SIMPLEST STUNT, IS A POTENTIAL DISASTER!"
Advice for the Up and Coming
In the good old days, the
ones we keep hearing about, it only rained so we could
tell stories about it. The lot was always green and
even. The sky was always blue, even at night. Nobody
got too cold, too hot, or sunburned. There were so many
people in the midway, and every one of them just HAD to
see your show. They all stuffed money into your hands,
and ran into the tent, not even waiting to get change!
But unless you were a prodigy of nature, it wasn't
possible to just walk into a sideshow, and expect to be
You might get hired, yes, but not for anything that
required any great skill. (Ladies and Gentlemen, here's
where you'll see The Fakir...the Man Who Reclines on the
Bed of Pain, Completely Impervious to a Thousand Sharp
Then somebody would take you to the bed, and tell you
how to lie down on it, maybe even show you. And that'd
be your act, with maybe ten minutes of training.
You'd be at the bottom of the ladder socially, and in
terms of pay. You'd be even farther down than the
magician. And since you did the act bareback, you
hardly needed any costume, which saved money. You could
use an old shirt for a turban.
But it was a job. You'd be around other performers, and
after a while, if they liked you, and liked your
attitude, they might just teach you something new.
Sometimes you had to pay them, but they'd teach you.
You'd be off on a grand adventure, sometimes learning
new acts, sometimes getting to put them on stage.
Hopefully it increased your value...the moreacts you
knew, the more money you made. After all, it's a show,
but it's still business.
And you got a lot of practice...12 hours a day or more,
in some places, of going onstage a few times an hour to
amaze those gaping spectators with something they'd
never seen before, and could barely imagine.
The good old days are gone. Those shows are gone. It
rains a lot more. Thanks to air pollution, things
are warming up and we get more sunburned. The show
lots are full of folks who saw a weird dude do something
cool on that Ripley show on TV, the other night, what
was the channel? The show lots are run by people who'd
rather sell rides.
This creates a series of problems for those of us who
continue to perform traditional stunts, and those who'd
like to learn. The on-the-job training, has all but
Here's a rule: EVEN THE SIMPLEST STUNT, IS A POTENTIAL
Life's changed. Now we have the Worldwide Web. Just do
a search, and you can have more information at your
fingertips in five minutes, than most people had
available, a hundred years ago, for their whole lives.
Most of us, who read this, live in a place where a
nominal form of democracy exists. One person, one vote
(no money changing hands). Information is supposed
to be available, for the asking, so that we can
make informed choices.
Here's a rule for stunts: WRITTEN INFORMATION, IS NOT
I'm told that I'm an expert, whatever that is. I make a
living from performance, and I'm good at it. I tend to
push some of the stunts farther than my predecessors,
and quite a few other performers have seen enough value
in my innovations, that I'm frequently copied.
I learned the basics from other performers, NOT from
books. This enabled me to work with master performers,
so that they could help me get past some of my personal
roadblocks. We all have those roadblocks. (If you say
you don't, you're lieing to yourself, a lot worse than
you're lieing to anybody else, but you're the one who
will suffer the consequences.)
Among other things, it enabled me to learn to do stunts
as safely as possible.
Because I'm insatiably curious, I've read almost every
book that's been written on these stunts. There are a
few that describe parts of the stunts well, and parts of
training for them, but not one hits the nail on the
Recently I read a posting in a discussion group. Some
of you will recognize the story. Some will recognize
A young man went to the library and found a book (I
think I know which one) which described an old act
called "The Man Who Can't Be Hanged". He thought he'd
learned the "secrets" of the act, and wanted to go right
out and try it. So he jumped off a bench, with a noose
around his neck, and wrenched his neck.
I know this stunt well. I performed it for a number of
years, before finally inventing a new style, where I
like the presentation. There are a couple of ways of
doing it straight. There are several ways to fake it.
But it's dangerous. If you do it right, there's still a
reasonable probability of getting hurt. If you do it
wrong, you're in deep trouble.
The book the young man found, contains only part of the
important information. The young man's lucky that he
only wrenched his neck. He still thinks he has the
"secret". He still thinks he knows what he's doing.
I expect it's only a question of time before I read his
Here's a rule: IT'S NOT A QUESTION OF "IF" SOMETHING
WILL GO WRONG. THE QUESTIONS ARE "WHEN WILL IT HAPPEN?"
AND "HOW BAD WILL IT BE?"
In martial arts, the student learns from the master.
The student doesn't have the opportunity to learn
something new, until he or she is ready. It's a
way of insuring that the student will use potentially
dangerous techniques, in a responsible manner. A "death
grip" isn't taught to a 5 year old kid, in the first
lesson. It takes training and maturity, to prepare for
the next level of work. Sound familiar?
Here's a rule: THE TWO MOST IMPORTANT GOALS OF
TRAINING, ARE HOW TO DO A STUNT, AND WHAT TO DO, WHEN
SOMETHING GOES WRONG.
You can't learn that from a book.
In this work, I've gotten cuts and abrasions of various
shapes, sizes, and locations. I've ripped muscles,
broken bones, had assorted burns of various degrees,
damaged my eyes and lungs, and been hit a few times with
a badly swung sledge hammer. On several occasions, I've
escaped suffocation by a hair. And I know what I'm
So what's my point? Easy. Please...don't think for a
minute, that if you read something in a book, it's all
you need to know. It's not, not, not. To learn
this material right, you absolutely MUST learn it from
someone who knows it well, who can help you through your
personal roadblocks, teach you good stunt-technique, and
help you learn how to present the material to the
Forget the books. Forget the internet. Let them give
you a dream of what may be possible, but find a
professional for training.
Where? I don't know of many places. You don't want to
go to somebody who just says "take this and shove it
into the bodily orifice of your choice". You don't
want to go to a person who just started doing a stunt,
and has very little relevant experience.
You should go to people who have been doing these things
for a long time, who know the material inside and out.
You could go to the Coney Island Sideshow School. Todd
Robbins is their professor, and very few people have his
breadth of knowledge, his passion for the art, and his
ability to clearly communicate. They have classes a
couple of times a year.
You can contact me. I'm frequently hired as a
consultant, for a variety of creative services,
including stunt and performance technique
Todd and I have different specialty stunts, different
styles of showmanship, different focuses for our
I know of others who say they teach, but I'm hesitant to
recommend teachers whose ethical standards or technical
abilities, are unknown to me. This is, after all, a
business where a lot of people build their reputations
by tricking the public.
With a stunt, you can't afford to be tricked.
All stories are the property of
Sideshow World & their respective authors. Any
republication in part or in whole is strictly prohibited.
For more information please
contact us here.
Advise for the Up
Back to Main
All photos are the property
of their respective owners whether titled or marked anonymous.
"Sideshow WorldTM" is the sole property of John Robinson ©
All rights reserved.
is the sole property of John Robinson © All rights reserved.
E-Mail Sideshow World
E-Mail The Webmaster