Monday, November 21, 2011

The Sideshow Gathering 2011, Day 3

The third and final day of the 2011 Sideshow Gathering was Sunday, November 6. The atmosphere seemed slightly different when I got there. With Franco gone, uncertainty had loomed over the 2011 Gathering right up until its opening. Now, were we present for the last day of the last Gathering, ever?

One of the local newspapers had run an article on the Gathering that morning, and despite some factual inaccuracies it still caused some excitement - to the point that every copy quickly sold out in the hotel. The TV on a stand with a DVD player told us that this day would be opening differently from the other two, and it did. Cris Siqueria, our exotic visitor from a faraway land (well, Brazil), showed a video she had compiled of her time spent this Summer with Jim Zajicek's Big Circus Sideshow.

After Cris's presentation was done, Tyler Fyre took the stage to open the day's festivities with an award - the Lifetime Achievement Award, presented to living legend Harley Newman. Harley is...well, simply amazing. He embodies the finest traditions of performers from the sideshow and beyond, but at the same time he rejects the hackneyed clichés and tropes that have become ingrained into many of the things that are seen as tradition. He is a former clown who brings a level of seriousness and intensity to everything that he does. And he is a teacher who is on a lifelong quest to learn. He has served to inspire many others at the Gathering to go beyond the things they are comfortable with, to embrace new challenges and experiment with new routines and presentations.

Harley Newman reflects on the Lifetime Achievement Award, presented to him by a man dressed like a pimp on his way to a funeral.

Next up was The Magic of Steve Hyde and Melanie. Melanie made a special trip in to the area to be able to perform with Steve at the Gathering once again, as they have for many years. Steve wowed the audience with stage magic and mentalist acts, routines that are as much a part of the historic traditions of Sideshow as sword swallowing and glass walking.

The Candlelight Award from the Circus Historical Society was presented this year to the Cheeky Monkey Sideshow, for keeping the best traditions of Sideshow alive.

Tyler Fyre, dressed as a pimp going to a funeral, presents the Candlelight Award to the Cheeky Monkey Sideshow, here wearing their civilian costumes.  Thrill Kill Jill and little Hank Lightning guard the rear.

Harley Newman returned to the stage to perform some routines. Here he finds himself all tied up by a couple that claims to have no prior knowledge of rope play.

After Harley's act it was time for another award: the Act of the Year. Presented for only the second time ever, it was awarded to Keith Nelson of the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, whose incredible energy and exuberance during his bowl spinning / Kendama blockhead attempt had the entire audience on the edge of their seats. (To see Keith complete the Kendama blockhead, see here.)

Keith made an observation that got to the heart of what the Sideshow Gathering is all about: You want to bring your "A" Game to the Gathering, but in the back of your head you're reluctant to, because you know that the next year, everyone else will also bring your "A" Game! But that's what is so great about the Gathering: different groups from all over the country see what other groups are doing. And they learn and grow, maybe copying this routine here, this bit of patter there, introducing new routines and improving old ones. The Gathering is a fantastic opportunity to learn and to teach, and like Harley Newman, Keith Nelson is a fantastic teacher. If anyone comes to the Gathering next year having absorbed and incorporated some of his energy and exuberance into their routines, everyone will be in a better place as a result.

Next up it was time for Kellan, a performer I had never seen before but who was well-known to many of the other sideshow performers from his behind-the-scenes work. Here he hangs a cinder block by chains connected by carabiners to holes in the lobes of his ears, a cinder block which Alex Doll is about to smash with a sledgehammer while it dangles over his groin.

Kids, feel free to try this at home. Really.

The Doppelganger Circus Sideshow from Detroit took the stage for the second time next. Doc Tor Arcana and Rachel Rampage ran through a different set of routines than they had on Friday night, including the classic "Metamorphosis" routine (apparently a first for the Sideshow Gathering) and another weight-hanging-from-earlobes bit (Rachel with a bowling ball.)

Then it was time for the final act of the weekend, a duo who had never before performed at the Sideshow Gathering, and were performing for the first and only time that weekend. The Scarborough Sideshow was loud, exuberant, over-the-top, and...well, they took every routine right up to the limits of good taste, and the kept right on going. Even things that wouldn't possibly be considered sideshow acts.

Like, say, a Neti Pot drinking fountain...

The Scarborough Sideshow brought down the house, almost literally. Tyler gave his closing remarks amongst the wreckage and rubble on the stage. He expressed gratitude to Franco, hope for the future, and bestowed a touching and beautiful Sideshow Blessing for the coming year.

"The Von Trap Family would say
Farewell, Au Dieu, Auf Wiedersein, Goodbye.
We sideshow folk say,
May you have Sunny Days, Short Jumps, Straw Houses, and Soft Grass. See You Down The Road."*

And that was that. No one was in a hurry to leave. Wet eyes were everywhere, as people made their goodbyes, packed up their stuff, or got ready to break down the room. Uncertainty lingered in the air.

So it was with great excitement that I read this message a few days later from Kim, Franco's widow and now the organizer for Inkin' the Valley and the Sideshow Gathering:

It's Official!! The Inkin' the Valley Tattoo Convention and SideShow Gathering will go on again in 2012!! The Ballroom in The Woodlands Inn & Resort is on reserve. We sincerely want to thank everyone involved and want everyone to know how much appreciated you all are. We look forward to next year and hope to have just as much fun and more. We love you all wish to see everyone again in 2012!!
...and then this:
It's even MORE OFFICIAL! The Inkin' the Valley Tattoo Convnetion & SideShow Gathering will be held on the 2nd, 3rd, & 4th of November 2012!! Mark your calendars and clear your schedules we will be back and even bigger in 2012!
So, there we are. The Sideshow Gathering will be back!

*Added 12/16/2011, courtesy of Tyler Fyre.

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