? Yes, the most beautiful Siamese Twins in all the world?  Well right inside this very tent is waiting for you the Human Pin Cushion, a woman who feels no pain, the Fire Eater, a man who is impervious to the flame.  But please do not go in there if you have a heart condition for I fear The Gauvage will seperate you from your senses . . .

And so the “Talker” would go on building the tip and turning them into the tent for the next show.  Welcome to my world, the world of the Circus Sideshow.  I perform with a troupe of amazingly talented and lovely women, all a little to the left of center, named The Ladies Society for the Subversive Arts and we perform a show called The Sideshow Sirens.  I am  Serenity in the show, and I play with fire in all its glorious forms.

Welcome to MeghanLand.