“Freakeasy” and “Vaude D’Gras” turn Mardi Gras into a weekend of circus and sideshow Carnival

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“We were all going to be here, anyway. These are people I just know and love. We figured we’d throw it all together,” says Noah Mickens, who as William Blatty helps run Wanderlust Circus out of Portland, Oregon. He’s speaking on his cell phone from an Uptown café, arriving in New Orleans on a trip that originally was supposed to simply be a Mardi Gras vacation.

But once he realized who else might be taking advantage of the Carnival season, and what New Orleans circus and sideshow performers were around and available, Mickens thought, why not just turn the weekend into another kind of Carnival?

And so we have a handful of circus and sideshow performances this weekend, highlighted by the four-day “Vaude D’Gras” from New Orleans circus artist-producer LadyBEAST and many of the gang from last year’s “Cirque du Gras” (Feb. 5-8) at Happyland Theater in Bywater.

(Read more: Circus arts in New Orleans)

Then there’s “Freakeasy,” featuring members of Wanderlust Circus, Philadelphia’s the Squidling Brothers, Gale Force from Seattle’s Super Geek League, and New Orleans performers including Tsarina Hellfire — all coming together Sunday (Feb. 7) at Café Istanbul.

The weekend actually kicks off with the Squidling Brothers’ “Clowns and Queens” on Thursday (Feb. 4) at Mag’s 940 on Elysian Fields Avenue. The lineup: Jelly Boy The Clown, Matterz Squidling, Eric Odditorium, William Batty, Hermie the Clown, Velvet Crayon, Fibi Eyewalker, Helios, Shaina, and Princess Stephanie.

So yes, it’s safe to say the circus has come to town, which makes sense given the way the varying circus and sideshow scenes intermingle from around the U.S.

“There’s a real national community of underground, independent circus,” said the 42-year-old Mickens.

He’s watched circus and sideshow grow from the kind of ground-level street-performer scene of the late 1980s where he got his start as a 13-year-old into a more performance-art style in the 1990s, and then a growing, vibrant scene that found a home in nightclubs for indie performers.

This was pretty edgy, punk-rock stuff, evidenced nationally by troupes such as the Bindlestiff Family Circus and locally by such troupes as the Know Nothing Family Zirkus Zideshow.

(Read more: Alison Fensterstock’s 2001 profile of the scene in Gambit Weekly)

Now, Mickens says, it’s everywhere.

“All these aerial and circus schools started to pop up that made it accessible to learn how to do all this stuff,” he said. “I learned how to juggle from an old homeless man. To learn how to be an aerialist back then was your mother and father and your brother and your sister — you were in a circus. It was a secret knowledge you had to find from somebody.

“Then schools started popping up 2000 or 2003, then by 2010 it seemed like every city has an aerial school and has created an infusion of all this new talent of people who know how to do tricks and have skills of all kinds.”

Mickens is excited about performing again in New Orleans, and reconnecting with burlesque performer Charlotte Treuse, with whom he performed back in Portland with Cabaret Babylon.

“I’m not going to waste my time,” he said with a laugh. “Now I have three shows. I’m incapable if chilling out and just enjoying myself.”

For Tsarina Hellfire, the New Orleans performer, this represents a few different types of reunions both with the scene she left and returned to a few  years ago as well as reuniting with Mickens.

“I just got back home to years ago; I took break from performing for about 10 years,” she said. “It would’ve been silly trying to get back into my visceral gore whore burlesque sideshow stuff, and have known Noah Mickens on and off since Convergence 2006. I’ve always been a big fan of and have known a lot of sideshow circus people around, and want to just have a big family get together. I’m getting my paws wet, getting back into doing events backstage managing and performing and trying my hand at producing.”

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