Carny Knowledge: A Sideshow Extravaganza of Original Plays and Extraordinary Oddities

Silvia Graziano & Marc S. Miller, Impresarios
January 29-February 6, 2010
Cambridge YMCA Theatre
820 Mass. Ave.
Central Square, Cambridge

photos by Daniel J. van Ackere

Carny Knowledge -- a dazzling array of carnival-inspired plays and carnival-style performances -- using new-timey production methods to evoke old time-y interpretations. Drawing its roots from the sideshows that spread across the nation from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s, Carny Knowledge conjured up that mysterious thrill  that would envelop curious onlookers every time the circus came to town, accompanied by the cacophony of sideshow barkers promising the wonders of the world to those who had never strayed far from home.

Modern times may dictate that these simple thrills are gone. That there are no mysteries left to unearth in this plugged-in, tuned-out age. But in January and February, 2010,  Fort Point Theatre Channel proved them wrong by crossing into Cambridge with a gaggle of playwrights, filmmakers, musicians, dancers, roustabouts, and other diverse practitioners of the carny crafts, to create six thrilling evenings of ballyhoo, burlesque, and incomparable carnival-style entertainment.

Carny Knowledge was Fort Point Theatre Channel's second playfest, a place to transform ideas into workshop productions.

What was in store every evening, besides the Carny Band (Nick Thorkelson, his brother and former Monkee Peter Tork, Tim Jackson, and guests), artistic installations enveloping audiences and performers alike, and popcorn?


With You or Without You. Great magnetic balls of steel!! Rolling this way, that way . . . Video and audio art by Bebe Beard and Lou Cohen. Adapted especially for Carny Knowledge.

Tales of the Midnight Carnival, a set of very short vignettes by talented Toronto-based writer Peter Cavell about a bizarre,  twisted traveling carnival. A U.S. premiere.

Love Me, Leave Me, by David Dudley of New York City, explored both our capacity to forgive and the concept of "freak." A world premiere.

On My Chest, with San Francisco writer Gaea Denker-Lehrman's very original lyrics set to the tune of "Be My Guest," was a disgusting ditty about the most perverse of acts, performed in full drag. An East Coast premiere.

Wife of Bobbo, by Massachusetts playwright M. Lynda Robinson, investigated marriage at a crucial point, taking on a deep topic with a lot of fun -- and questions left at the end. Adapted especially for Carny Knowledge.

Lionel Banished, by FPTC member Nick Thorkelson, asked, "What happens when the lion tamer goes to the dogs?" A world premiere.

Scuffle and Jump, by John Weagly of Chicago, presents Penny, who entertained us with her tap dancing, inspired by Fats Waller, Fred Astaire, and Ginger Rogers - but there's something about her. . . A world premiere.

Bella Curva offers duo contortion, combining the flexibility and strength of contortion with the grace and artistry of dance.

The Boston Hoop Troop, a collective of hula hoopers, practices, performs, and teaches the graceful art of hoop dance. Featuring Little L, Lolli Hoops, and Marria Grace.

Clowns on the Left and other animation pieces of Massachusetts filmmaker Mick Cusimano were unique, reflecting the contradictory impulses we all feel about sideshows, circuses, and ourselves.

The Crocodile Boy Project, See the Freek! by Ed Valentine of New York City and Megan McDavid of Colorado, featured both an onstage "show" and a backstage interactive element where we learned more about the freak's life than we could ever imagine. A New England premiere.

A Different Spin, a group of Boston-based performers spreading their love of circus across the country, offered a variety of pieces from their repertoire, such as juggling, glass walking, card tricks, plate spinning, acrobatics, clowning, and more. Featuring Ricky Hawkins and Michael "Mooch" Mucciolo.

Honey Suckle Duvet, burlesque dancer and tarot reader, captured audiences in a golden sweet embrace, whether she was undulating to the sultry rhythms of soul, sensually moving to classical, or boldly strutting to rock.

Gathering, a video "sideshow" by Douglas Urbank, blended hand-altered 16 mm and super 8 mm film with stills, ink, paint, and other media. A world premiere.

Nicholas Ridiculous, the human block head who pounded nails into his nose, juggled knives, and escaped from a modern institutional straight jacket.

Sylvie Agudelo, Danny Bryck, Nick Cegelka, Mary Driscoll, Liz Fenstermaker, Christie Lee Gibson, JaRaj the Man-Schwa, Tanya Kutasz, David McCaleb, Sharon Montella, Vawnya Nichols, Sally Nutt, Allen Phelps, Casey Preston, Steve Rumpler, Todd Sargent, Robin JaVonne Smith, Daniel J. van Ackere, Mark Warhol