Scott McClelland - 3/1/04


Q.   April 1st 2004 will mark the twelfth anniversary for your Canadian based Carnival Diablo. I would imagine when you started out you had certain goals in mind for the show and yourself. When you look at where you and the show are now how does it compare to the goals you originally had in mind?


A.  When Carnival Diablo was first brought into the world my aspirations were to propagate my grandfatherís history and place on show in a Victorian setting his collection of FREAKS and WONDERS plus perform a theatrical version of what it might have been like to watch a Sideshow in the late 19th century. I opened a stationary tourist attraction in Calgary, Alberta Canada. The attraction was like going to a twisted adult version of Disneyland. It was housed in a building that took up one city block in downtown Calgary and you could spend hours going thru the place seeing over 100 exhibits of the Strange and Unusual. During the course of the evening we also had many different things that you could do such as 'Clown Alley', a place to which you could test your abilities at old Victorian carnival games of skill and if you won, you would receive a genuine antique carnival toy from the 1940's. But winning was not THAT easy! The venue was also haunted by some interesting performers that could be found in different parts of the carnival during the course of the evening such as Living Greek Statues (Beautiful nude models painted white and standing still for hours on end), Celtic musicians and also Vintage and Indie films that you could watch during the course of your stay. The Grande Finale to every evening was the Sideshow at midnight you could watch from circus bleachers a full ten in one show with special guests weekly. The shows became so popular that I decided that Carnival Diablo had to expand and be seen by even more people so after running the attraction for a year I decided to take the show on the road. From day one I saw Carnival Diablo as a World not just a performance.


Serendipity is a funny thing. As I was running the attraction Carnival Diablo, Jim Rose was just beginning to create his now notorious sideshow. I had no clue that he existed yet we were destined to meet only a few months into his first tour. And so for the record Carnival Diablo began and still runs as an entity outside of the influences of Jim Rose.


Most sideshows from the past all used the name of the owner as the moniker for the show i.e.: Harvey Boswell's Freak-O-Rama or Hall and Christ's World Of Wonders, etc. I wanted from the very beginning to create a world that went way beyond the traditional idea of what a sideshow should be and create a mythological place that people could fall into. What better place to play than at the 'Devils Carnival?' Carnival Diablo was and is a concept much like Cirque du Soleil, an ever-expanding world that embodies many different facets of the Amusement and Show industry.


Q.  A lot can change in twelve years. Can you describe some of the changes the show has seen since its inception?


A.  Carnival Diablo has always been a stage show that embodies the ideals of the 19th century but it has morphed from a historical look at the sideshow from Barnum's time period to a twisted trip down the rabbit hole and thru the looking glass. Over the past 12 years the show has become more of a journey into Dante's Inferno than your traditional style show from the 19th century.


As time progressed I began to write a subtext into the show that based the characters out of a mythological world of vampires and creatures of the night. I mixed the false memories of Moulin Rouge and Grande Guignol Theatre into the show. It became a show of what you 'would' dream if a carnival were run by mystical beings.


Suddenly the world that was once familiar and traditional was now decadent and otherworldly. The sets became more extravagant and began to reflect a more sinister undertone, and the costumes and make-up became more enhanced and exaggerated. Our show was never raw instead it was cold and calculating. You could never feel that you would meet the characters in our show on the street or in the market. Many performers have taken Jim's route of performance, allowing the audience to see the Marvels as humans with "Freaky" skills. Carnival Diablo has introduced performers that are not of this world and too exotic to be seen outside of the world which they live. There is no shred of humanity left in our show.


Q.  Do you foresee any additional changes or updated goals for Carnival Diablo in the near future?


A.  Ever since I closed the stationary attraction in Calgary I had wanted to place my grandfatherís Freaks and Oddities on display again. I spent 7 years proposing the idea of bringing back the Freakshow to Conklin Shows and in 2000 my wish was finally granted.


Alfie Phillips, the president of Conklin Shows had the foresight to see that my idea had finally found its time. The carnival industry in Canada had not seen a Freakshow in 15 years and Mr. Phillips thought he would give me a chance to see if people still bought into this archaic idea of showing oddities for profit. It worked! And Carnival Diablo's World of Wonders was unveiled to the public in the spring of 2001. It has had a very successful run over the past 3 years and for our 4th season with Conklin Shows I will be unveiling a NEW Attraction...a Single-O Attraction under the Big Top! I don't want to give anything away yet but this attraction will also be steeped in the mythology of Carnival Diablo.


My whole drive as a producer is to tell a good story and draw the unwary public into a place that could only exist in our deepest fantasies. And so every couple of seasons Carnival Diablo will unveil a NEW Attraction with Conklin Shows, creating a back-end for the carnival that people will never forget!


Q.  Carnival Diablo may be only twelve years old, but you have a history of carnival and sideshow type entertainment in your family that dates back almost eighty-five years. In fact, by checking out the history section of your website it seems you have quite a reputation to live up to. How does
that affect you personally as well as the show itself?


A.  My grandfatherís midway and shows was impressive because it was built with his own hands, he did not buy carnival rides he created them. The music that you heard on the midway was composed by my grandfather and the shows were framed from the ground up by the family.


He was a Botanist, a Chemist, a Shaman and an inventor.


His artistic talents were boundless, he could play 14 different instruments ranging from strings to horns, and he painted all the banners and backdrops for his shows and designed all the props and costumes worn during the performances. I have been aware of his talents ever since I was very young and I don't think that I can ever completely fill his shoes. But because he was such a Renaissance Man I feel that I can take my cue from there and do as much as possible to create MY own world.


Q.  Even with the history your family has there is a difference between being "born into it" and "born to do it." Which one best describes your entrance into the business?


A.  Carnival Diablo opened on April Fools Day 1992...but the seed for the world which I live in was planted when I was 5 or 6. My grandfather owned Prof. N. P. Lewchuk's Traveling Shows from 1920 thru 1968 and maintained the midway and shows as a stationary attraction right up until 1987. My first memories have been based around the sights, smells and sounds of the carnival. Luckily, my grandfatherís carnival was maintained much as it was when it worked in the 20's thru the 50's. The rides, the shows and the banners ALL reflected the past...not the NOW. It was a family run show that was old fashioned and quaint. Much the way America has romanticized the carnival in film.


My grandfather had said, "Famous showmen are born, not made." I believe the same to be true. If you are destined to be a showman of quality you will have the rudimentary abilities sitting innate inside of you right from conception. That was the difference between Amadeus Mozart and Salieri.


Q.  Do you see Carnival Diablo as carrying on a family tradition or was it inspired by your family's history? By that I mean do you feel as though the torch was passed on to you or did you just sit down one day and say "hey my family has been in this business for years, I have to do something with the knowledge I have."


A.  The torch was passed on to me. In 1977 I received a letter from my grandfather stating, "Whenever you come to the carnival you always have a crowd of people watching you because you are such a ham. Have you ever considered working in show biz? If you are interested in becoming an entertainer you must first pass a test. You must learn and master 'The Cups and Balls', an ancient magic trick that has been around since the Pharaohís of Egypt. If you want to work as a showman you have 2 months to master it and then you have to perform it for me. If you fool me you can become a showman. If you don't, I will never let you join the industry." This test was important in formulating what I was to become. To perform the feat properly was to use misdirection, psychology and patter to engage your 'mark'. I understood that then and I am forever grateful for it now. When the time came I performed the feat and fooled the master.


That same year my grandfather enrolled me into the International Brotherhood of Magicians and took me to a large convention for showmen and performers. I met performers that worked in the industry during the heyday of vaudeville and burlesque and had the pleasure of witnessing some of the greats in the world of sideshow and magic.


From late 1977 on, I was working in the industry touring with my own vaudeville/magic show called 'Prof. Crookshanks Traveling Medicine Show.í I spent the next 15 years emulating the shows my grandfather would perform in the early 20th century. The shows that I produced were always story driven and character based, which eventually would come in handy when it came time to realize my true calling...sideshow.


Q.  It's very easy to sit back and decide you want to start your own traveling sideshow. It's another thing to actually do it. What was it that made you act upon your idea?


A.  For 15 years I performed an Ole' Time Vaudeville and Medicine Show, but I had hit a point where I, I NEEDED to re-invent myself as a showman and a performer. In 1991 I made a trip out to Los Angeles. I spent a month there immersing myself in the entertainment scene.


During my stay I visited Disneyland, because I knew many of the performers that worked the costume characters at the time. It was New Yearís Eve and I was using the secret back streets to maneuver between rides. As I walked briskly from 'The Pirates of the Caribbean' to 'The Haunted Mansion', I noticed that I was suddenly surrounded by undercover police. I thought at first I was in trouble but as I looked from my right to my left I saw that walking in step with me was Michael Jackson. He said to the bodyguards, 'He's OK', and we walked together for about 5 minutes. No words were exchanged but he was comfortable with me in his circle. He veered of to go onto the 'Matterhorn' and as he emerged to the public, Michael Mania began!


That evening on the news the biggest story of the day was the Michael Jackson sighting at Disneyland. I went back to my hotel room and sat in a daze for the whole night. I never thought that I would meet an icon like Michael Jackson, and I suddenly had a strong need to write down some prophetic ideas for my future. Both Michael and I worked in the industry at a very young age and we both had a need to collect unusual things. Strangely, I ended up adding to my sideshow collection a full-bodied exhibit of John Merrick 'The Elephant Man' in 1993.


But I digress, when I returned to Calgary it was a magical time, at first I had no idea what I was to do with my newfound inspiration but that lasted only a couple days. I was looking for a new rehearsal space to work on my show ideas and I came across this wonderful old building that was being rented by a small art gallery. I approached the curator and asked if he had any space that I could use for rehearsing and he did, in the back.


For the first week of being there I set up my vaudeville show and just tinkered with it but then one day I noticed that there was a set of stairs that went up to a locked door. I had to know what was up there. I asked the curator if he knew anything about the upper level and he said that it was just an old storage space. I asked if he had keys...HE DID. We walked up the steps and he placed the key in the old door, as it opened, suddenly EVERYTHING came into perspective and I knew what I had to do! This upper floor was one LARGE loft that was one city block long! There was no question in my mind. I had to build an attraction! Carnival Diablo in an Explosion of inspiration was born!


Q.  When the final decision was made to create the show what kind of physical and financial effort did you have to put forth to make it work?


A.  I secured the lease on the upper floor and immediately commenced on building this new attraction. I spent my life savings making this dream a reality. I wanted it to be ready and open to the public by April Fools Day... and if you build it...they will come! Without any effort, artisans came out of the woodwork to make the dream happen. Set decorators from the film industry, theater technicians, carpenters and friends gathered together to help create one of the most unique attractions in Canada's history!


Q.  How long did it take you to get the show just the way you wanted it?


A.  Once the stationary attraction was realized, I had time to build a stage show in the space. This was very handy, because I could take my time and try different things in front of an audience and also build props that would break down for touring. By late '93, I had the basis for the show the way it is seen to this day. Every year I would enhance and throw more money into the production and by 1995 I had the show down to an art when it came to packing small, but playing BIG.


Q.  The show itself seems to have an almost sinister haunted house style to it. What was it that made you go in that direction?


A.  In the early 80's outside of producing my vaudeville shows, I was also producing haunted house attractions. In 1981 I worked on an attraction called 'The Caine Manor', where I apprenticed under a famous SFX artist named Charles Porlier. I helped create many of the creatures and special effects for the Mansion. I also created a character that I portrayed as the host named 'Charles'. This was to be the beginning of my journey into the world of horror.


In 1983, I was in charge of creating Canada's largest haunted attraction at that time called 'The Black Castle'. I created ALL the special effects and creatures and created a new character called 'Roscoe P. Rigormortis the 3rd.' This character was to be a precursor to 'Nikolai Diablo' of Carnival Diablo. I have had a strong love for good horror films since a very young age. With the success of the haunted attractions I worked on in the early 80's, I knew I was destined to be the harbinger of things that go bump in the night.


Q.  Do you feel that having that theme helps in separating your show from other sideshows?


A.  Carnival Diablo is the only Victorian Horror Show on the planet! It has made it easier and harder to book because of it. It would be simple to compare our show to Jim Rose if we had the same format, but we don't. And so it has been a challenge booking our show when there is nothing in the industry to compare it too.


Q.  Another important factor in your show is how you make a special connection with the audience. Can you describe what you feel that connection is and how you accomplish it?


A.  The most important thing that we have to do before the show even starts is set the tone for the evening. Right when you enter the venue you are walking into a completely fabricated world. Large sets and props create an atmosphere of an old Victorian carnival. Eerie carnival music plays as the stage sits in darkness and you can vaguely make out the shapes of diabolical equipment that will soon be used on the human body. Large 20 ft. sideshow banners hang from the ceiling surrounding the audience in a cocoon of canvas. An animatronic Victorian talker gestures and speaks of the carnage that is soon to take place. The concession area looks like an old gypsy wagon camp and the concessionaires seem more like apparitions then real people. The show begins right when you purchase your ticket...and goes into full swing when the lights come up on the RingMonster.


Q.  A popular phrase in the sideshow industry goes something like "In ten years you'll forget the money you spent to see the show, but you'll never forget what you saw here tonight!" What is it about Carnival Diablo that will make people remember exactly what they saw for years to come?


A.  The characters. The feats may be Astounding! But the characters in the show will resonate in the publicís collective psyche for years afterwards.


Q.  With all of the "shock factor" style TV shows nowadays you're still able to fill the seats at your shows. Some people credit that with the fact that seeing a show live is much different than seeing it on TV. I think it goes deeper than that though. What are your thoughts on it?


A.  I feel that we are living in a time where everyone can get instant satisfaction from the press of a button, the X-Box, the internet and DVD's have changed the way we view entertainment. Audiences can see the most atrocious things on TV and DVD and it doesn't phase them anymore, but when you go and see a well produced how things change. The sideshow is the last pure form of visceral entertainment. The performers in a sideshow become the shaman performing for their tribe. The audience bonds on a certain level knowing that what they are witnessing is real and very dangerous. It is a right of passage for our modern day society. We open doors to questions about morality, mortality and the metaphysical. Magic still exists in the world of sideshow.


Q.  When someone does come to see your show live they can obviously see how much effort went into the preparation. Very few though will give any thought to what happens once the lights go down and the show is over. Now we know there is the physical end of wrapping up the show when it's complete, but can you give us an idea of what the emotional aspect is like when all is said and done?


A.  At the end of an evening it is therapeutic to methodically take down the show and load it for the journey to our next destination. As we secretly build our world, when all is said and done we dismantle it and whisk it away...never seen by our audience. Just like the carnival, it comes at night and when itís over you never really see it leave.


Q.  Another part of the show the general public doesn't see is injuries you sustain during an act that you do not react to until you leave the stage. What are examples of times where you or another performer has injured them self on stage and waited until you left the stage to treat it?


A.  Over the years my performers have all sustained injuries of one sort or other. Itís the nature of our business. I have had sword swallowers nick their esophagusís and stomach lining. Strongmen bruise their hands and create hairline fractures during the setting off of animal leg hold traps on their bodies. I had one strongman loose 4 teeth when the iron bar that he was bending in his teeth twisted in his mouth. As many of the people reading this know from experience...sideshow IS dangerous! But that is what sets us apart from every other form of entertainment.


Q.  Have you or any of the other performers sustained any injuries in front of an audience that you were not able to keep from them?


A.  Two years ago at Edmonton's Klondike Days at Northlands Coliseum in front of 2000 people I opened our show by playing a game of Russian Roulette with a buck knife. I had a spectator place a buck knife upright in a plank of wood that had 4 holes drilled into it that could hold the handle of the knife so that it stuck straight up while my back was turned. He was then to place a tall styrofoam cup over each position, so that when I turned around to see the plank I would not be able to tell where the buck knife was. The game was simple. I was to crush 3 cups with my outstretched palms and leave one standing. Hopefully the one standing was the one with the buck knife beneath it. My hand came down on the first cup....and success! I now went through the motions again...SLAM!...Success! Now I was down to 2 choices. Sadly, I made the wrong choice and slammed my hand down onto the buck knife and it went right threw my hand!


I knew I was in trouble, but I couldn't let my audience know how bad it was. At this point they thought that maybe this was part of the show. As my hand began to bleed like a stuck pig they could see that maybe this was no fancy special effect. I attempted to ignore it and felt I could still wow them with another feat. I performed the Human Blockhead and was now visibly loosing a lot of blood. I told the audience that I felt I had done some damage to myself performing the Russian Roulette game but I would be back tomorrow
night to perform a show unlike they have ever seen! The audience understood and cheered, and the next nights show was sold out!


Unbeknownst to the audience as I left the stage and descended the steps I collapsed in shock. The accident happened on the first day of a 10 day stint at the Coliseum and I have to admit, it was the best gorilla advertising I ever had for a show! I made the papers worldwide..."Freak Accident in Freakshow!" People were traveling from all over to see the REAL feats performed in our demented sideshow! The best thing you can do is turn a bad situation into an opportunity.


Q.  Have you or any of the other performers sustained any injuries while practicing for your shows?


A.  During the learning time period in a performers life accidents can bring on some GOOD lessons for their future. I have had glass walkers cut their feet during practice, because they weren't concentrating on the jumping and had come down on the outer edge of the glass pile instead of the middle. I have found that when doing the electric chair during rehearsal over and over again it can create welts on the flesh where the fluorescent light bulb made contact (to me thatís just good comedy). But most injuries have been avoided through common sense.


Q.  There was footage of you having an accident with fire while you were filming for a show that ended up being featured on a "disasters caught on tape" TV special. Would you like to give us a little info on that and how it made you feel?


A.  Sadly I never knew that that footage had become public domain until it had aired and I received calls from concerned friends. When the accident had happened 9 years ago the television company had said that the footage would never see the light of day, which was before Extreme Reality TV. I was never made aware of the show and I wish I knew about it before it went to air. The pain that I suffered was terrible and it was not something that I could ever have foreseen as entertainment for the masses. But sadly that is how sick society has become.


The director of the show I was employed to perform on had NO clue as to how dangerous performing fire is on an outdoor set. In my contract I had specifically asked that they had fire blankets, emergency first aid and an emergency vehicle on set, just in case something went wrong. When it came time for my scene, I performed a couple sideshow feats and then was asked to do what we call in the industry a 'Volcano' (blowing a fireball with your mouth). I performed the 'volcano' 7 times for the cameras and on the 8th time the director asked if I could do a double blow. I said I had never attempted that before, but he said that maybe now was a good time to try. I wanted to make a good impression on the staff and crew and give them what they wanted. So I performed my first 'Double Volcano' on camera. It went without a hitch, but right when I had finished the blow, the director stated that camera 2 was off, please do it again...cameras are still rolling. He gave me no chance to wipe my face of the excess fluid and made me feel that time was of the essence, so I proceeded on my second blow. Immediately I saw the color orange in front of my eyes and knew that my head was on fire! I was lucid enough to know not to panic and run, but to tuck into myself and smother the flames, which I did.


The crew panicked and tried to put the fire out by kicking dirt into my freshly created wounds. I was told that they had NO nurse on hand, NO Emergency truck and NO First Aid! I was sent to a hospital in a cargo van. When I got there the doctor and nurse spent 4 hours picking rocks and dirt out of my wounds. I learnt later that the tents that I had been performing in front of were never fireproofed and that was just one more lame story about how negligent they were when it came to employees safety. I spent 5 months doing skin peels and thankfully now, you would never know that I was once a burn victim.


I have learnt a hard lesson from working in the film industry, they will go to any lengths to get there shot on film even if it endangers the actors and crew. I also learnt that itís OK to say NO if you feel that something isn't quite right. I will never allow my better judgment to be tampered with ever again.


Q.  The previous questions highlight the reality of sideshow. What you do is real, it's dangerous and it hurts sometimes! Do you find that even in this modern day and age there are still people that think what you do is all an illusion?


A.  No matter whose show an audience goes to see 45% of the audience will believe that some of the feats performed are not real. There is no getting around it. I am not a purist and will sometimes mix gaffed feats with my real ones during a show because I believe that itís the quality of the entertainment, not how painful an act is that really is important. An audience is there to be entertained and some performers think that an audience (which has the attention span of a gnat) will sit through a 20 minute flesh hook performance. They will, but to what end? They are just as wowed by a good sword swallower or bug eater. Yes, pain is fun to watch, when itís not happening to you, but when youíre performing 175 shows a year, you gotta know when to draw the line.


Q.  To change subjects, Carnival Diablo is pretty much the only true professional representation of a sideshow in Canada. Has this helped your career along due to the lack of competition or do you think it has hindered it because of the lessened amount of mainstream popularity?


A.  Sideshow in this day and age with all of its spectacle and freakiness still is a hard type of entertainment to book anywhere. It ain't for everyone, and it is limited to adult audiences. Only certain feats can be performed for families and if itís not packaged properly you can loose more audiences then you can create. It also has its cycles. People are now a little more 'Been there done that' in attitude. In some ways Jim Rose was great for the industry and in other ways, he's KILLED it. Sideshow is going to have to change with the times and as we move deeper into the 21st century I hope that we all can keep up.


Q.  Have you visited America and attended any of the various sideshow events throughout the country? If so, which ones have you seen?


A.  I have seen quite a few shows over the years but they have come through Canada. I have witnessed Jim Roseís Circus Sideshow, Zamora The Torture King, Captain Don Leslie's Circus Sideshow, Ward Hall's World Of Wonders, The Puzzilion Show and I have been to Vegas to see the show, 'Shock'.


Q.  How much of an influence has the American sideshow community had on your show?


A.  The American Sideshow of this day and age has had little to no influence on my show. My influences were my grandfather and the study of vaudeville and old world sideshows from the 19th century. I have also been strongly influenced by European productions and the horror industry. I have tried to turn sideshow into more of a theatre experience than just a spectacle. But I admit that I emulate P.T. Barnum as the father of sideshow.


Q.  Do you think you would have enjoyed the same success over the past twelve years had you started your show in America?


A.  I know for a fact that if I were American we would be world famous at this point. Demographically, the amount of people in your country is monstrous in proportion compared to Canada. That is why most successful Canadians move to America like Jim Carrey, William Shatner, Shania Twain etc.


Q.  Your show was featured on a film in which you shared the spotlight with the likes of Jim Rose and the Bros. Grimm Sideshow. That brings to mind the question of how much American media coverage your show has received and what affects it has had on your overall publicity?


A.  We are constantly garnering international press but I am wary of certain shows such as 'Ripley's Believe It Or Not', 'Guinness Book of World Records' and 'Fear Factor.' These shows take sideshow feats and turn them into party favorites, trivializing them down to a point to where they are no longer special anymore. Sideshow should still be seen as a live medium. The only time I allow our performances to be filmed is when I
feel that the TV company is educating the public on this amazing art form, not turning it into a BIG GAMESHOW.


Q.  To sum things up, how would you compare your Canadian show to the professional shows in America?


A.  I think that it is hard to compare what we are doing with American shows. It is like comparing The Shrine Circus with Cirque du Soleil. We are a totally different type of format.


Q.  Finally, is there anyone you would like to thank?


A. Thanks to all our fans that have supported us over the years! And thank you Ward Hall, Micky Hades, Alfie Phillips and my family!


Carnival Diablo is dedicated to the memory of Prof. N.P. Lewchuk


Interview by Derek Rose


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