Monday, November 09, 2009

Scenes from the Sideshow Gathering, Day 2

Thanks to the marvels of modern technology, I took nearly six hundred photos at this year's Sideshow Gathering. Many of these were rapid-fire "sports mode" sequences intended to capture fast action in situations where things were moving so quickly I couldn't count on getting a decent shot by conventional means. In all maybe one hundred of the photos are halfway decent, and I'll publish the best few here. (I may dump more of them to Facebook.)

So much happened in the three days of the Gathering that it would be exhausting to try to get it all down. But I'll take a shot at it....

First I must mention the crowd. I believe there were sixty chairs (give or take a few) arranged in three rows. More chairs were constantly being commandeered from various parts of the room, and still for the most part this was a standing-room-only event!

I ran into several people I knew from work. Based on their extensive body art I assumed they were there for the Tattoo Convention part of the show - but no, they were there for the Sideshow Gathering! One of them videotaped much of Day 1. Perhaps I can convince him to post it to YouTube!

I'm doing this a bit out of order. I've already written up much of what I have to say about Day 1 of the Gathering, but apparently I've never posted it to Blogger! I've spent so much time on Day 2, I'll have to cover Day 1 some other time!

Day 2 started off with a bang - or at least a clank, a whine, and a shower of sparks, as the lovely Roxanne of the Crispy Family Carnival took the stage clad in a plate mail bikini and carrying an angle grinder. She proceeded to do a sort of bump-and-grind striptease, as she bumped the grinder wheel up against the various pieces of metal plating protecting her modesty, which dropped away one clanking piece at a time. For those who might suspect this was all a trick, Roxanne demonstrated the real danger of this routine by briefly (and accidentally) touching her back just above her kidneys (you really, really don't want to get injured there) and leaving a brushburn that required medical attention, most likely delivered by one of the many men of science and/or arcane learning lurking in the wings.

More skin was next on the menu, and it was provided in generous portions by the Crispy Family Carnival's resident strongman, Mace, who performed a traditional Dance of the Chippendales.

The merciless leader of the Family, Crispy Knight, then ordered Mace to earn the Family's gas money back to Oklahoma. Fiendish sideshow fans lined up for the opportunity to staple filthy, MRSA-laden currency to Mace's delicate flesh. (Crispy did this routine himself last year, but apparently his doctor has ordered him to cut back on staples.) One customer only had a five dollar bill, and asked Mace if he could make change.

The Swami Yomahmi took the stage for some delightfully educational entertainment. Here, in a bit he freely attributes to Todd Robbins, he demonstrates how balloon animals are made.

Next up was the always charming and delightful Dr. Wilson, winner of this year's Candlelight Award (which honors young performers that are keeping the circus and sideshow dreams alive in the present day) to pitch his Memory Elixir ("a wholesome blend of natural extracts of thirty different herbs and root vegetables that promotes and revitalizes the capacity for learning and memory, strengthens the nerves, and effectively wards off cataleptic neuroplexy.") I purchased a bottle and consumed it before beginning this post, to help renew the memories of the Gathering!

The Guest of Honor for this year's Gathering was Dick Johnson, who regaled the attendees of that night's Sideshow Auction with background stories on many of the objects up for auction and the people who once wore or used them. Here he "leather lungs it", addressing the gathered crowd without the aid of a microphone, before going into a series of magic tricks expertly performed with the simplest of props - and a borrowed pair of scissors.

I have read about Harley Newman, but didn't recognize him until he pulled out his four-spike bed of nails. After just a few moments of conversation in the parking lot on Day 3, I came to the conclusion that he is one of the nicest people I have ever met anywhere!

John Shaw is a magician who also ran the Headless Horseman Hayride in Ulster Park, New York for the Halloween season. He alone was onstage (or just off-stage) for every act each of the three days, since he was also tasked with being the sound man for every act, and doing on-the-fly microphone and radio transmitter/receiver repairs as needed. John did a Day 2 performance which was, remarkably, almost note-for-note and beat-for-beat identical to his performance on Day 1 - the only major difference being the volunteers he recruited from the audience. His Day 2 eye torture assistant was less squeamish than the one he had on Day 1, so there was less chance that she might vomit all over the stage (which, as John pointed out, would have been the coolest. thing. ever.)

Day 2 Part 1 ended with something very special - a Mass Blockhead Event. The "Blockhead", in which a foreign object like, say, a nail is inserted into the nose so it appears to be penetrating the skull, is one of the first tricks any sideshow performer learns, and is so simple that it could be taught to members of the audience in a few minutes. Several members of the audience joined the professionals onstage for a simultaneous insertion of nails, screwdrivers, icepicks, spoons, forks, the earpiece to a pair of glasses, a switchblade, a pair of scissors - twenty objects inserted into twenty noses all at the same time. Live on stage!

There then followed a brief intermission. the end of which, the Amazing Blazing Tyler Fyre and Thrill Kill Jill as the Lucky Daredevil Thrillshow took the stage! Showing that he is so much more than a slick-talking Master of Ceremonies, here Tyler Fyre demonstrates the single most dangerous act in the Sideshow: sword swallowing! No trick here, no roll-up fake blade or a blade that collapses into the handle - just cold steel down the throat and into the stomach.

Then on to another classic act involving deadly edged weapons: knife throwing! Here Tyler rains cold steel all around Jill's lovely body...

...and Jill returns the favor. Note the position of the knife in the shield/target Tyler is holding. Had it continued along its trajectory, Tyler might have been doing future pitches in a much higher voice!

The next part of the act: snake charming! Or snake handling. Big snakes. Big, beautiful, snakes. Two of them!

A little late for Halloween, but Tyler decided to carve a pumpkin. With a chainsaw. On Jill's stomach. Once again, Walt Hudson is right in the splatter zone, getting sprayed with pumpkin innards - and worse, if Tyler somehow screws this up!

As a finale, Tyler smashes a cinder block with a sledgehammer - again, on Jill's stomach! And this time, Walt has to dodge flying bits of cinder block! Sometimes, the best seat in the house isn't such a good deal!

And that was the end of the Sideshow Acts for Day 2. But the night wasn't officially over yet - there was still the Sideshow Auction to go. Many remarkable and historic items went up for auction, some snatched up by collectors, others claimed by sideshow performers themselves, many of whom had donated other items to the auction. Some items went for a song, and in some cases the bidding was furiously intense. The high bid of the night was for an object donated by a living legend who was present in the room - a whiskey decanter filled with piercing needles used by Zamora the Torture King!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Todd Robbins worked one of my local magic conventions. He is quite the performer. His best effect was blowing up and exploding a hot water bottle. He made sure we knew that if he screwed up, he would probably die from the amount of air quickly entering his body.