Step right up, one and all, to the Safety Harbor Art and Music Center this coming Thursday at 7:30.
Come be amazed and astounded!
Come see things that will test your sanity, things that will not seem humanly possible!
Come take an emotional roller coaster ride!
I recently chatted via phone with Zak Crouch, aka Captain Darron Von Awesome. Kayti McMyermick, aka Trashique, herded feral cats in the background and occasionally chimed in. Collectively they are Tinderbox Sideshow. They combine sideshow and burlesque to enthrall their audiences across the country. There are other members of the troop who sometimes perform with them. For this show it will be the two of them. They met about eight years ago when Von Awesome was doing sideshow prior to the band at a concert in Lexington, Kentucky. Trashique was at the show. They started performing together from that point on.
“The beautiful thing about being a weirdo is that you tend to bring about other weirdos.” He told me. He hails from a small town in Eastern Kentucky and she from North Georgia.
Me: I almost came to see you last year until I watched YouTube and the thing you do with the knives jabbing them between your fingers. I thought, I can’t see that!
Von Awesome: Oh sure you can! It’s like riding a roller coaster or going to a scary movie. It’s all fun and games.
Me: Do you ever miss?
Von Awesome: Occasionally, very rarely these days, but occasionally.
Me: How do your parents feel about what you do? (The mom in me had to ask.)
Von Awesome: Our parents were supportive once we came around and showed them that we could actually make a living at what we do. They’re not crazy about it. They’d prefer, I’m sure, that we have a cubicle job in front of a computer, something a little safer. But they don’t hold us back.
Me: I have a cubicle job and frequently want to stab myself... How would you describe what you do to people who have never heard of you or have never watched one of your acts on YouTube?
Von Awesome: We are a traditional ten in one sideshow like would have been common 60, 70, or 80 years ago that people would see under a big top or on a carnival midway.
Me: Wow, so they really did what you do all those years ago?
Von Awesome: Absolutely. In some very rare places they still do. We’re predominantly sideshow these days, like for this current show. We tailor our shows to the venue. We’ve performed for small children all the way up to rowdy and raucous rock n roll shows.
*A ten in one is ten consecutive acts for the price of one admission, whereas a single-o is like paying to see the fat lady, then paying to see the two-headed goat, etc.
Me: When you walk down the street, do you feel like you stand out?
Von Awesome: In a way, not related to performance though. I’m into body modification which means I’m heavily tattooed and pierced. Kayti is too. We’re kind of black sheep I guess you could say.
Me: Your stage personas are certainly reminiscent of another time. The face paint and costumes are so creative. Did you collaborate on that?
Von Awesome: Absolutely. All the costuming and stage production is a concerted effort to hearken back to those old carnival sideshows, to bring about a very specific feeling.
Me: How do you find the people you work with?
Von Awesome: Typically they come to us and we audition them. We are well-connected with the variety and sideshow performance industry. A good portion of what we do is inspired by acts that were performed throughout the history of sideshow.
Me: How do you train for stuff like that?
Von Awesome: Carefully. The more dangerous things that we do are taught to us by established performers. They’ll teach us how to do things without seriously damaging ourselves. Some of it we’ve trained ourselves through trial and error and injury.
Me: Do you go into some kind of a Zen state?
Von Awesome: It’s more of an adrenaline rush in our world. There’s a whole different headspace you get into when performing and receiving positive feedback. In a way, you could call it trance-like, but mostly it’s about enjoying the audience.
Me: It’s so incredible what you do. I mean, it’s not like a magic act. You really do what you do. There’s no sleight of hand.
Von Awesome: Yes, there’s no illusion. Everything is exactly what we say it is.
Me: It’s amazing how an earlobe can hold a bowling ball.
Von Awesome: I can’t argue with that.
Me: Do you guys do a lot of collagen injections?
Von Awesome: (chuckling) No, just careful conditioning.
Me: The impaling stuff amazes me. Is there blood involved?
Von Awesome: Rarely, and typically only when things go wrong. In a perfect show where nothing has gone sideways and everything has gone well, there’s not a drop of blood.
Me: I know that if I stapled myself, I would bleed.
Von Awesome: Yes.
Me: What makes you different from me?
Von Awesome: Conditioning and knowing where to do what we’re doing. It requires a certain knowledge of the human anatomy and what to avoid.
Me: Obviously there is knowledge and art to this; otherwise it would be a mess.
Von Awesome: I cannot agree more. There are those out there that do rely on the shock of seeing blood, but that’s not the show that we do. That’s not the feeling we want.
Me: Are there many who do what you do?
Von Awesome: There is a small network out there. I would put the number of people at maybe 300 at the most. And I would personally only work with about a 100 of them. You know, it’s a small group of us. It’s an art-form that’s had its heyday, and then it kind of went underground. It hasn’t been hugely popular since the 1930s, the 1940s.
Me: I used to love to go to the sideshow tents, but I never saw more than, say, a sword swallower as far as the physical arts. I wonder why it went away?
Von Awesome: Um, a lot of historians in the field, and when I say a lot I mean there’s only about 5 of them, would put the downfall of the sideshows to the prevalence of rides. It’s a lot cheaper to rent a ride for your carnival than it is to pay 6 or 7 people to hike up a tent and perform all day.
Me: Are you familiar with Johnny Meah?
Von Awesome: We are familiar with him. The last time we were here we were scheduled to meet him but it didn’t work out. I think we are Facebook friends.
Me: Johnny is a wonderful visual artist as well as a sword swallower. Do you guys do other types of art as well?
Von Awesome: In minor ways. We both have other outlets like painting, music, and writing. But sideshow is what we’ve chosen to make our career.
At this point Trashique chimes in, “Which was a stupid choice!”
Me: But somebody’s gotta do it, right? What do you want people to take away with them after they see you perform?
Von Awesome: This is a show they are unlikely to see again. We’re one of the last traveling sideshows in the world. There are less than a handful of us left. This is an art form that doesn’t really get around much. You’ll be shocked. You’ll be amazed. You’ll be amused. You’ll laugh and you’ll cringe. It’s a whole gamut of fun. We are a show for everyone. Yes, some of the things we do are shocking, but it’s presented in a way that’s palatable. We do this show with a minor change in language for children, for the over 70 crowd. We do birthdays and weddings-so it’s suitable for everyone. It’s a rare day when a sideshow comes to town.
Me: Well, I’m looking forward to seeing you guys, but I might hide my eyes through most of it.
Von Awesome: Just leave room between your fingers!
Interview and blog post by Debbie Klein