Ghent is the capital
of East-Flanders and can be found in Belgium. Each year a 10
day festival takes place called the “Gentse feesten”. As
many years before it took place again in July 2005. However
there was a difference this year, a unusually high amount of
sideshow performers. The latter is not as strange as it
seems because each year there’s also, during the Gentse
feesten, a street theatre festival.
starting to uncover the “freaks” or should we say the
exhibited people, I thought it would be interesting to give
a short overview of who those people on display are or
should we say were.
1. The ethnographic
cabinet: exotic man and his so-called culture
( e.g. Chinese, Africans, Indians, etc.. )
2. People with a
disease or genetic deviation: Siamese twins, giants, dwarf,
3. People who adapt
themselves so that they can be exhibited: tattooed men and
women, contortionists, fire-eaters, sword-swallowers, etc..
4. The wax statue
museum and oddity cabinets:
1. Anatomical models
2. (In) Famous people:
killers, murders, royalty eg. “Prince Imperial”
3. Deformed children
floating in jars, most of the time this where children which
had a genetic defect and had died subsequently.
4. Mummies, petrified
corpses, skeletons of dead (in)famous people
After this short
exposé we will now try to compare the “human oddities” from
the past with those from the present.
(English tranlation -
First of all there
were the big budget shows like “Puppetry of the Penis” and
the “New Jim Rose Freakshow”.
Concerning puppetry of the penis
we can be brief. The act mainly
consists of “how flexibel the art of genital origami is” or
what can you do with your member other than sex or
urinating, a lot so it seems.
The New Jim Rose
freakshow is in essence nothing more than a test of human
endurance. The majority of the acts seem to concentrate on
what one can do with his body. Most of the acts belonged to
the realm of fakirs and contortionists. The new cast
consisted of the dazzling appearance of Miss Amber Pie,
allegedly a pornstar, she even wore some of the classic porn
“props”, a school girls outfit and high heels. There was
Rupert, one of the youngest ones around, Big Mak, who got
his name from a big hamburger chain and the fact that he was
very fat (until now he hasn’t been sued, though he signs his
stage name as Big Mak. The older generation was also
present, there was Jim Rose, less hair then when I remember
him ten years ago, Bébé the enchanting circus queen and Mr
From Jim Rose we move
on to the French Madame Rose,
who showed the best of herself as a well trained carnival
artist. However her most distinguishing feature was her
beard. Yes she was a bearded lady, a new Clementine Delait.
She brought a show were “Fantasy, Magic and Mystery” were
the main attractions. She cut a woman in two and managed to
smash glasses unexplainably.
A second attraction
that was on display in Ghent was the man who could breath
underwater. Chani Minne is Amsterdam variete artist who
masters the art of breathing underwater. Five years ago he
also performed at the Gentse feesten with “Circus Wonder”.
However this time around he needs a tub of water and his
eyes. Chani blows “vents of air” through his eyes and thus
creates bizarre bubbles of air. During my years of
collection and research I haven’t come across any
“airblowing eyes artists”. However there are many artists
where living underwater plays an important role.
And finally no fair is
complete without “the man with 6 senses”. Clear-feeling Rob,
and his assistant Emiel could see without seeing. He
describes himself as clear-feeling. His assistant Emiel
provided him with objects donated by the public. The latter
had to give them to Rob who had to describe them. As such he
managed to read “namecards” blindfolded and he could even
feel the serial number on a banknote. According to his
assistant there is no fraud involved. The newspaper article
also refers that Rob is completely dressed in white, which
gives him a high “messiah” element.
And finally there’s
the body art of the Italian troupe “Girovago e Rondella”.
Beside their “handpuppetry”, they also perform as a family
circus. In one of the acts the father turns his own body
into a doll. He had painted a mouth and two eyes on his
body. The eyes were his breasts and the mouth could be found
on his belly. By using his muscles he could animate his
“eyes”. The lower abdominal muscles moved the mouth while
the eyes were moved by the breast muscles.
In conclusion I
thought it would be interesting to have a look at the scheme
we gave in the beginning. What’s left of the “panoptikum” of
freaks in the 21st century. Let’s start with
those attractions that seem to have disappeared. The
ethnographic cabinet seems to have gone, at least at the
festival in Ghent.
The wax statues and oddity cabinets have also disappeared
into the mists of oblivion. What about the others?
The others are alive
and kicking. However the new freaks of nature are mostly
made freaks. We’ve got most of Jim Rose’s troupe, “Girovago”,
the clear-feeling Rob, Chani the bubble blowing man,
“puppetry of the penis”. The exception to the rule is of
course “Big Mak” the fatboy contortionist and Mme Rose, the
Chani reminds me of
the “Les Dexters”, an early 20th century
paranormal outfit. According to their
pitchcard, they mastered “Prestidigation, Spiritisme simulé,
Mnémotechnie, calcul mental rapide, transmissionde pensée et
peinture “éclair”. (English
Simulated spiritism, Mnemotechny,
fast mental calculation, transmissionde thought and painting
Nothing new here. The bearded Lady
was a combination of a magician’s show and her « beard ».
Most of the bearded ladies of the 19th and 20th century just
displayed themselves to the public, while running a food
stand or did nothing at all.
“Het Laatste Nieuws,
(English tranlation -
The Last News)