ALEX ZANDER - THE JUNIOR TORTURE KING - 8/1/04

 

Q: What is your full name and how old are you?

A: Scott Alexzander Tomaini and I'm 15 years old.
 
Q. At that age you must have some unique hurdles to overcome.  Can you describe what it's like to attempt to break into a business that’s predominately made up of adult performers?

A: Yes it is hard working in a business with only adults, it is hard to convince them that I'm serious about performing.  They think I'm just playing around to get attention, but the real reason I'm doing this is to carry on the Family Tradition.
 
Q: How does it feel to be the world's youngest sideshow artist?

A: Feels Great!  But it's difficult to get jobs because of my age.
 
Q: It's no secret that your family has strong attachments to sideshow, but their connection was different than yours.  Your Great Grandfather Al Tomaini was made famous by his height while your Great Grandmother Jeanie's draw was her ability to live a normal life with no legs.  In a way they were "made" for sideshow.  You've decided to put yourself into sideshow by learning and performing sideshow acts.  Do you feel that you will be able to make as much of an impact on sideshow as your Great Grandparents?

A: Yes! I intend to make an even bigger impression.  Not trying to out do my Great Grandparents but trying as hard as I can, to do more for the sideshow community.

 

To help to bring it back to life.  When my Great Grandparents where in it, they really helped the sideshow out a lot.  At the time they were some of the biggest people in the sideshow.  I want to be as big as they were or even bigger.

Q: What did your Great grandmother (Jeanie Tomaini) think of you wanting to learn the sideshow acts?  Did her opinions help to point you in a certain direction as far as what type of acts you perform, or what type of performer you'd like to eventually become in general? 

A: She passed away while I was very young and I don't think she really had any idea what I would become, but I know that she would have supported me in what ever decision I make, but her stories and tips made me a lot more interested than she ever thought I was.
                                                                                       
Q: Outside of what you've learned from your family have you gone out and done any research on your own to learn more?

A: Yes, I have done plenty of research. I have memorized all of the websites and books on the sideshow.  My Great Grandfather (Al Tomaini) died in 1962 I never got to meet him, but I do remember talking to my Great Grandmother every day.  She would tell me lots of stories and stuff. I have memories of people coming to visit her all the time.  She would tell me stories of Ringling Brothers and other stuff she did.

Q: Do you remember the first sideshow you ever went to?
 
A:  Actually I have never been to a sideshow! I've never been to a circus!  I have been to Ward Hall’s house and seen all of his props and stuff but I never did get to see his show.  I never had the chance to perform in a real sideshow.  I have performed at a Club you know down here we have the Show Town Bar.  I was supposed to perform there this summer but I had to work at the Giants Camp. I also performed at last years Sideshow Gathering in PA.  I am too young to work most places.
 
Q: How supportive are your parents in your desire to become a sideshow performer?

A: My mother is very supportive of me and is with me all the way, but my dad on the other hand, is not very fond of me doing the torture acts. He really worries that I might hurt myself.  Every time I mention it to him he will ride me about it for weeks.  He really isn't in to the sideshow stuff.  When I turned 9 my Grandmother (Judy Tomaini Rock) made me a bed of nails and that's when I jumped into it.  She also built me a sword ladder, using the same swords, which my Great Grandfather had used in his sideshow. That’s when I really got interested in it. 

Q: Has your mother taught you any of the acts?
 
A: My mother has been very supportive, when people teach me they teach her also.  I will show her what I have learned so she knows what I am doing and can help so I won't do things wrong.  She will help me out and she takes me to my interviews and things.  I practice almost every day.  My mother has been around the sideshow family all of her life, she knows about all of the acts.  She doesn't know how to do them but she knows the right way to do them.  So yes, she helps me out a lot, and she is very supportive.

Q: As we mentioned earlier your way of breaking into the business is by performing acts.  Was there someone or something that pushed you in that direction?

A: I always looked up to Tim Cridland, the Torture King, I wanted to learn all of the acts that he performed and I have, and even a few that he doesn't do.  Tim came down to a convention here with the International Showmen’s Association.  He did a show and afterward he came to see me, he gave me some private lessons to teach me some stuff.  After that I really got into it, He dubbed me the Junior Torture King and gave me the sash he wore when he started in the business.  After I met him he made such an impression on me that I tried to learn all the acts that he did.  I just really look up to him.

Q: You mentioned that you do most of the acts that Tim does.  What acts do you do that he doesn't?
 
A: I do the two nail bed, and I walk on Flaming Glass.
 
Q: Where did you get the idea to walk on Flaming Glass?

 

A:  I was just lying there at night and thought about it, I came up with it all myself.  I take glass like you use to walk on, put it in a tin tray, which has the edges roll up on it. Roll up my pants or wear shorts, then I put lighter fuel on it so it doesn't run all over the place, and set it on fire.  I have tried it twice now.  It's not like the flames come up all the way to my knees, they just come up 3 or 4 inches.

 

Q: What acts do you currently perform and how long have you performed them?

 

A: I can do the nail bed, the four and two nail beds, the human blockhead, the pin cushion act, the sword ladder, walk on broken glass that is on fire, fire eating, the bed of 4 blades, sword swallowing, and anatomical wonder.
 
Q: It is often said in the sideshow community that the best, and most importantly safest, way to learn sideshow acts is to have a teacher to guide you as you learn.  Who has taught you to perform these acts and how did you become associated with them?

A: I have picked up a lot of my acts from my fellow performers.  You know I owe them a lot.

Q: Out of all the acts you perform which one do you like best and why?

A: Sword swallowing, because it is the most dangerous.
 
Q: Just about every performer, including seasoned veterans have had their share of mishaps while performing or practicing their acts.  What problems or mishaps have you encountered while learning to perform the acts you do?

A: There has only been a few times, when I slid my feet on the sword ladder. It was for a photo shoot, I was on Liars and Legends, out of Atlanta. It was the first time I climbed the swords for a film crew. Another time I went to get something for another photo shoot, and jumped over the nail bed, sliced my foot wide open, on one of the corner nails. I was getting coke bottles together at home, to break for glass walking; I use only coke bottles since my Mom collects Coke.  While I was gathering the bottles I dropped the case on my feet and got cut.  I guess they were walking on me!  Another time my grandmother was breaking blocks on me, for the Rolling Stone photo shoot, and I grabbed the block, just when she hit it. A piece that broke off and hit my hand and I bled like a stuck pig.

Q: What additional acts would you like to learn and perform as part of your repertoire?
 
A: I will attempt to learn to do any acts that I don't all ready do. I would like to do the hot plates that Tim Cridland does.  If I am talking with some of the other performers and they mention something I don't know.  I ask them how they do it and to show me what to do.  I am willing to do most anything once.

Q: If you don't mind telling us, who is your mentor(s)? Who were your early influences?

A: Tim Cridland, George the Giant, and Johnny Fox, and my Grandmother Judy Tomaini Rock.

Q: A lot of people that don't know the reality of sideshow still believe that what you, and those like you, do are just a collection of illusions or tricks.  Have you run into this at this point in your career?  If so how do you feel when a "rube" calls what you do "tricks" or "illusions" instead of "acts" or "stunts"? 

A: I have run into it a lot, but I let them think what they wish. The proof is in the act itself.

Q: You already perform acts that some of the seasoned professionals won't do. What is it that has driven you to perform such acts?  

A:  To help keep them alive.  I had Tim show me how to do the Pins.  I tried it in my cheek. I do it through my upper arm.  I can do it better in my arm than in my cheek.  One of the things that drives me is to be the youngest in the world.  You know? I have already broken six worlds’ records.  There was a time that I wanted to just show people that I can do something when they said I couldn't.  But as I got older I have learned that I need to take my time, and learn thing the right way, and be safe in doing all the acts.

Q: You go by the name Junior Torture King. "The Torture King" used to be a title for anyone in the sideshow who did the classic torture stunts, but today there is only one person who uses that name which is Tim Cridland. How did you come by the title?

A: Actually, Tim was the one who dubbed me The Junior Torture King. 
 
Q: What was your stage name before Tim dubbed you the Junior Torture King?
 
A: Alex Zander now it is Alex Zander the Junior Torture King.

Q: By using that name do you feel you need to live up to The Torture Kings reputation?
 
A:  I want to live up to Tim’s reputation because I see how people treat him.  They really like to see his shows and they bow down to him.  I have the greatest respect for Tim and want to be like him.

Q: Has the way Tim prepares himself and how he approaches his acts, had any influence on you?
 
A: In the beginning I really didn't know about all of that, but now I understand how important it is to be prepared and safe, so that is true now.  I think it is really neat how he meditates and prepares himself to deal with the pain.  It's not like you just bare it or bite on a wooden spoon.  He has learned to deal with it, not just take the pain but he has control over it.
 
Q: Once they have a good amount of acts under their belt some performers choose to join or create a troupe while others choose to go solo.  Where do you hope to be, as a performer, in 10 years?

A: I hope to be with Jim Rose or Todd Robbins.
 
Q: Additionally there are many variations on performance styles.  Which direction do you want to take your performances? The "hard-core rockfest" style or the "classic circus sideshow" style?


A: I say both. I would like to try both and see what I am more comfortable with.
 
Q: Would you like to perform on a midway someday?

A: Yes, it is in my plans.

Q: Sideshow seems to come and go to some extent as far as its popularity.  Do you plan on trying to make being a sideshow performer your lifelong career?  If so what do you think it will take to accomplish that.

A: Yes, I think it will take a life of hard work and a lot of trial and error. My one love after sideshow is being a master mechanic.
 
Q: If you could step back in time and live during the time that there were many circus and carnivals what showmen and performers would you liked to have worked with?

A: I would have liked to work with my Great Grandfather, who died in 1962, so I never met him.  I would have been honored to work with him.

Q: What modern performers do you think have the greatest influence on sideshow as it is today and where do you think it will go in the future?
 
A:  I think one of the most known is Jim Rose. I also think Todd Robbins and Ward Hall. They all have done a lot to influence today’s sideshow.

Q: You were interviewed by Rolling Stone Magazine.  Do you feel that interview helped you as a performer?

A: I think it kind of jump started me into sideshow doing the interview with Rolling Stone.

Q: What did your peers think of you before the interview and what do they think of you since? Has anything changed?

A: They either don't believe me or think I'm crazy, but that changed, when the teachers brought the magazine to school. 

Q: Where do you think the sideshow is going in the future?
 
A: I was visiting with Bruce Snowdon and Little Pete the other day. They tell me that they haven't really done much this year.  The traditional sideshow is all but gone.
 
Q: Most young people haven't had the chance to see a real sideshow.  There are only a few on the road like the Brothers Grim and John Strong’s.  What do you think has happened to the sideshow?

A: Most of the young people aren't interested in the sideshow.  They are in to the club shows, things like concerts and stuff. A lot of young people haven't even been to a circus. They know what it is but even when they go to the fair all they want to do is ride the Ferris Wheel and stuff.
 
Q: Is there anything in your sideshow career that has disappointed you?

A: The biggest disappointment I have ever had was not to be able to go to this year's Sideshow Gathering.  I had been looking forward to it all year, we have spent most of this year, buying stuff and preparing to go.  I got an email from Franco that said I could come but I couldn't perform. I couldn't drop any swords, or even attend the show.  That really did ruin a lot of stuff for me.  I would have gotten a lot of publicity, and been able to spend time with my fellow performers.  I really didn't see it coming.  I was told that I couldn't perform because I was too young, and that the child protective services would close the whole Gathering down if I was to perform. 

Q: Is there anyone you would like to thank, for how far you've come?

A: I would like to thank Zamora, and George the Giant, Johnny Fox and my family, for helping me along.
 
Q: Is there anything else you would like to say?
 
A: I hope in the future that I can perform at the Sideshow Gathering.  I don't have any bad feeling about what happened this year.  It was just very disappointing to me, not to be able to be there. But I will continue to carry the torch, for what I love and believe in, for the rest of my life, like my family before me.

 

Interview by John Robinson

 

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