Crispy of The Crispy Family Carnival - 4/1/03

 

Q. If you had to describe yourself to someone who doesn’t know much about the sideshow industry what would you tell him or her?

 

A. An oddball who does all the things my mother told me not to do….

 

Q. At what point in your life did you become interested in this style of entertainment?

 

A. As a kid I performed as an amateur magician.  I let my family talk me into a “normal” life, but soon found corporate life boring so I returned to performing.  This time I was also doing fire and sideshow performances on the side.  When I started I really just wanted to learn to do blowouts to light the annual Burning of the Bunny bonfire.  I was invited by some friends involved with Burning Man to do a performance with them and was hooked on the rush of being in front of a crowd.

 

Q. Once you made the decision to become a sideshow performer how did you break into the business?

 

A. I started performing for friends who did club shows and parties for favors and soon started getting booked mostly to blow fire outside of trendy clubs.  Little by little I’ve worked my way into the concert venues and making contact with more promoters etc.

 

Q. Would you say there was a turning point in your career when you just knew that you had finally made it to the big time?

 

A. I wouldn’t say I’m there yet.  We’re getting close, but as a sideshow we’re still really young.  I’d recognize success more by the respect and friendship with my peers in the business.

 

Q. What was the first act you ever attempted, and how did it go?

 

A. The first sideshow acts I attempted were the blockhead and glass eating.  Although I had good information on the blockhead, the glass eating I later learned was a stupid thing to learn without a mentor.  The blockhead was just strange feeling and made me sneeze until my body started to accept the idea of shoving things up my nose.  The glass eating scared me.  Although it went right, psychologically I kept feeling like something had gone wrong.  I kept psyching myself out.

 

Q. After you mastered those acts why and how did you go about learning new acts?

 

A. Once I had proven that I was a quick study and wanted to learn more I started seeking out performers to teach me new acts. I would basically trade techniques and favors for what they taught me amongst the fire performers.  My big break was when the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus came through town.  I hung around outside bugging Okra and Tanya about where to start learning the sideshow arts.  Finally I got a rundown on the glass-walking act and was introduced to Slim Price's Sideshow Discussion.  Since then I’ve learned many of the acts through lots of research and finally got to attend an advanced studies weekend at The Coney Island Sideshows by the Seashore last fall.

 

Q. Can you describe to us your first performance before an actual audience?

 

A. My first performance was as a fire performer.   That performance taught me lamp oil sucks on a smooth stage.  We were all sliding about and our fire breather took a fall in the middle of a blast.  Luckily he was a seasoned performer and played it off going into some funky break dance spin on the slick stage.

 

Q. As you gained more experience and performed more often did you begin to find fellow performers to help you along your way?

 

A. I’ve been lucky enough to work with a number of great performers that have taught me a lot along the way.  I’ve almost always performed as part of a group and have found that most fellow performers are willing to help and teach.  I always try to find ways to pay back the favors, which has earned me a good reputation amongst the performers in this area.

 

Q. Your shows include many other performers, what made you decide to perform as a group rather than solo?

 

A. I find with a group you’re able to spotlight each person’s strengths and fill in for the weaknesses to make an overall better show.  I’ve also found that the behind the scenes work is too much for one person unless they’ve gotten to the point that they can devote their life to the show.

 

Q. What brought you all together?

 

A. I learned a couple years back that my true father had been a traveling showman and that I had a number of half siblings scattered across the country.  Wanting to follow in my father’s footsteps I learned the sideshow arts and began hunting for more of my siblings.  Everyone in the show is either fathered by this man or involved with one of the family.  We’re still searching for the rest of our lost siblings.

 

Q. What would you say is the biggest advantage to performing as a group?

 

A. I think working as a group makes it possible to take the show further than what just one person could do alone.  Everything from the labor to the planning is shared and allows a good idea to be developed further with more people’s help and input. 

 

Q. What would you say are the disadvantages to performing as a group?

 

A. Scheduling is tough.  Most of us are also involved in other performances along with day jobs and personal lives.  Sometimes it’s tough to get together to work on the show.   We have even had times when we had to do emergency re-writes of the show and use guest performers because major characters could not make it to the show. 

 

Q. On your website you are described as the “Ringmaster & Father of them all”.  What exactly does that mean as far as your responsibilities go?

 

A. Often times it’s hounding the performers to make their ideas a reality.  I train many of the acts and help develop most of the new acts.  I’m also the one who pulled together all the performers to create the show.

 

Q. Have you ever had any problems with one performer wanting to be the star of the show and out perform the others?

 

A. No, we do have a family dynamic, dysfunctional spats and all.  Once we’re on stage though it’s all about the good of the show and everyone just focuses on doing their parts to the best of their ability and looking out for the good of the show.  Everyone has been picked for his or her specialty and they don’t overlap enough for upstaging one another.

 

Q. What is it like traveling to so many different venues with such a large group of people logistically speaking?

 

A. Traveling is tough.  We have members who don’t drive and those of us that do have small cars.  We’ve been separated during road trips, had people break down, and once had most of our gear stuck with one of the performers trapped in a blizzard only to get to the venue an hour before showtime.  Traveling with such a large group is also stressful in that even the best of friends can be annoying during a long road trip.  But in the end none of us would trade the experiences for the world.

 

Q. Are you always on the lookout for new performers to add to the show?

 

A. The one thing we’re on the lookout for is a good juggler.  Other than that we prefer to teach our current performers new acts.  With each new person that is added it changes the dynamic of the group and can be hard while they find their place.  Also rather than making the show so big we have trouble getting bookings, we host variety shows where we generally work with a local burlesque group called “Burlesque as it Was” and then one or two other variety acts. 

 

Q. Where do you see yourself and the show in 5 or 10 years?

 

A. Hopefully this will become my main job and my day job will become the secondary.  I’d really like to tour. I love traveling and seeing new places so I think life on the road would be a lot of fun.  

 

Q. What advice would you offer to a new performer just trying to break into the business?

 

A. Practice, practice, practice.  And remember, knowing how to do the act is the easy part.  Doing it in a way that entertains and doesn’t just mimic what others are doing is the challenge.  Anytime you can learn from another performer take advantage of it.  Especially considering a small mistake or misinformation in this business can put you in the hospital.  Always do right by your fellow performers and people you work for.  Your reputation will follow you in this business.

 

Q. Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?

 

A. Peek-A-Boo

 

Q. Finally, is there anyone you would like to thank?

 

A. I’d like to thank, Ses Carny, Todd Robins, The Great Throwdini, Chris McDaniel, Tyler Fire, Dick Zigun, all the Bindlestiff Family (especially Tanya and Okra for getting me started in the right direction), Zamora, KosmiKaos, High Fire, the Great Lix, Blaze, Blue, Slim Price, Starfish, and everyone else who has inspired, encouraged, and guided me along this journey.

 

Interview by Derek Rose

 

For more information on The Crispy Family Carnival visit their site at www.crispyfamily.com

 

Each month we will try and interview a new performer for the site.  Because of the logistics of it face to face interviews are tough to come by.  A good percentage of the interviews we will be doing will be via e-mail or telephone.  If you are interested in being interviewed for the site drop us a line.

 

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