Sideshow Extreme Circus Bodies

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, ...
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Madeline Hoak

Madeline Hoak is an artist and academic who creates with, through, and about circus. She is a Writer for CircusTalk, Adjunct Professor of Aerial Arts and American Circus History at Pace University, Editor and Curatorial Director of TELEPHONE: an international arts game, and curator and director of Cirkus Moxie, a weekly contemporary circus show at Brooklyn Art Haus. Madeline has performed, coached, produced, and choreographed at elite regional and international venues. Her background in dance and physical theater is infiltrated into her coaching and creation style. She is passionate about providing her students holistic circus education that includes physical, historical, theoretical resources. Madeline initiated the Aerial Acrobatics program at her alma mater, Muhlenberg College, where she taught from 2012-2017. She is also a regular contributor to Cirkus Syd's Circus Thinkers international reading group. Her circus research has been supported by Pace, NYU, and Concordia University. Recent publications include "Teaching the Mind-Body: Integrating Knowledges through Circus Arts'' (with Alisan Funk, Dan Berkley), a chapter in Art as an Agent for Social Change, "expanding in(finite) between," a multimedia essay in Circus Thinks: Reflections, 2020, and "Digital Dance & TELEPHONE: A Unique Spectator Experience." Madeline has presented academic papers at numerous conferences including Circus and its Others (UC Davis), International Federation for Theatre Research (University of Reykjavík), the Popular Culture Association, Gallatin (NYU), and McGill University. Madeline earned an MA from Gallatin, New York University’s School of Independent Study, where she designed a Circus Studies curriculum with a focus on spectatorship.