The Bindlestiff Family Circus shared their review of the circus panel discussion on the sideshow resurgence and history that took place last week at Brooklyn Historical Society:
Bindlestiff co-founder Stephanie Monseu, Coney Island USA founder Dick Zigun, and Dean of Coney Island’s Sideshow School and old-time strongman Adam RealMan sat together on July 19 at the invitation of the Brooklyn Historical Society to discuss “The Circus Comeback: Brooklyn’s Nouveau Sideshows” before an audience of 60 plus people.
Topics for the discussion, moderated by Zigun, included:
The roots of the current sideshow revival:
- Starting in the late 80s when Zigun brought his lifelong fascination with the form to an empty building on Coney Island’s boardwalk; expanding in the early ’90’s, when Jim Rose brought sideshow to a mass audience through Lollapalooza, and underground nightlife performers like Combustible Kiva, Otter, and Bindlestiff’s Monseu and Keith Nelson brought sideshow skills into clubs; and surging with the growing participation in Coney Island cultural events like the Mermaid Parade and Burlesque At The Beach.
- Brooklyn’s long, long history with Sideshow and Circus and its current status as incubator for the next generation with organizations and training spaces (a majority are woman-run) like Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, Circus Amok, LAVA, Big Sky Works, House of Yes, The Muse, Hybrid Movement Theater, STREB, and many others.
- What’s next? Finding the next levels of thrill and danger; are sideshow artists on America’s Got Talent pushing the envelope too hard?
- American life, culture and circus: Finding new ways to weave the richness of circus, sideshow, and variety arts into new areas like arts education, physical rehabilitation, adaptive learning for differently abled folks, cognitive skill building, fitness, social work, etc.
- What impact does Ringling’s closing have on circus in America? The good news is that there are many high-quality shows touring right now: America’s first Black-owned show, Universoul Circus is constantly wowing crowds all over the East Coast with a spectacular, world-class show; Circus Vargas on the West Coast and Circus Vazquez on the East Coast represent the strong Mexican circus tradition with beautiful tented shows; Circus Smirkus from VT presents the heights of youth circus under canvas; The Big Apple Circus will present an all-new season at Lincoln Center this year, directed by NYC’s Mark Lonergan (Parallel Exit); small, independent tented shows like Flynn Creek Circus and Le Tigre are touring; and working in nontraditional venues, shows like Bindlestiff, Circus Amok, Circus Bella, Cirque Us, and dozens of others are thriving.
A brief demonstration of sword swallowing by Adam RealMan amazed the crowd, and Monseu performed bullwhip tricks, asking an audience member to hold targets for some precision whip cracking; next, audience members got the microphone and a question and answer period closed the event. The takeaway message? Circus is alive and well in America! And, invoking a traditional carny oath, Dick Zigun closed the evening: “You’re either with it and for it, or you’re against it.”
Photo Credit: Jim R. Moore of VaudeVisuals