My Gay Toronto - 416 Scene

Something Strange Circus Sideshow Festival gathers the freaks and human marvels for a SideshowCon

by Drew Rowsome -

Circus Strongman -The Mighty Leviticus!
Lobster Girl and Contortionist - Miss Dolly Pockets!
Gisella Rose - Pain Proof Showgirl!
The Sentimentalists - Mental Wonders!
Sketchy The Clown!
True Crime Historian and the Freak with the Tattooed Eyes - EyeClops!
The Man with the Iron Tongue - Steve Winchester
The Oddly Alluring – Miss Bella Muetre
Sword Swallower Vanessa Ann Neil -The Baroness of Blades!

"I love it. I love fucked up shit," says Mysterion The Mind Reader of the line-up he has created for the 1st Annual Something Strange Circus Sideshow Festival. "I love the Niagara Falls museums. I loved going to the CNE and seeing the girl turn into a gorilla. I was on the edge of my seat, laughing but then ran out of the theatre in terror. We know the girl doesn't really turn into a gorilla but..."

For as long as he can remember Mysterion has collected oddities including a two-headed duck, a mummified little person, a necklace of fingers, shrunken heads, an albino porcupine, a baby skull encrusted in gold leaf for use in Thai black magic . . . The collection, and Mysterion, have appeared on a multitude of television shows and a choice selection will be on display at Something Strange

Mysterion has devised a true sideshow-esque structure for Something Strange. There will be half-hour sets by the many and amazing acts with half-hour breaks between for perusing the exhibits, meet and greets with the performers (photos for tweeting and Instagram encouraged) and even a vendor's market of the unusual and bizarre. "It's like a fan expo," enthuses Mysterion. "SideshowCon."

The acts are the best in the business and were recruited through Mysterion's years spent as a magician, a mentalist, working the sideshows of Coney Island and his former business Sunnyside Tattoos & Sideshow Parlour. "On Sundays we had classes. How to lie on a bed of nails, how to eat glass, how to take a dart to the belly. Only a couple of people graduated." 

One of the graduates is Eyeclops. "His eyeballs are tattooed and he puts hooks in his orbital bones and lifts weights," says Mysterion. "He's also an expert in criminology, he studies serial killers, an expert in forensics. He's going to display one of the actual cups from the Jonestown massacre." Co-hosts The Masters of Shlock are also homegrown talent but are usually travelling the world: those are the gigs they get now that they hold a record number of Guinness World Records. Also pitching in are two touring sideshows: Mental Floss Sideshow and Tinderbox Circus Sideshow.

Mysterion has the natural cadence of a sideshow barker and in rapid patter he outlines the history of the sideshow and why he thinks this is the optimum time for its revival. It all began with PT Barnum who pioneered the art of displaying oddities for money. "He treated them with respect, they had celebrity status," says Mysterion. "Then in the '60s people said, this isn't right" and the freaks became objects of pity rather than wonder. But their liberation drove them to "trailer parks and social assistance. Monkey Girl and Crocodile Boy, they were married, went from making thousands to welfare.

The Jim Rose Circus spearheaded a revival in the '90s and the Coney Island sideshow was reinvented for a new, "more educated," audience. The reality-TV show Freakshow and American Horror Story: Freakshow helped mainstream the appeal of freaks and a series of books and academic studies explored the concept and history. Mysterion quotes a favourite "dwarf" sideshow and burlesque performer, "I'm a little person who takes her clothes off. You don't like it, I'll bite your ankles off."

Mysterion admits that many sideshow attractions were "dupes. People believed what they were told. They believed in the Wild Man of Borneo, the pinhead, the man with the parasitic twin was the Prince of Persia. That a Jenny Haniver was a fish with a human face that sang and lured sailors to their death, not a dried-up skate surrounded by fake flowers, leaves and a skull." Mysterion is considerably more vague about the authenticity of the Something Strange exhibits and acts though he notes, "You can't just put it together. You can't buy a costume, say you're a performer and start eating glass."

Whether the girl actually turns into a gorilla or not, Mysterion guarantees that everyone with a sense of wonder, curiosity or even unhealthy skepticism will find something to astound them. "Sideshows are their own little world," he says. "Full of things that were called ugly. They're not. I hate the word freaks, these are human marvels. I'm going to expose the ugly face of reality by putting pink clown make-up on it." 

The 1st Annual Something Strange Circus Sideshow Festival begins on Sat, Jan 23 (with a brunch and after party on Sun, Jan 24) at The Mod Club Theatre, 722 College St W.