AskDefine | Define sideshow

Dictionary Definition

sideshow

Noun

1 a subordinate incident of little importance relative to the main event; "instruction is not an educational sideshow"
2 a minor show that is part of a larger one (as at the circus)

User Contributed Dictionary

English

Noun

sideshow
  1. a minor attraction at a circus or fair
  2. an incidental spectacle that diverts attention from a larger concern
  3. an event where a large group of people display automotive stunts.

Extensive Definition

In America, a sideshow is an extra, secondary production associated with a circus, carnival, fair or other such attraction.

Types of attractions

There are four main types of classic sideshow attractions:
The "Ten-in-One" offers a program of ten sequential acts under one tent for a single admission price. The ten-in-one might be partly a freak show exhibiting "human oddities" (including "born freaks" such as midgets, giants or persons with other deformities, or "made freaks" like tattooed people or fat people.) However, for variety's sake, the acts in a ten-in-one would also include "working acts" who would perform magic tricks or daredevil stunts. In addition, the freak show performers might also perform acts or stunts, and would often sell souvenirs like "giant's rings" or "pitch cards" with their photos and life stories. The ten-in-one would often end in a "blowoff" or "ding," an extra act not advertised on the outside, which could be viewed for an additional fee. The blowoff act would be described provocatively, often as something deemed too strong for women and children like pickled punks.
The "Single-O" is a single attraction, for example a single curiosity like the "Bonnie and Clyde Death Car" exhibit, a "Giant Rat" (actually usually a nutria) or other unusual animal, a "What Is It?" (often a convincing but artificial monstrosity like the Fiji Mermaid) or a geek show often billed as "See the Victim of Drug Abuse."
A "Museum Show" which might be deceptively billed as "World's Greatest Freaks Past and Present," is a sideshow in which the exhibits are usually not alive. It might include tanks of piranhas or cages with unusual animals, stuffed freak animals or other exotic items like the weapons or cars allegedly used by famous murderers. Some of the exhibits might even be dummies or photographs of the billed attractions. It could still be truthfully billed with the claim "$1,000 reward if not absolutely real — please do not touch or feed the animals on exhibit".
The Single-O and the Museum Show are usually operated as "grind shows," meaning that patrons may enter at any time, viewing the various exhibits at their leisure.
Finally, a "Girl Show" in which pretty women are the primary attraction. These could range from the "revue" (such as a "Broadway Revue" with fully-clothed performers) to the racier "kootch" or "hootchie-kootchie" show (a strip show) which might play either "strong" (nude, and to varying degrees of raunchiness) or partly or fully clothed.

Sideshow arts

"Working acts" often exhibited a number of stunts that could be counted on to draw crowds. These stunts used little-known methods and offered the elements of danger and excitement. Although the mainstream media often explained fanciful methods of performing these acts, the real secret was usually that there is no secret, you just do it. Such acts included fire eating, sword swallowing, knife throwing, body piercing, lying on a bed of nails, walking up a ladder of sharp swords, and more. The renewed attention to these feats has prompted a new round of oversimplified or inaccurate explanations, leading some inexperienced people to attempt them without adequate training.

Decline and revival

Interest in sideshows declined as television made it easy (and free) to see the world's most exotic attractions. Moreover, viewing "human oddities" became distasteful as the public conscience evolved, and many localities passed laws forbidding the exhibition of freaks. The performers often protested (to no avail) that they had no objection to the sideshow, especially since it provided not only a good income for them, but in many cases it provided their only possible job. The sideshow seemed destined for oblivion, until only a few exemplars of the ten-in-one remained. A greater number of "Single O" attractions still tour carnivals.
In the early 1990s former phone salesman Jim Rose developed a modern sideshow called "the Jim Rose Circus," reinventing the sideshow with two types of acts that would attract modern audiences and stay within legal bounds. The show featured acts reviving traditional sideshow stunts and carrying some of them to extremes, and "fringe" artists (often exhibiting extreme body modification) performing bizarre or masochistic acts like eating insects, lifting weights by means of hooks inserted in their body piercings, or stapling currency to their forehead. The show drew audiences at venues unknown to old-time sideshows, like rock clubs and the 1992 Lollapalooza festival. The Jim Rose Circus held its last known performance in 2005 at the Fright Dome at Circus Circus in Las Vegas , but some of its performers still tour individually. Its success sparked a growing number of performers to revive the traditional sideshow arts, taught by sideshow veterans, and many now perform in spot engagements from rock clubs and comedy clubs to corporate events. Among them are Todd Robbins, Harley Newman, Sideshow Benny, Erik "Lizard Man" Sprague, and a growing list of other new performers. "Sideshows by the Seashore," sponsored by Coney Island USA in Brooklyn, NY has performed since 1983, and tours under the name "Coney Island Circus Sideshow." Circus Historian and collector Ken Harck runs the Brothers Grim Sideshow, which toured with the OzzFest music festival in the summer of 2006 and 2007. http://www.chicagoreader.com/features/stories/kenharck/
In Australia, the 2007 Sydney Royal Easter Show also introduced a sideshow program amongst its attractions.

References

  • "A Pictorial History of the American Carnival," by Joe McKennon (Popular Press, Bowling Green, Ohio. Copyright 1972 by Joe McKennon.)
sideshow in German: Sideshow
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