Circus News

Circus Bodies: Sideshow and Extreme Circus Bodies

Shep Huntly is known for suspending a live car battery from his nipples. Sparks fly as he receives electric shocks to his chest. Some have voiced concern that he risks heart attack, but he assures them that the shocks are intermittent rather than a steady stream, lessening the risk. While there are many circus acts that could be deemed “extreme,” there are those that push the envelope–such as Huntly’s act described here–by purposefully displaying visceral sensations. These include sword swallowing, suspension acts, human pincushion, human blockhead, fire eating, body modifications, and mental flossing.

This final article of the Circus Bodies series is a trio of mini-interviews with three internationally renowned sideshow artists who are experts in one or many of these skills. In addition to Huntly, I was joined by Faux Pas le Fae and The Lizardman. In a robust and thorough fifteen minutes, each artist described their personal background, the history of their disciplines, and detailed an act that they perform. They spoke about what their body feels like when performing these extreme skills as well as common audience reactions. Independently of each other, they all insisted that to truly succeed as a sideshow artist it takes more than the ability to simply demonstrate a skill. Despite being naturally provocative, the skill must be wrapped in artistic storytelling and excellent showmanship. The conversations wrapped with only two follow up questions that harken back to the original purpose of this series: the cultural impact of performing circus bodies. I asked the interviewees,...

To access exclusive PRO content …
Become a CircusTalkPro member today!
Get access to the essential resource for the multidisciplinary performing arts industry.
Get PRO

Madeline Hoak

Madeline is a NYC based performer, producer, professor, and choreographer specializing in aerial, acrobatics, dance and movement direction. She is an adjunct professor of Aerial Arts at Pace University, on staff at Aerial Arts NYC and The Muse Brooklyn and initiated the Aerial program at Muhlenberg College where she taught from 2011 - 2017. Her movement direction contributed to Circle Theater NYC’s production of The Mountain winning Outstanding Original Choreography/Movement, 2015. She co-choreographed The Battles, a musical voted by Broadway producer Ken Davenport one of the top 10 new scripts of 2016. Madeline's choreography has been presented at Dixon Place, Circus Warehouse, BAX, The House of Yes, Abron Arts Center, Times Square, The Flea, STREB, Galapagos, and The Muse. She received BAs in Dance and Theater from Muhlenberg College and is currently studying at NYU’s Gallatin school of Individualized Study where she is designing a master’s degree in circus studies with a focus on dramaturgy and creative processes. madelinehoak.com.