Beginning Sideshow Arts

by Slim Price

I sometimes get mail asking about how to start learning sideshow arts.


This is my answer,

First you need to analyze your self, and your reasons. If you want to learn to impress the guys at the bar, or your frat buddies, or to get girls, forget it!  By and large, the acts are dirty, invoke some pain, take years to learn properly and you will find that “normal” people will look at you as something less than normal.


The acts will probably cause you medical problems later in life, or immediately. It isn’t like magic at all, the damage you do to yourself can last for years. I often think that in our current media society, people think an accident  (there will be some) goes away at the end of the clip, or movie… This is not true. An accident can take weeks or months to recover from, and can even cause you permanent disfigurement…


The best (only) way to learn is with a pro teacher who has lived this life. I don’t mean the kid at 7/11 who sucks fire from a Bic. I mean a working professional. Learning from a book is the worst way to get this knowledge. I  think I have read most of the books on the subject, and I am often appalled  by errors, missed points, plain lies and oversights, all of which can bite you!  Even when you know it all, a pro can see a lot of things you will miss, and might save you a lot of damage to yourself or others.


Slim’s notes are overwritten to prevent as much of this as possible, but sometimes surprising interpretations slip in.  I remember writing several additions to a note to clarify putting a Band-aid over a thumbtack...


Most of the people who chose to start learning sideshow acts are young, impressionable, frequently misfits, and are looking to make some kind of mark. “See what I  can do!” This is understandable, but the fact is that there are a lot of better, easier, cleaner, and more profitable ways to make a living. Working at McDonald’s  will  earn you more, and you won’t spend most of your time looking for the next gig.  Even the best performers have dry spells.


Although most of the acts however, dangerous, are simple, few initiates realize the need for learning to be an entertainer. This is really what separates the tyros from the pros in every field, not just sideshow work. Theater  skills are what will make the money and work for you. If you are still in school take advantage of your theatrical options, acting, stagecraft, voice, costume, scripting, learn anything and anything you can. If you are a “civilian,” do the same. It’s an investment sure to pay off…


Don’t try to learn everything at once...There are dozens of nuances in any single act that can only be learned by exploration. Mastering one act and doing it well, (and adding your own persona) will always serve you better than “shotgunning” several badly done stunts. When you begin working a sideshow act, the first thing you will want to do is ‘push the envelope.”  This, more than anything else will get you in trouble… Give your art a little time to nurture, until you really understand it… Above all, learn from a pro mentor.


An after thought :


Learn to stop calling what we do "Geek Magic." That is a term that real sideshow performers find very offensive.  Geeks were the lowest form of sideshow performers, Low drunks and junkies who would eat the grossest things. Live snake heads. Live chicken heads, for example, just to get a fix...


REMEMBER - The best (only) way to learn is with a pro teacher who has lived this life.


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