SW: Would you give us a little background about yourself?
 

BL: My name is Brett Loudermilk, I'm 18 years old and have been in the entertainment industry for most of my life. Through modeling, acting, visual arts, music and sideshow...most recently I've discovered how great Tech. Theatre is, and I work at Davidson College at the Duke Theatre in Davidson, NC.

 

My grandfather is an ex-Pentecostal preacher (read that: con-man) that had his own touring tent show, He did the faith healing, sold snake oil and I'm quite sure handled a few snakes too! He retired soon after he found out he was too honest and was paying his actors and crew too well for him to make any money.

 

That's where I came from, and that's where I get my abilities.
 

SW: How did you become interested in the sideshow?
 

BL: I was around 8 or 9 years old working at the Carolina Renaissance Festival as a stage hand.

 

I met a man named Dextre Tripp, who is a Ren Fair tight rope walker/juggler. I liked talking to him because he didn't treat me like the kid I was, he treated me like an equal. I had read a book about sideshows before, and asked him if he knew anything about it... He did.

 

Dextre was a sideshow performer in his younger years. I asked if he could teach me blockhead, he did.
 

SW: Who are some of the people who have influenced you?
 

BL: Dextre Tripp is a big influence on me because he gave me my start, he showed me the way.

 

Todd Robbins has influenced me greatly, he's a good friend and mentor... He bought me my first suit, it's bright blue, but a suit none the less.

 

A whole slew of other people have either influenced me or helped me out one way or another.

 

SW: You mentioned Dextre Tripp and Todd Robbins and a whole slew of other people influenced you, how did they influence you and what effect has that had on your performance?

BL: They are the people that taught me what I know, people like Slim Price, Doug Higley and Ward Hall. Everyone has had a different teaching method that goes from "Just do it" to careful observation and critiques. They have influenced me in my technical skill, how and why I do things a certain way. As far as performing goes,  I am 'me'; The Brett Loudermilk you get on stage is very close to the Brett Loudermilk in real life.

 

SW: I am 'me'; The Brett Loudermilk you get on stage is very close to the Brett Loudermilk in real life. Who is the real Brett Loudermilk?

BL: The real Brett Loudermilk is spontaneous yet reserved, other than that... I really couldn't tell you, it's hard to describe myself in that sense.

 

SW: How do other describe Brett Loudermilk?

 

BL: I've been called Charming, weird, wacky, laid back, odd, perplexing. I'm a mixed bag I guess.
 

SW: What influenced your decision to enter the world of the sideshow?

BL: My age. I am one of the youngest professional performers in the business, I take pride in that. Sideshow is a dying art and I feel so passionate about it, that I couldn't stand to see it go away; even if it does, I'll still have a piece in me.

SW: Your age is why you entered show business, could you help me understand what age has to do with your choice of careers?

BL: To many people the fact that I do so many interesting things at such a young age is an oddity in its self. I figured out really quick that I could exploit that.

SW: You said sideshow is a dying art, would you explain a little of what that means?

BL: We all know that the back end shows are holding on by a few threads... Rent, gas, labor all that and more bearing down on it. It makes it hard to keep going. The Sideshow is evolving to fit on TV screens, and concert stages...That is the sideshow that I'm a part of.  I tried the real sideshow, and it's hard, too hard for me. 

 

SW: You say I tried the real sideshow and it's hard, too hard for me?  How long did you work "THE REAL SIDESHOW" and what was it that you found too hard for you?

 

BL: Haa! I worked the Word of Wonders show, owned by Ward Hall and Chris M. Christ. I worked with them for three weeks!!! And I had, had enough!

 

Don't get me wrong, I love the real sideshows, and I admire the folks like Ward, Chris and Jimmy Long that keep it going and can trudge through the mud and still maintain composure.

 

It's amazing.

 

It was so hard because of the work schedule, 10AM to 2AM, day after day, no breaks. No air conditioning, toilets or good shower facilities. I just can't deal with that. Especially after being bred in the Ren Fairs, night clubs and theatre, it's just a different beast.

 

SW: I've heard it said by others that it's a hard life on the midway, some have come home never wanting to return to the life but everyone has told me after being off the road for awhile that they wouldn't trade the experience for anything, what would you say about your experience on the road? What would be your advise to someone trying to get into the business?

 

BL: If I could do it again...bottom line is I would. I know I just said I was miserable and hated every minute of it, but looking back at it, I miss it terribly and would run back if I had the chance.

 

If you want to get into this business and learn a thing or two, then Hell yes.. go on the road. You will hate it, if you can't take it leave, but I guarantee you'll want to come back.

 

SW: In the past when I have attended the fairs and carnivals there has only been one or two shows on the midway.  In the past few years more and more shows are being booked
in areas of the country and world that haven't had a sideshow, grind show in years.  If the back end show are dying then what explains the interest and attendance on today's midways?
 

BL: What fairs are you going to?! I would agree on the uprising in grind shows, they are around because they are cheaper to operate, less to move and easier to set up and tear down. A lot of grind shows I've seen are trailer mounted, so all you've got to do is shut the doors and hitch it to your truck. Maybe I'm wrong... I often am.

 

John SW: Most of the fairs I have attended were in the Western part of the US.  In Utah we haven't seen a bannerline since the 80s.  But there have been more shows on the Midways over the past few years.  People really seem to have enjoyed them.  The older folks were excited and shared many memories, the younger crowd hadn't seen a larger show.  Most after visiting brought back friends and family because they were amazed at what they saw on the inside and wanted to share it.  Some coming back time after time.

 

SW:  You say the Sideshow is evolving to fit on a TV screen or concert stage.  For years the concert stage and TV has been involved with folks like Jim Rose, Ken Haurk, Lee Kolozsy. They have used the media and concert as their stage.  What do you see yourself offering to those venues that hasn't already been done?
 

BL:  For the past ten or twelve years people like Rose and Harck have done great things on tours like Lalapalooza and OzzFest.

 

I see myself as a singular sideshow figure, someone that can bring a face and character to what sideshow is.  A representative of sorts.


SW: I understand you have been performing for 10 years, what were some of the first acts you learned?

BL: Blockhead was the first act I learned, as with most others. I moved on to fire eating. I learned them because that is what was offered to me. Dextre said, "Here, I'll teach you this..." and I listened and learned.

 

SW: Blockhead and fire eating, have you had the chance to learn other acts? 

BL: Of course! I breathe fire, walk on broken bottles, climb ladders of swords, eat light bulbs, jam my hands and tongue in various animal traps, I swallow and regurgitate live cockroaches, I do some equilibristics and I swallow swords. I think maybe I've left some things out...

 

SW: Would you explain for our readers what equilbristics are?

BL: Balancing and juggling. Those type of stunts.


SW: Which of the acts you perform do you like the best?

BL: Sword Swallowing. I am a member of a very exclusive club, there are only around fifty of us. It is such a rarity, and I'm proud to say that I can do it. I also am quite partial to the variation of Blockhead that I invented...I use a glass nail (That I make) put it in and shine a light in my mouth, that makes the head of the nail light up like a Christmas bulb.

 

SW: Variation of Blockhead I invented..."I use a glass nail (That I Make) and shine a light in my mouth, that makes the head of the nail light up like a Christmas bulb."  You invented this variation on the Blockhead, what inspired you to create and use this as part of your act.  Have you seen other perform using a glass nail since you started the act?

BL: I'm a glass sculptor, I make jewelry and knick knacks. I figured that if I make a glass nail, no one can say it is collapsible...that was the motivation, the fact that they conduct light was just a bonus. I have not seen anyone do it but I know there are some out there, since I used to sell the nails.

 

SW: Are there other acts you have invented or put a different spin on that make them your own?

BL: I came up with the idea of swallowing a sword with a torch at the hilt, and having someone breath fire off of it. The idea was leaked and a few people are doing it now. I have a few other things up my sleeve, but I'm saving them for a rainy day.

SW: The acts that sideshow performer do are dangerous and can cause harm and even be fatal if not done right.  Have you learned from experienced professional or not, what would you tell a young person trying to learn?

BL: I learned from some of the best, it's the only way. If you want to learn how to eat fire don't ask the next hippie you see spinning fire poi, find a real pro. If you don't you could possible learn the wrong methods make more mistakes and it could cost you your life.

SW: Have you tried learning things that have caused you or other harm? 

BL: Most everything I do are dangerous, there is always potential of hurting yourself. I have cut my feet, burnt my lips, mouth and nose hair and gotten throat infections...It isn't fun.

SW: Has your family been supportive? 

BL: No. Not really, it isn't normal, they don't see how I could make a difference. My grandfather however, couldn't be happier.
 

SW: What do you mean by "it isn't normal"?

 

BL: Normal, You know, average. Sideshow isn't average for everyday people...my parents happen to be everyday people.

 

SW: What kind of difference did your family think you won't make in the business?

BL: They don't think it is possible to overcome the fact that sideshows are almost nonexistent, they don't think people care.


SW: Have they encourage you? 

BL: My Grandfather has. He was a con-man, the idea of me hustling people is a wonderful one in his mind.

SW: Your Grandfather was a con-man, you mention in your intro that he was a preacher, snake oil salesman, etc. "He retired soon after he found out he was too honest and was paying his actors and crew too well for him to make any money".

I'm sure our reader would be interested in how that influenced you to enter the show business?


BL: Eh, I grew up with a big loud Italian man yelling about Jesus and miracle oil to rooms/tents full of people, grew up around the music and the dancing...it was all so theatrical!  I wanted to be more than just a spectator.  I wanted to dupe the people.  But now, what's funny is the fact that I don't dupe people.  Everything I do is real, I don't use deception.


SW: You mention working Ren Fairs, what other kinds of venues have you worked?

BL: Galleries, Sideshows, small theatres, large theatres, coffee housed, grocery stores

(once!), lounges, bars, clubs.


SW: Which venues do you prefer working ?

BL: I like small theatre, I like being close to my audience and I like tight quarters.

 

SW: You like working small theatre, being close to your audience!  With that in mind you've mentioned that the sideshow is evolving to the concert stage and TV screen.  How is that going to effect you? These media and venues are not small or close.

BL: I prefer working within close proximity. I don't need to, most of the time playing for thousands of people is much more fun, just less intimate. I'm flexible, I can go either way.

 

SW: Is there anyone you would like to thank?

 

BL: Sideshow World and everyone involved, Dextre Tripp, Todd Robbins, Slim Price, Doug Higley, Bobby Reynolds and Ward and Chris.

 

SW: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

 

BL: Take risks and wear clean underwear.

 

SW: Just one last question, what do cockroaches taste like?

 

BL: Cockroaches taste like Crap!

 

I would like to thank Brett for his candid responses, it was a pleasure doing this interview.

 

John Robinson Sideshow World

 

Photographs Courtesy of Brett Loudermilk,

1 Freak Prodigy Banner

2 Brett Mouse Trap - Coney Island

3 Inside the World of Wonders Tent

4 Crafting Glass Nail

5 Brett Fire Eating on World of Wonders

6 Trap on Hand OUCH!

 

 

 

Each month we will try and interview a new sideshow personality 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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