So You Want To Be A Sideshow Star?
Ask Ward Hall!
Ever thought about running off to
join the circus or sideshow, but didn't know where to start?
An event taking place in Tampa this
weekend may help.
The 2nd Annual Seminar of Sideshow Arts
starts Thursday evening and will give a few dozen budding carnies the inside
knowledge on the performance and business techniques needed to succeed as a
sword swallower, bearded lady or knife thrower.
"This is a behind-the-scenes look
for sideshow enthusiasts" according to event organizer Chris Christ, who has
been in the sideshow world for more than five decades. "We'll be discussing the
history and acts that people don't know about."
For instance, Christ will
demonstrate how to perform old sideshow stunts that aren't done anymore.
"We'll show one act where you wrap a
rope around a guy's neck and have four guys pull on it," Christ told The
Another arcane act that will be
demonstrated has has four men from the audience try -- and fail -- to lift a
"These are acts that, for a variety
of reasons, can no longer be done professionally," Christ said.
Christ, along with longtime partner Ward Hall,
World Of Wonders.
Along with the Coney Beach Sideshow in New York
Venice Beach Freakshow,
the World Of Wonders is one of the few regularly working sideshows in the
Even so, interests in the sideshow arts is at an
all-time high, according to Tim O'Brien, a former executive of
Ripley's Believe It Or Not!
"There are more glass walkers,
blockheads and sword swallowers than ever," he told HuffPost. "But they aren't
Christ believes that could change as
there is new interest in the sideshow arts.
"Most of my crew is under 30 and
most have Ph.D.s," Christ claimed.
Certainly, being properly trained is
a better than the apprenticeship experienced by Hall, who joined the carnival
when he was 14.
"On his first day on the job,
he burned down a shed trying to learn how to eat fire
because he said he could do it in order to get hired," said O'Brien, who is
working on a biography about Hall.
Other events in the
three-day sideshow seminar
include a lecture on how to deal with
tough crowds, bad weather and an audience that surrounding you on all sides; a
historical tour of sideshow banners through the ages; and a panel called
"Sideshow Through The Eyes of a Journalist" featuring O'Brien and HuffPost Weird
News executive editor Buck Wolf.
Included in the $155 fee is a field
trip to the International Independent Showmen's Association Showman's Club of
Gibsonton, which is the official headquarters of the carnival and amusement
industry, a private tour of The Museum of the American Carnival, and a
behind-the-scenes tour of "The World of Wonders Sideshow" at the Tampa
On Saturday, there will be "Big
Show" featuring what are being called, in true carny hyperbole, some of the
country's finest sideshow acts including sword swallowers, knife throwers and
Some might consider it weird to have
a three-day seminar focused on being a carnival barker, but Christ wouldn't be
one of them.
"Why is it important to keep the
Civil War alive?" he asked rhetorically. "This is an indigenous American art
Article by David Moye 1-2014 The