I call it,

 

 "THE SIDESHOW!"


What's the difference???


You decide for yourself!

 

by Todd Robbins

 

Sideshow has always been adapting and evolving. In America it started in the dime museums, in amusement halls and in the backroom of taverns. It jumped to circuses and later found a home in carnivals and amusement parks and areas.

 

Somewhere in the early part of the 20th century the American sideshow became iconic, and this lasts to this day. If you say the word “sideshow” to people it conjures up images in their mind of what it is, even though most people under the age of 40 have never seen a sideshow live on a midway.

And the reason they haven’t seen a live show is because the sideshow has all but become extinct in its natural habitat. Circuses, with a few short lived exceptions, stopped carrying a full sideshow in the 1990s. Amusement parks no longer feature a sideshow the way Riverview in Chicago and the Pike in California did. And it’s hard for a sideshow to find space on the carnival midway these days.

 

So, many performers that have a repertoire of skills that were once featured in the sideshows of long ago (or skills inspired by this performance esthetic) have found new venues to play. They play clubs or theaters and have often framed their performance using design elements that either completely embrace the iconic look and feel of the sideshows of the past, or infuse this with elements inspired by various styles of rock & roll, steampunk and the comic book/horror genre.

 

And this leaves us with a lot of bickering. There are some that will cling to the specious argument that the only real sideshow is to be found in a tent on a midway. The carnival sideshow is to show business what Detroit is to American cities. It has seen better days. The current state of the industry is that showmen struggle to keep their shows out on the road, and performers that work these shows have to endure conditions and earn salaries that others wouldn’t consider.

 

Personally, I find those out on the road to be fighting the good fight. With one exception, they have my admiration. I will say however, those statements that the only pure sideshows are the ones under canvas is kindred to dick swinging.

 

There is too much contention as to what is a “real” sideshow. Even those that will stand firmly upon the notion that a sideshow is only to be found in the world of outdoor show business don’t always agree upon what exactly constitutes a sideshow. Some will claim a sideshow is only a 10-in-1. Other will include museum shows, freak animal shows, grind shows and single-0s.

So, where is sideshow today? My personal take is that it is many things. The carnival sideshow is a not dying, but it is a depressed industry. The World of Wonders keeps going, but it will be interesting to see what Chris and Tommy do after Ward is gone. Jim Z has left us, and his show, like several others are in mothballs. There are several showmen that take out a show for less than full seasons, or in a reduced form from what they have produced in the past. And there several museum shows, animal shows, grinds and single-0s that keep the traditions alive. Up in Canada is Scott with his show, though he has other pursuits too beyond the world of the carny. Out in Venice Beach and in Coney Island are two operations that have more or less embrace old-style forms of presentation, filtered through the sensibilities of the people that run them. Also out on the road is the toxic offender. And there are a ton of performers and troupes that play a myriad of non-traditional venues.

 

With all of the above, there are varying degrees of style and quality.

 

The Freakshow series seems to have come to an end, and this will probably mean that we won’t see another series about the world of the sideshow for some time to come. The upcoming season of American Horror Story might breathe new interest in the world of sideshow, but only time will tell. The same can be said about the revival of the Broadway musical Sideshow.


There is currently a wide array of what can be considered sideshow. Someone should create a Facebook group that embraces the whole spectrum of it.

 

Oh wait a minute…I already did.

 

A few more thoughts.........from Todd Robbins

 

It's the same discussion. I'm being told that a sideshow is only found under canvas on a midway when in the past this was not always true. So how is it different today when there are troupes working in a traditional form but not under canvas and somehow they can't be considered sideshows?

 

It depends upon the context of that club show. If it's a full troupe that is presenting a sideshow performance then they are sideshow performers. If it is a single act then it is a sideshow act.

 

There are some tented shows with one or two people working. There are some troupes that have a dozen performers embraced the form and function that have been traditional found in sideshows in the midway but are working indoors. Both are sideshows. It's like the armed services. You don't have to be at war to be in the military.

 

And there are many performers out there that would fit in with a tented show even though the have not had that experience.

 

And are even better than many that are working under canvas.

 

If I called Ward tomorrow and offered him a winter engagement in a club for the entire World of Wonders troupe, you better believe that they would still call it a sideshow...and it would be.

 

I have stated time and time again the I have a great deal of respect for those that are keeping the tradition alive on the road. It's just that I refuse to accept that wonderful performers NOT on the road show be considered second class citizens.

 

The only thing that is important to me is that we understand the difference between all the different kinds of show such as 10 in 1, String Shows, Circus Sideshows , Freak Shows, Back End Shows, Single - 0s, Grind Shows, Museum Shows , Girl Shows, Posing Shows, AT Shows, Jig Shows, Illusions Shows, Motor Drones, Animal Shows and whatever the @$(# it is that JS III has under canvas.

 

Many, many years ago I had a choice to make. There were basically two 10-in-1 on the scene. I could got out on the road with World of Wonders, or work Sideshows by the Seashore. John Bradshaw had just left the show out in Coney Island and Dick Zigun needed some help. I have no qualms about tell everyone that the life on the road was too much for me. It was for a better man than me. I chose doing ballys, eating glass and pitching the blow off for 8 hours a day, and being able to sleep in my own bed at home.

 


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