The Art of the Talker 2
by Todd Robbin
In addition to being about
performance, the sideshow is about making money.
Some would say that making money comes first. After
all, Sideshows by the Seashore is the first not-for-profit
sideshow that was ever created. Now, it is true that
a number of sideshows lost money, but that is something
all together different. The reason that the subject
of profit is brought up is to underscore the importance of
sideshow talking. The difference between being in
the black and being in the red has a lot to do with the
quality of the talking.
You've already read about the Bally. This was used
to persuade people to buy a ticket. Once inside,
talking is used to get more money out of the audience with
what is known as a Ding. A Ding is any time you
offer people a chance to buy something. It could be
a magic trick sold at the end of the magician's act or a
postcard of one of the freaks in the show. Or it
could be the opportunity to come up and look into the
The Blade Box is a classic that has a bit of a scam vibe
to it. The way it works is simple. You have a
box that looks like an old saw a woman in half illusion.
The front and top open so a young lady can climb inside
and lie down. You close up the cabinet and insert
over a dozen blades through the box. The fact that
the girl is still in the box after all those blades are
inserted looks impossible. To prove she is still in
there, you give the audience a chance to come up onstage
to look down into the cabinet. Of course, there is
an additional fee that the audience must pay for the
privilege. The secret is that the blade are go
through the box in such a way that there is a pathway
between them with enough space to accommodate the girl.
Here is the text for the Blade Box:
We bring to our stage now a young woman that comes from a
long line of sideshow entertainers.
It is an honor to have her as
part of our show, so please put your hands together to
welcome the lovely Serpentina. (The girl enters)
This lovely lady is not only a beautiful young woman, but
she is also uniquely talented. She can bend,
stretch, twist and contort in ways you didn't know
possible. And we are going to demonstrate her
remarkable flexibility using this coffin-like cabinet
right here. We are going to put her inside and run
solid steel blades every which way through that box.
First let's open it up and show you what it's all about.
(The top and front of the box are opened) I wish to
draw your attention to the top of the cabinet. These
slots are for the seventeen blades I will be thrusting
through the box. These opening here are for you.
These are the viewing holes, for in just a moment you are
going to get the once in a lifetime chance to come up here
on stage, look down into the cabinet and see exactly how
this amazing feat is done. But first we must put her
inside and lock her up. (The girl lies down in the
cabinet) As you can see, she fills the cabinet quite
nicely, and no sir, you can't get in there with her.
When I'm done with it, there might not even be room for
her in there.
(The cabinet is closed up and the first blades are
inserted) We start with the three largest blades.
The first one divides the cabinet in half. The next
two are for the top and bottom halves. These are
like all the other blade in that they are made of solid
steel. They are not sharp, for we are not doing a
torture stunt here. No sir, we are not trying to
harm her. These blades just give her something to
twist her body around. Now, for the rest of the
blades. She never knows what order I'm going to put
the blades in. It keeps her on her toes.
There's no sleeping on the job with this act. As you
can see, the space in the cabinet is getting smaller and
I mentioned earlier that Serpentina comes from a show
business family, and this is true. Her grandmother
was the first person to do this act decades ago and her
mother did this act in sideshows for many years. At
a very young age, Serpentina discovered that she had
inherited the family flexibility that allows her to do
this act up to twelve times a day. Boy, you should
see what I see. Actually, you're going to get a
chance to see it for yourself. And if you do decide
to come up here, it's requested that for the safety of the
young lady here, that you don't stick your hands, or
anything else, into the cabinet. Once I get these
last blades in here, she will be locked into place and
will have no room to move. (The last blade in put
Now as you look at all this, you are probably saying to
yourself that isn't possible. She can't still be in
there. Maybe she got out through a trap door or
something, right? Okay, don't take my word for it.
Serpentina, show them you are still in the box. (She
sticks a hand out of the box and waves at the audience)
Let's have a big hand for the little lady!
Now folks, as far as the management is concerned, this is
the end of the act. You have seen all you can see
from your seats. However, Serpentina would like to
take this one step further. You see, she owns the
cabinet and the blades, this is her act, but she doesn't
get a salary for doing it. No sir, the only way she
can make a living is in donations from nice people like
you. And in return for a small donation, she will
give you a once in a lifetime chance to come up here
onstage, look down into the cabinet, and see exactly how
this amazing stunt is done. The donations can be
five dollars, ten dollars, as much as you would like to
give, but it is requested that it not be less than one
dollar for this is how makes her living, this is how she
feeds her family.
So, if you want to come up, come up now. We can't
keep her in there for very long, so come up now.
I'll collect the donations for her because, as you will
soon see, she's in no shape to collect them for herself.
Come on up and solve the mystery of Serpentina's cabinet.
It's a mystery that has perplexed generations. She's
in there, mangled and tangled around those steel blade.
She's in there, wearing nothing but that skimpy little
outfit and a great big smile. Come on up! (The
grind continues until the last few people are lined up)
It's last call. We've got to get her out of there.
And before I let her out, on behalf of Serpentina and her
family, I want to thank you for your generosity.
Let's have a nice hand to welcome back, Serpentina.
Another Ding is the Blow Off. This is the eleventh
act in a ten-act show. It's an extra-added
attraction and is presented in an area separate from the
rest of the show. This area is called the Annex.
Because it is in a separate area and not everyone will see
it (due to the additional charge), the Blow Off is often
something a bit stronger than the rest of the show.
Good examples of this are the fetus of a two headed baby
preserved in formaldehyde, strippers, a hermaphrodite
revealing it's double genitalia, the Gorilla Girl illusion
and a Human Pincushion Act. The sales pitch, or
Opening, can sell the attraction with specific details
about what will be seen in the Annex. A Blind
Opening can also be used that entices the audience, but
does not let them know exactly what they are buying.
Here's an example of a Blind Opening for a Blow Off:
Ladies and gentlemen, we now come to a special part of our
show. In each and every show we present on this
stage ten acts and attractions. At this time we
offer to all of you an extra added attraction. It
was not mentioned outside and will not be presented on
this stage. I draw your attention to the doorway
over there. This leads to the room we call the
Annex. It is here where you will find this next act.
We present it in there because it is not for everyone.
What you will experience in that room is not for the faint
of heart. As a matter of fact, no one under the age
of sixteen will be allowed into that room without the
accompaniment of an adult. And ladies, if you are in
a family way, you might want to pass on the opportunity to
go into the Annex. What we have in there might be
too much for you to handle. What are you going to
see in there?
Well, all I can say is that during the years that
sideshows have entertained the public, many strange sights
have been put on display in rooms like the one over there.
People like Frank Lentini, the man with three legs, Jeanie
Tomani, the girl with no lower half to her body, Grady
Stiles, the man that had what looked like lobster claws
instead of hands, alligator skin men, monkey girls, two
headed babies and more. But, what we will present in
just a moment goes far beyond all of them. It all
starts in just one minute. You are going to line up
right over there, that young lady will collect your
donations and let you into our Annex. Yes, you heard
me right. There is an additional charge to see this
attraction. We make no apologies for this. As
I said, this was not advertised on the outside and is not
part of the regular show. When you see what is
presented in there, you will understand why we have to
make this request. The additional charge is only a
dollar and it will be the best dollar you will ever spend,
for what you will experience in there, you will remember
for the rest of your life. If you want to go, go
now. We will take a short break on our stage here so
that you and see what is in the Annex and not miss any of
our regular show. Please go now, thank you.
There is a tradition that, instead of an intermission, a
Punch & Judy puppet show would be done while the Blow Off
was happening. This gave the women and children
something to watch while the men went in to see what was
to be seen. Often, when they got in there, a Three
Card Monte mob was in there waiting for them and would
fleece the guys before the Blow Off act happened.
Ain't show business grand?
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