Natalie Zed: Defying Gravity

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sideshow Skills

I was reading an article on Coney Island sideshows the other day. The Sideshow by the Seashore is, in fact, the last official sideshow left in the States. The article was about the phenomenon of self-made freaks. There was a point in the early 20th century when people started to get uncomfortable with the idea of staring at people with disabilities. The notion that these people were being exploited dawned upon the masses and most sideshows shut down.

Or, in the case of the Sideshow by the Seashore, transformed. The acts changed. Suddenly, the stages were populated by self-made freaks: geeks, blockheads, sword-swallowers and fire-eaters, escape artists, illustrated men and women -- people willing to do horrible, awesome things to themselves on stage. The Sideshow by the Seashore thrives.

The article was interesting, certainly feeding my long time interest in sideshow culture, but then I got to the end.

And my life may have just changed forever.

Traditionally, a sideshow performer teaches their skill to one person and one person only. Often a family member, this apprentice works with them, absorbs their skills, and eventually goes on to perform themselves. This system ensured that the skills did not die with the performer, but also protected said skills from becoming common knowledge. Not that most people would want to stick nails up their nose or set off a mousetrap with their tongue, but you get the drift.

But, like everything else about the sideshow, to survive this system had to change.

The Sideshow by the Seashore offers classes.

I found this and immediately wrote the professor. It is, indeed, absolutely true. I, too, can learn to be a blockhead. I have all the course info and registration information. It is really a question of when.

And I will. Oh, I will. Ed and I are going on our honeymoon this April, meaning that the Spring classes are probably out. However, I have been assured that the same curriculum will be offered this fall, most likely in the first week of November. I'll be gone for a week and come back with the most invaluable collection of skills ever.

I've always been a freak. I've hidden, I've fought against it, I've camouflaged myself. Dying my hair and getting a tattoo was the first step to embracing my ugliness, my oddness, and it was one of the most freeing things I've ever done. The time for me to burst out of my little human cocoon may finally have come. And hilariously, I'll be able to do it in a classroom, my natural habitat.

I'm going to Sideshow School.


Natalie Zed updated @ 11:59 a.m.!!