Consider the origins of the term “sideshow” for a moment.
It was the place for entertainment that perhaps was not suitable for all tastes and ages. A hundred or more years ago, a circus would have its middle-of-the-road acts like clowns and elephants and such in the center ring. But outside the main tent, over to the side, would be the sword swallower, or the contortionist, or the fire eater, or the “girly show.”
Things that might be exciting to watch, but might make some folks squeamish and other folks blush.
There will always be people who like their entertainment to be a little edgy, to make them squirm perhaps. So those are the people — and the performers — that have helped keep the idea of the sideshow alive.
In fact, it’s not just alive, but thriving, if you consider a New York City-based troupe called the Pretty Things Peepshow. This five-person act has performed all over the world — swallowing swords, dancing burlesque-style, twisting their bodies — and recently toured Europe and Australia.
They will bring their traditional-yet-edgy sideshow antics to Geno’s Rock Club in Portland Saturday night.
“To be honest, the really fun shows for us are places like Idaho or Maine, where people haven’t seen this type of variety show a lot,” said “Go-Go Amy” Warnke, the show’s burlesque dancer and producer.
“People in bigger cities might get a little desensitized to it. A lot of our acts are not the kind of thing — like sword swallowing — that you want to see every day. Well, sword swallowing is pretty cool, actually “
The sword swallower for the Pretty Things Peepshow is Heather Holliday, by the way, and she also throws knives. Not at the audience, though. She’s a personality of sorts, having hosted “The MTV Iggy Show,” which seeks out interesting musical acts around the world.
Another troupe member is Stoya, an aerialist and contortionist, who has starred in adult films. On stage, she hangs around and bends her body in ways that are painful to watch.
But the show is completely legal, Go-Go Amy says. She herself does a burlesque-style striptease in the act, but she says it’s more tease than strip.
“My clothes come off, but it’s not exactly stripping. I have giant feather fans, and not everything comes off,” said Go-Go Amy. “It’s very tame, like a strip show you could take your mother to.”
Also on the bill will be a 27-inch woman named Little Miss Firefly, who performs regularly in Las Vegas. Her talents in the act include straight-jacket escapes and walking on broken glass.
The act’s host is Donny Vomit, who will do some whip cracking — meaning he’ll crack a whip to hit various objects placed on Heather Holliday’s body.
Opening for the “Peepshow” will be Eddy Price, a one-man band. And performing after the sideshow will be the rockabilly group Sasquatch and The Sickabillys.
“The sideshow is a really traditional form of entertainment that started with circuses, just like burlesque did,” said Go-Go Amy. “It was just stuff that was a little too weird to put in front of families.”
And now it’s playing at a rock club near you.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: