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Friday, October 26, 2012

13 Question Marks of Horror with The Sideshow Sirens

I first saw the Sirens at the Queen Mary's Dark Harbor Halloween event and was absolutely blown away. I've seen plenty of sideshows but never with such style. Who are these ladies? There are several, but the ladies of that evening were head Siren Bizzy, Aurora, and Serenity. I recently caught up with these Celluloid Sinners for a little thing we call 13 Question Marks of Horror...

1. Can you tell me the origin of the Sideshow Sirens?

Bizzy: The Sirens is a group of women that started with some close friends who chose to form a circus sideshow, which then grew into a phenomenon that inspired other women to run away with us. It began, as almost an exercise, a way of conquering our fear and our limitations, then became a way for us to help other women conquer theirs.

Aurora: The core members are Bizzy (our fearless leader), Orphaned, ,Widget, and Serenity, who have since welcomed many other women. Like most sideshows, the troupe was mostly formed by women who wanted to become sideshow performers, not women who WERE Sideshow performers.

2. Everyone takes a different path. Were you raised around sideshows or was it something you sought out?

Aurora: I was always a strange child. I was adventurous, precocious, a tomboy and more, and to be honest I never quite fit in.  It wasn't until I got older and discovered the “freaks and geeks” that I realized I'd found my people.  So when I had Sideshow raised an option I latched on and pursued it with passion!  What a wonderfully strange thing to do, and I love every second of it.

Bizzy: For most of my life I think the closest I came to sideshow was watching this one Sting video that had stilt walkers and fire-eaters and jesters in it... And it totally blew my mind! I was raised Pentecostal Christian in a small town, but somehow I gradually took a turn towards the "subcultural".

By the time I got out of school, moved to a bigger city and started meeting people who were into things like circus and sideshow and could teach me I was SO ripe and ready for it!, but, before that? It looked like a pretty unlikely path for me…

Serenity:  I sought out the sideshow.  I come from a family of doctors and lawyers, definitely not circus folk.  In fact my family still doesn’t know what to think of all of this.  Ha-ha!

Bizzy: Most of us sought it out in some way I think, although some of us feel like maybe it had ahold of us before we ever knew it did. One of the tenants of our show, though, is that anyone can be a sideshow performer, it just takes courage, determination, and will. Those are qualities we all possess, sometimes we just forget.

3. When it comes to your specialty, do you choose one that maybe interests you or is it more based on a natural ability that you possess?

Bizzy: Depends on the act. Precision weapon work and contortion for example are easier if you have natural talent. Pain stunts like human pincushion or Bed of Nails are stunts that simply require that you be willing to use your higher brain function to manage your natural instinct to avoid pain.

Serenity: My specialty is fire, fire eating and fire breathing.  Not only did I take to it naturally but I wanted to do it from day one, couldn't want to start training in it.  Done right it is so daring and special.  Plus I have much respect for fire, performing with it is like a duet.  It defiantly takes its own role.

Bizzy: I like to think that, for the most part, they end up being the same thing. You get drawn to an act because something in you knows that that right there is for you. All the better when it scares you at first but you just know you have to do it!

Aurora: A little bit of both is fair.  I have a natural curiosity that lends itself well to the skills one sees in Sideshow.  I enjoy playing with sharp objects and putting strange things in my mouth, so there you have it...

4. Was there any facet of performing (either skills or preparation), that freaked you out when you started?

Bizzy:  Preparation is a huge part of it.

Aurora: Yes!

Bizzy: Having every detail of everything I need to do rehearsed, set, and in my body and brain and executing it all as flawlessly as possible, and beating myself up otherwise.

Aurora: No! No, beating yourself up!

Bizzy: (smiles) I still have a lot of that in me - it's just who I am - but I've become way more relaxed and confident on stage, and given that performances are much better received when the audience can't smell your neurosis a mile away I think that's a wonderful thing…

As far as which acts freaked me out? All of them I think.  Sideshow and  fear go hand in hand. In fact one of my teachers and friend Professor Quandary will tell you, fear is your friend in Sideshow, it tells you when to be careful.

Risk without fear is foolishness This show involves risk, but if we feel the fear, use it to heighten our awareness of the risk, then choose to take that (carefully managed) risk anyhow? That is our definition of “Courage”.

 5. Halloween is your busy season. Do you think this is due to the overall aesthetic of the show or something deeper?

Bizzy: To be horrified (Horror-fied?) by what we do is natural. We push the limits of human strength, endurance, and  most of all taboos. That will tend to be disturbed by what we do, and a lot of it IS disturbing. But it is a time of the year when we like to have our primal human instincts stimulated, to feel that, and that’s what some of us love about being a sideshow performer. And that feeling of fight or flight is what puts the audience right up there with the performers, because that is why many of us do this in the first place.

Serenity: Halloween and Sideshow naturally just go together. So yes we're going to be busier this time of year.  We do the things your mother told you never to do.  We do the dangerous, the things that would get a normal person hurt, the things that give people the oogies.  And people want to feel that, to be allowed to feel and experience it even by proxy, to know it can be done.  And Halloween is just the excuse for it.  It makes it more socially acceptable to the mainstream.  It’s when we get to reach out and pull them in.

6. In your personal lives, do you deal with a lot of misconceptions about who you are?

Bizzy: Mostly they think we cannot be as tough as we are because we are young pretty, and many of us look like the proverbial “girls next door”. They assume we must use magic or misdirection to achieve the stunts we do. Sideshow is a business with a long and checkered past, and we have to shake off the misconception that we are tricksters, or that we were born different than other people. What makes the show unusual is that we are JUST like everyone else physically, but we CHOSE to do this. That takes something.

Aurora: I take great delight in shattering misconceptions.  On the outside I appear to be your typical air-headed blonde California girl, yet while I embrace that delightful aspect I'm also strong, intelligent, deeply nerdy, and happy and willing to get my hands dirty to have a good time.

Serenity: I do deal with some misconception about whom I am because of how I look.  But in truth I think most would say the same

7. When learning a new skill, do you find you’re most nervous when trying it for the first time or performing it for the first time?

Serenity: I'm more nervous when performing a stunt for the first time, which for me is actually when I do a run through for my troupe.  I don't know why but I just want to get it so perfect that first time, I get massive butterflies in my stomach.

Bizzy: Actually, I think trying it for the first time is scarier for me too. One of the scariest stunts I've done I actually did for the first time on stage! I understood the principles, I'd seen it done several times, I knew my body could take it, but long story short, there wasn't time to physically rehearse it! It was just a whole lot of trust and performance adrenaline that got me through, and I find that that usually keeps me in a can-do headspace more than when you're about to eat glass or stick a needle in your face for the first time.

8. The general public often equates sideshows with horror. Is that something that you find personally troubling or do you accept that as par for the course?

Serenity: Sideshow = Horror.  Hmmmm.  I can see that.  I don't think it's troubling at all, in fact I think it helps out our show a little bit more.  If they pump themselves up that way before we've even gotten on stage, more's the better. :-)

Bizzy: That's natural and something you're better off accepting, but what's great about it is that we get to take that idea and totally subvert it! It becomes basically a blessing for us because we get to use it to give people even more of a shock and a surprise than they were expecting! Let them expect horror and let us leave them pleasantly twisted up in the head.

9. Each performer has a set of abilities that the average person doesn’t possess. Do your skills as a performer ever come into play in your day-to-day life?

Bizzy: Totally. I have a decent amount of confidence in my tolerance for pain and a tendency to push myself that extra mile. Plus I'm about to give birth so I'm really counting on it, especially since I'm taking bets on whether I go for the epidural!

Aurora: One of the most important aspects of Sideshow is overcoming personal fears and finding and exploiting inner strength.  It's those skills that I have strengthened through my involvement with Sideshow that I am able to translate to many facets and challenges in my life.

10. When performing any of your routines on stage, would you say it’s more important to prepare mentally or physically?

Serenity: Mentally.  if we are not mentally present,  or in any way nervous, someone could get hurt.  I can't stress this enough: we not only hold our own safety in our hands but that of our troupe members as well.

Bizzy: And it is a responsibility we all take seriously.

11. With any specialized group there can be a sense of competition, would you say that the sideshow community is competitive or more of an extended family?

Serenity: The sideshow community is so small that we are really just a big family.  You should see us when we find a new person.  It's like finding out you went to the same school.  You're more likely to end up working with that person than against them in the future, honest.

Bizzy: I know that many businesses in entertainment can be competitive, but so far we have had the good fortune  of working with great performers who have been nothing but helpful, and we have tried to be

12. You do shows for all types of different groups. How do you go about choosing the routines that you perform for a particular group?

Bizzy: Part of Sideshow is pushing people’s boundaries, so we have a lot of the same material for all different groups. We try to keep it varied within the show to keep it interesting for a variety of audience members.

Aurora: Sideshow is more diverse than people realize, it has elements of circus, comedy, and street performing, to which we add the elements of Burlesque, Vaudeville, and a little storytelling thrown in! So the only thing we do significantly different is we don’t do human pincushion for children’s parties (and yes, we get hired for those from time to time).

13. Sideshow Sirens is growing larger and larger. Ultimately, what would be the most fulfilling for you as a performer?

Aurora: Well, we love the audiences and the lights, and someday we hope to be doing larger venues and national tours.

Bizzy: So other than having our own touring show, Broadway, maybe Vegas?

Serenity: Yeah! Vegas, baby!  I would love us to have a home show in Vegas like Cirque (Can you just imagine?), and then another half of our troupe traveling all over the world!  I have a lot of circus friends in London I need to visit you know.  Sideshow is not just growing, it has arrived, and we are ready to see where it takes us. Squee!

You can check out this AMAZING show this Halloween season starting September 28th at:

Hollywood Sports Paintball Park

9030 Somerset Blvd
Bellflower, CA 90706
(562) 867-9600

and starting October 5th at:

Los Angeles Haunted Hayride
Griffith Park, Old Zoo
4730 Crystal Springs Dr.
Los Angeles, CA, 90027 


Other Horrific Musings:

13 Question Marks of Horror: Wrong Turn 2 's Matthew Currie Holmes

The Los Angeles Haunted Hayride Returns 

Take a roll in the Hay with Elvira Mistress of the Dark

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