We continue our“Field Trip” series with an essay by Lydia Treats, one of New Orleans’ most popular circus sideshow performers and producers, as she travels with the World of Wonders sideshow. (You can read about the path to this journey here.)
Throughout my life I have endured various lengths of time in many different establishments — domestic violence shelters, mental health institutions, women’s homes, and inpatient treatment facilities, but none have helped me discover who I am more than the tent of the World of Wonders sideshow.
I felt burnt out. I felt the “not enoughs” — not slim enough, not young enough, not funny enough, not sideshowy enough. I was ready to give up on performing for a while, switch mediums to visual art, more specifically to focus on my newly attained tattooing apprenticeship at Bayou Queen Body Art, where I was receptionist and personal assistant to one of the most inspiring lady bosses ever, Kai Kita.
But then it happened, I got the message from management at the sideshow: “Do you still want to go on tour with World of Wonders?” I was floored, and the universe clearly had other plans in mind for me. Over the next few months, I made arrangements with my family, my partner, my employer, and my production partners. I expected my mother to not be supportive at all, and to my surprise she laughed and said, “About time!” My last few shows were collaborations with some of my favorite NOLA producers — I was sideshow art in May Hemmer’s new show “Artlesque”; sideshow working act for Slow Burn Burlesque; I got to reprise one of my favorite roles, my first with what became NOLA’s premier nerdlesque troupe, Xena Zeitgeist’s Society of Sin, as a double sword-swallowing Penguin/Oswald Cobblepot in the revamped “Arkham Assylum” — where I even auctioned off my umbrella sword (first sword I got down following my accident and was pulled out of me by Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman at DragonCon) to purchase my bus ticket to Gibtown, Fla.; and did a hook-suspension, glass-walking sideshow fusion act in my own production, “Covington Cabaret.”
I told my loved ones I would “See them down the road,” and set out.
I made it to Gibsontown, Fla., one hot April day and met up with the rest of the World of Wonders crew. I had briefly met Tommy, Dyz and Trixie Turvy a few weeks before at the Sideshow Hootenanny. Tommy is probably one of the best bosses I’ll ever work with, Dyz is an incredibly talented knife thrower from Washington, D.C., and Trixie is one of the most talented hoopers I have ever met. There was Lolly Gagger, another sword-swallowing friend who moved to New Orleans three years ago, our working man Will, who likes “Squidbillies” almost as much as me, and legendary sword swallower Red Stuart, who began singing “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” after I nervously introduced myself. I was briefed on what all we would be doing and that we would be jumping to the first fair the next day.
When I say I have never worked this hard in my life, I mean I haven’t worked as physically and mentally hard since my time in Odyssey House. There, it was 6 a.m. “feet on the floor,” go until lights out at 10 p.m., assignment after assignment after assignment. Here at the sideshow, it is less brutal, but building an actual midway entails elbow grease, endurance and prayers that you don’t break anything, including yourself. There are stakes to go into the ground, heavy poles to install, tents and stages to build. This fair took us about two days to set up. Slowly but surely each piece became home. We built the “Illusions,” a stage for fire performance, a stage for the blade box, Red’s stage, ladder of swords, an escape act, the bannerline, and while watching and absorbing everything while it came together, we had the sideshow — the sideshow that has run for 70 years, the World of Wonders.
The next day, it was time to get the show together. I brought a few of my props, utility belt, and definitely my bedazzled Black & Decker power drill, with which I perform the human blockhead act.
Being too nervous to pitch my own act, because this is my first rodeo out of town, this is my first time being in a family show, the peril of OMG I AM ACTUALLY AT WORLD OF WONDERS WHAT IF I SUCK AAAAGGGHHH, I picked a fun song with which to open the show, and put an act together. As the time of dress rehearsal drew closer, I felt the urge to talk my act. I wrote silly stuff down …
Hmm, What does the human blockhead act mean to me? “Professional nose picker. The kids’ll LOVE it.” Tommy, being an awesome boss and also probably wanting to see what I got, let me go for it in the first show. Dyz MC’d and introduced me as the “Bite Sized Damsel of Dangerous Danger,” I laughed, went onstage and did the thing. It LANDED. Kids of all ages laughed and were grossed out. After the show, Tommy pulled me over to the side, and to my surprise told me how happy they are to have me, that I’m an excellent talker.
In the 10 days we’ve been at this fair, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned that the Ferris Wheel is my favorite thing. I love Funhouses. I am still scared of Port-a-Potties. Frosted Flakes Chicken on a Stick is delicious. Snow cones, although not NOLA snowballs, are still very refreshing. And I love my job. I was sitting on the Bally stage with my cast mates, eating a rainbow snowcone, when Trixie turned to me and reminded me that we are at work. This is our job. We do what we love, we high-five kids, we sign their autograph books, we inspire them to follow their dreams. This is our job.
As far as the future, we tear down tomorrow night after our last show and jump to the next fair we play at. I’m excited and hopeful to learn more about my job, its history, and about myself. I am still working on production for the next “Covington Cabaret” show May 20 at the Green Room in downtown Covington, which will feature some of the best burlesque in Louisiana — Naughty Lola from Lafayette’s Boom Boom Burlesque, stand-up from Jon Reaux, and serpentine seductress Nikki LeVillain, hosted by my incredible roommate, Remy Dee, who also has been stepping in my place to co-produce the show, along with Amanda Monjure who has been synonymous with its success and has been there since the beginning.