Nature Imitates Art and Art Imitates Nature


However I only went to see one show "Armando and Benito", featuring the separated Siamese twins Armando and Benito. Everybody had been crammed in a small tent, all staring at a red curtain, emanating from behind it were strange sounds. What was going on there, we didn't know, the audience sat there waiting and then it started. The only thing we could see at first was a hairpiece, quickly a head appeared through the curtain and started speaking.


A strange tale was told, the man told that he came from a land far far away, a land where nobody was shocked about a case like his. A peculiar tale unfolded, the head told the audience that when he was born he split the body of his mother in half when he rolled out. The curtain opened and a wheelchair with a man in it appeared on stage. The man in the wheelchair had three legs, one leg was quickly thrown away. Armando starts talking and as a professional talker he presents his cast, however, most of his freaks seemed unavailable, Johnny the rotweiler boy send his cat because he found a bitch and had started a nice kennel with her, the fat lady and the giant were also absent, a rather disabled start for this oddity cabinet.


However there were still three acts left, Armando, Benito, and Malaria. These three weird characters will do their thing this evening. Malariais a bearded lady, though lady is a big word, she's of the female gender but otherwise she has more in common with an animal. However she can perform, she's a dancer, and a petomane (Josef Pujol would've been jealous). She's also subjected to ringleader Armando. Later on in the show Benito is also introduced. Much to the public's amazement, Benito has no arms, and is under complete control of Armando. Throughout the show Benito shows in a very crude and rough way all the things that he can do without arms. Making a sandwich with his feet, and then offering it to a visitor, playing a pan flute, who doesn't want the filthy sandwich(made on the floor of the theatre). He's then dragged on the floor for a box match with Benito and Benito wins of course. The glove was attached to his head and the victim had been cuffed. After the show the public left slightly estranged.


I must admit it was a strange show for me as well as the public, I couldn't really believe it that two disabled people were performing live on stage, acting as freaks in a freak show. It was also a powerful play filled with intentional hyper acting, imagine a rollercoaster ride going down, up and the like. However the shock effect only lasted a few seconds, but the public was a tad more estranged. Some just looked with utter shock and some of the children didn't know how to react. However everyone kept watching, no one left. Seems that the interest in the show and what "they" could do was stronger than their "moral consciousness" which told them this can't be done. A key element in the whole play is humour in all its forms. It softens and shocks the public making the whole performance "edible". Armando told me that he was one of 7 children, 5 of which were disabled, as well his father. Despite the misery, the family laughed a lot. His mom is his biggest fan, I am her youngest and "snelsten" (most beautiful).


According to the Director and writer K.De Poorter the whole play was created on request, the lads and lasses from Cirq had asked him to do a play featuring freaks. Instead of watching Carnivale, he decided to surf the internet. The images gave him the impression of obscenity, affection, and bitter grief. He wanted to recreate the same atmosphere. He started looking for the right music and slowly the play was formed. After some try-outs and conversations with the prime actors, he got the impression that the midget lady didn't feel at ease in her role, she was replaced by a different actress, a "normal actress" and this seemed to work more. However in the past he had already seen Jim Rose as well as the Kamikaz freakshow. Here he learned that humour can change the way people react on shocking situations. Though this wasn't the only factor, in his previous experiences in comedy he had discovered similar material.


The main two actors1, Armando and Benito, or Armand Vanderschelden (39 years old) and Yves Vermeulen (23 years), had some previous experiences as actors in a variety of plays. Yves, a socio-cultural worker, played a role in "Tram 40" a socio-artistic theatre project and he will also be featured in a movie from Director Stijn Coninx about the disabled athlete Mark Herremans. Benito had his doubts about joining the play because he was afraid of how people would react. However the main aim of Cirq is entertainment and he likes to entertain. The other main attraction is Armando; Armando has been working with Cirq for quite some time, in a variety of plays and has also been

featured in a TV-documentary. His main job is being an entertainer, his carte de visite reads as "Armando" full-bled song god. He sings, performs in plays and gives lectures on coping with disability. Armando says that for the actors the audience mostly is the main attraction. Yves mentioned in a newspaper article that "We are not freaks, but we play freaks, the thin line between reality and fiction can be tricky and causes heated discussions in the public. Armando however told me that he is proud to be a "freak". He considers himself as a freak. His favorite movie is, as you may suspect, "Freaks".


Ruben De Somer


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Nature Imitates Art and Art Imitates Nature



Armando and Malariais a bearded lady

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