Tim Cridland (Zamora) - 5/1/04

 

Q. When did you first start performing?

 

A. I have had an interest in sideshow style performance since I was in grade school. I had read about it and thought it would be neat to see, but I lived in a small town. Because I grew up in a small town I thought that the things I read about in books were going on in big cities, like Spokane or Seattle. A circus with a sideshow did come through town, but the acts were mostly magic. I remember a vertical blade box and some other things.

 

The town I grew up in is Pullman, WA, which is the home of Washington State University. My father was a Professor of Botany. Other than the University, the main industry was wheat farming. The nearest city was Spokane, 80 miles to the North. Because it was a university town, there would sometimes be performers brought in by the Student Union. One was Reverend Chumleigh, who was part of what was then called "New Vaudeville." I still have vivid memories of him doing a glass-walking act at the Compton Union Building. Also a group called One Reel Vaudeville was brought in that did an incredible fire eating routine. Reverend Chumleigh is still active, and has a website. One Reel Vaudeville now runs the Bumbershoot Festival in Seattle, which is probably the biggest entertainment festival in the Northwest.

 

I kept an interest in sideshow style acts, and was determined to learn to eat fire. I had a "how to" book on the subject, but was not going to even try it without personal instruction. When the Winachee Youth Circus came to town, I went out on the lot and started asking if anyone could help me. I showed them that I had the book and had studied it and already had the torches made. A couple of them had eaten fire and did it with my torch and also told me what fuel to use. After I saw them do it, I ate fire for the first time with their supervision. I was about 17 at that time.

 

Eventually I moved to Seattle, as many young people from all over the Northwest tend to do. I lived a punk rock lifestyle. Now and then I would street perform with the fire eating. I put glass-walking into the act and would sometimes perform with punk rock bands. One memory that stands out is a 1984 New Year's Eve performance at a place called "The Meat Locker." Henry Rollins had just started doing spoken word performances. They had him go on before midnight and then I went on after midnight, so it is almost as if he was opening up for me. I knew that everyone had come to see him, but it was just kind of funny that I would be on after him.

 

Q. The Human Pincushion act has been around for many, many years, but your act seems to take it a step further. How did you ever come about your amazing capabilities?

 

A. The reason that my "Pincushion" act is so much more intense is because it has been around for many, many years. To do what I do, I went to the act that preceded the sideshow. I studied the people who do the act in other countries and cultures. Many times these acts are not done in the context of entertainment. What I do is sometimes called a "Fakir Act." I have been studying the fakirs. The word "fakir" and the actions that the fakirs have become associated with are corrupted and misunderstood. I put together a lecture/demonstration on the history of it that I have presented at "new-age" conferences and universities.

 

When I was young, I knew that there was a relationship between hypnosis and the fakir acts, so I studied hypnosis. I use self-hypnosis during my act and it has been verified that when I do my act, my pulse and blood pressure go down. I know that there are some people who like to play down the mind/body connection part of the act, but it is for real. There are techniques that can be easily taught that lower the body's reaction to pain and trauma and increase healing. Most people who come to my show don't care about this. They just want to see me do shocking stuff. That is why I do the separate lecture.

 

Q. How long have you been performing as the Torture King/Zamora?

 

A. I started performing in a big way in 1991 when the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow came together. I wrote a detailed version of this in the book Circus of the Scars, that I co-authored with Jan Gregor, the road manager of the show. Back then I was being billed as "The Human Cushion" and I kept pushing for a name change, since I did so many other things. Eventually I got the name "The Torture King," which is a sideshow title that describes someone who does a variety of seeming painful acts.

 

I was having a problem with putting me on posters as "Tim The Torture King" which sounds pretty stupid. My view is that these are two different people, like Clark Kent and Superman. Tim is the guy who runs the business and The Torture King is the guy on stage. Zamora is the name of a small town in Northern California. I thought it was an easy to remember name. I also drop "The Torture King" for events that it is not appropriate, and become simply Zamora. There is one rumor that I don't use the name The Torture King anymore. This is just not true. In the show SHOCK that I perform in Las Vegas that is how I am billed. I also use that name at Knott's Berry Farm's Halloween Haunt.

 

Q. Many people wonder how you do not hurt yourself, or at least not show any sign of pain when performing. Can you explain that?

 

A. I answered a little of this in part of a previous question, but I will tell you a little more.

 

There are several factors involved. One is knowledge of physics and anatomy. I know how to use maximum force and penetration with minimal damage. Some of this knowledge comes from techniques used in martial arts.

 

The other is that I have managed to change my internal reactions to the trauma. I have changed my internal feedback loop. Because I change how I react to external stimuli, this changes external reaction. This is turn "sets" the body's psychical reaction and it becomes a habit. It is absolutely proven scientifically that people have the ability to change what was once considered automatic reactions of the body.

 

There are some people who would like to think, for whatever reason, that I make a living "hurting myself" or some negative word like that. In fact, many times I do my show every day, and sometimes several times a day. If I were hurting myself, I would be in the hospital and out of business. What I do has more to do with healing than anything else.

 

Some people like to think that I like pain. When I get accused of this I say "I don't like pain. I find it painful. I do everything I can to avoid it. That is what I am showing you; a very dramatic demonstration of avoiding pain."

Q. What do you currently perform for stunts in your regular show?

 

A. Right now the only "regular" show I have is the SHOCK show in Las Vegas. It is kind of a twisted cabaret show. I only do about 20 minutes in the show, but I do all of my most shocking feats. I am doing the deep-skewers, eating a light-bulb, the "Bizarre Yogi Internal Floss" where I cut myself right under my chest and pull a string out from inside me, and the bed of nails with 4 people standing on me.

 

I also have a once a month show in San Francisco at the Climate Theater on every 2nd '"hump day" (Wednesday). I have done shows from 15 minutes to 2 hours in length. What I do depends on the circumstances. I just did some shows in Dallas that I was flown out for. When I do a show like that, I have to put all of my stage and personal stuff in 2 bags. I gave them an hour long show. When I drive out to a place I can bring more and different gear.

 

One thing that I used to do but probably won't be doing much anymore is a red-hot metal walk. I had a blacksmith build a small propane forge. I would heat a metal strip to red-hot and then bend it into a "U" shape with my bare foot. I ran it off a big tank of propane and a hairdryer. After the tragedy in Rhode Island I doubt I will be able to do that again, at least inside. I am surprised that I got away with it for so long. I toured with it for years.

 

Another thing that I rarely do is getting a big stick broken over my back. This is a Kung-Fu stunt that is ultra-dangerous. There are only a few people that I trust to swing the stick at me. When I was first learning this I cracked my ribs twice. It is one of those stunts that is really difficult and dangerous but does not get a very strong reaction. When I toured with my "Torture Tech" Jeff McCormick we did it every night.

 

Q. Are there any stunts you would like to see yourself doing in the near future?

 

A. One thing that I have said that I would like to do is the sword through the body stunt that was performed by Mirn Dajo in Switzerland in the late 1940s. He would have someone run him completely through with a sharpened fencing style sword. It would go all the way through the center of the body at various places. He was studied extensively by doctors and was 100% for real. I have recently made contact with the grandson of the guy who pushed the sword through Dajo. He informs me that he is still alive at 90 years of age and has just completed a book on Dajo. I plan to travel to Europe to meet with him.

 

Q. Have you ever been contested for the name Torture King?

 

A. I suppose there are people who might want to do that. I have heard that there have been people who have used that name. The fact is it is an old sideshow title, but I pretty much resurrected it. When I started using it, no one else was.

 

As for anyone else recently using that name, have you heard of them in more than passing terms? I am doing the acts and touring and getting people to shows and now have a show in Las Vegas. There is more to having a title than just calling yourself something. You have to prove yourself with not just the acts that you do, but on the business end as well.

 

In general, I am against competition of sideshow type acts. This is how people get hurt or even killed. This has been the case in the past with sword swallowing. The closest I have been to a competition was the "Battle of the Sideshows" in Winnipeg, Canada. I was on a tour of Canada going east to west. Jim Rose was touring west to east. We ended up meeting in the middle and playing the same club on the same weekend. I put out challenges to Rose and his troupe. Rose would have no part of it and went on long tirades when the media asked him about it. The local press came and reviewed both shows. They declared my show the winner, or I wouldn't be telling you about it.

 

Q. Where do you see the business of sideshow going in the future?

 

A. The sideshow acts will always be around, where they are presented is always changing.

 

When I started performing in a serious way, the innovation was taking the sideshow to the rock club circuit. At that time many people, especially younger people had almost no awareness of the acts. Nowadays you can see sideshow acts on TV almost any day of the week. Sideshow will once again become a part of normal life. The trend seems to be the permanent theater show. Todd Robbins has Carnival Knowledge in NYC and the Bindlestiffs have had a theater there as well. I am working in the SHOCK show in Las Vegas. Look for more shows like these in other cities. Understand that these shows are opening up new territory. Ask anyone who is involved in producing one. It's a lot of hard work. Hopefully it will be easier in the future.

 

Q. Do you think the sideshow will ever have a home again in circuses or on carnival midways?

 

A. I think that they could, but something in society would have to change to make this viable. I think that some people hang on to a romantic idea of what circus or carnival life is like. There are many wonderful carnivals and circuses out there, but they are a shadow of what they used to be. I have great respect for the people who continue these traditions, but they will tell you they have had to change much to accommodate modern society, particularly in the marketing aspect. The key to success is change, and although I would like to see the sideshows at circuses and carnivals, I am not fixated on the concept.

 

Q. Would you say that performing in Las Vegas has changed you in any way?

 

A. Well, only to the extent that I now wear a sequined cape and hang out with Paris Hilton.... But seriously, about the only way that Vegas has changed me is the fact that I am now in a semi-permanent place. I had been an almost full-time nomad for about a decade.

 

The most difficult thing about the show is marketing it. Techniques that worked with a touring show will not work in Vegas. Even things that would work in another city will not work here, as everyone is from out of town. You have to somehow get their attention before they come to town. It is a learning experience.

 

Q. Are there any types of acts that you do for the historical or the religious purposes as opposed to performing them for the public?

 

A. Although some of the things I do have been used in a spiritual context, when people come to a show they want to be entertained, so that is what I give them. If people are interested in other aspects of the act, I talk to them about it after the show. I use techniques that I learned from Sufis in the acts, but people never see unless they already have knowledge of Sufism.

Interview By Ses Carny

 

For more information on Tim Cridland visit his website at: www.mindandmatter.net

For more information on Tim's Shock Show in Las Vegas visit: www.shockshow.com

For more information on Tim's Shock Show at the Climate Theater visit www.climatetheater.com

For more information on photos by Richard Faverty visit: www.beckettstudios.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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