The Thrill You Get When They Canít
Believe Their Eyes
by Liana Kerzner
Hi, my name is Liana, and I
manage a sideshow.
Those words, reminiscent of an AA greeting, have come out
of my mouth numerous times, because of my
association with Carnival Diablo: ďCanadaís Premiere
Travelling Circus SideshowĒ. Iím always a little awkward
when I say them, because the idea of managing a sideshow
is ridiculous to me. Sideshows donít have managers. They
have Patches. They have Talkers. ďManagerĒ is just too
mainstream a word.
But if I said ďPatchĒ, people wouldnít understand what I
was talking about. And Iím not a Patch. I donít bribe
local authorities. Instead I bribe local media. I
suppose Iím more like a director of marketing, but that
sounds obscenely corporate, as does ďinvestorĒ and
ďsponsorĒ; so ďmanagerĒ is my title for now.
The most ridiculous thing is
that I donít ďmanageĒ a damned thing. Managing a Sideshow
is like trying to herd cats. Iím not a Freak or a Marvel,
so, in the established hierarchy of Sideshow, I really
donít have the right to insist on any show detail or
career direction. All I can do is make suggestions, and
only 30% of those are followed. Even though Iíve
officially been with the Sideshow for seven months -- and
Iíve been around unofficially for years -- as of Christmas
I was still being referred to as a First of May. Iíve
invested over $21,000 of my own money in attractions, but,
since I donít have a traditional role, Iím still only half
ĎWith Ití. Still a First of May.
Some manager I am.
To add another layer of
silliness, I manage the show as a side project. My Ďday
jobí is in television. Iím the co-host of an
internationally syndicated late-night show which wins its
timeslot here in Canada. In the pecking order of
mainstream media, Iím up there, but with the Sideshow, I
have to defer to people who barely register on the
television radar. Not that Iím complaining, mind you: I
think the mainstream system sucks.
I just recognize the absurdity of it all. Sideshow is
going through a slow and painful metamorphosis right now,
and no one knows what parts of the old time shows are
going to remain and what parts are going to be abandoned
for the sake of survival, so weíre doing what we can to
save as much as we can. Iíd love to do a traditional tent
show Ten-In-One. I really would. But we tried to do a
grind show this summer and the
performers were almost fainting from the heat. In a
country like Canada, which is a climate of extremes,
Sideshow has to move indoors. No one is going to pay to
watch a fire show in the middle of July in a swelteringly
hot tent. They will, however, come to see a show in a
building, just for the air-conditioning.
But with the move indoors
comes insurance and fees and numerous other stumbling
blocks. Many venues wonít let you do fire acts, because
their insurance doesnít cover it. Some municipalities
have banned exotic animals, so the snake charmer act is
out. So two of the biggest traditional Bally draws are
out. We have to find new ways to draw a Tip.
And audiences overall have
just become more timid. Theyíre so used to the safe, fake
thrills of blockbuster movies that they donít know how to
handle the real thing: the sword swallower, the impaler. .
. any of the fakir feats are dismissed as trickery of some
kind. Yes, there is an element of trickery to every
Sideshow feat. If there wasnít a Ďtrickí to it, everyone
could do it. But sometimes the gaffe is as unpleasant as
the impossibility itís aping, and sometimes its not so
much a Ďtrickí as technique. Just as the arcane knowledge
of the Masons was likely just geometry and architecture,
the know-how of the Sideshow is how to make the impossible
And that, I think, is the basic principle that makes
Sideshow what it is, and is the thing that will endure
even as the details evolve. Thatís the magic: that thrill
people get when they canít believe their eyes. Even when
theyíre insisting that itís fake, part of them believes,
and they canít handle that all at once. That will live
Even in the mess of tacky,
modern touches like managers. Gah.
Fortunately, this little oddities show Iím with seems to
have some teeth. Carnival Diablo is entering its
thirteenth year of touring, and it seems to have found a
niche in both the college and carnival circuits.
Following modern business practices of diversified
holdings and branding, the show seems to be building
strength, and after thirteen years with no major changes
to the product, thatís pretty amazing. When promoters
have the guts to put on the show, audiences get it. Itís
getting them out thatís the biggest challenge. There are
still those that want to experience a world outside of
their televisions. The internet has actually helped a
lot, which is a strange but wonderful mix of old and new.
And some day, there will be a proper name for people like
me, because there will be more people like me. Hopefully
itís a name that doesnít make me feel quite so silly.
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