“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.

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.”

The Lost Circus Sideshow

From midgets, wolfboys and human pin-cushions to Siamese twins, snake charmers and sword swallowers, the circus sideshow isn’t often seen alongside the main attraction any more.

But while the Sideshow element of circuses, carnivals and fairs may have dwindled, the Circus Sideshow, the Freakshow, and the Circus Freaks and Geeks themselves (see my previous post) are aliving and kicking. Continue reading “The Lost Circus Sideshow”