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 Blade Box. 

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 smaller still.

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 in)

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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