Arts & Entertainment

At sideshow in Fishtown, it’s hard to look away

The First Banana, a new gallery and performance space in Fishtown, recently showcased the art of sideshow.

Zamora The Torture King doesn’t feel pain like most people. He redirects his focus, even with bike spokes skewering his arms and mouth.

Tim Cridland, also known as Zamora The Torture King, said he experiences pain, but is able to largely ignore it through attention redirection.

“I was on a TV show and they scanned my brain while I was in pain and it showed that the part of my brain that feels pain was active, but the part of the brain that suffers from pain was inactive,” Cridland said. “What I did was change the way my internal feedback loop works which changes the actual experience of pain.”

The First Banana, a recently opened gallery in Fishtown, hosted three sideshow acts on March 21 that tested the audience’s stomachs and nerves, from fire-eating and sword-ladder walking to suspension.

Cridland has been performing painful sideshow acts for 21 years professionally. He ate fire for the first time when he was 17 years old. A few years after, an elementary school library book drew him to the world of death-defying performance.

Cridland, who claims his final stunt of the show once made a Guinness World Records cameraman faint, was the first sideshow performer to boast a show in a Las Vegas casino. During the course of the show, Cridland ate a light bulb and 7-foot long piece of twine which he fished out of his abdomen with a scalpel and scissors through an incision. Cridland prefaced the act with a trigger warning for those prone to fainting, and then proceeded to dig bike spokes through his forearm, his bicep and the floor of his mouth.

The third performer, Gisella Rose, originally from South Africa, is a body piercing professional who performs suspension and sideshow acts for a living. Rose lives in New Jersey, but travels to tattoo conventions and fairs in Philly to exhibit her talent.

Rose’s suspension act involves two hooks that are slipped through the skin of the her back before she is hoisted into the air.  She said the psychology behind doing something like suspension involves an element of faith.

“A lot of people are scared to move really quickly because they have the misconception that the hooks are going to rip out, but the whole thing with suspension is that you need to trust what you’re doing, you need to trust the people that are doing it and you have to trust the art,” she said. “Just go, your body’s tough.”

Reggie Bügmüncher, who took her stage name from the entry level geek act of eating bugs that she started her career with, prefer not to disclose her birth name. Bügmüncher is part of the Philly-based sideshow duo The Olde City Sideshow with her partner and brother Danny Borneo. As owner of The First Banana, she originally intended the small venue to be a space for the duo to practice and perfect burlesque and sideshow performances. Now, she is open to all kinds of art.

“The Banana opened about eight months ago and it originally started off as something we wanted as a venue and rehearsal space for our sideshow thing but it evolved into something more,” she said. “I wanted it to be constantly art, every type of art: performance art, sideshow, painting, photography. Every medium, I wanted represented in this space.”

The First Banana will house a photography exhibit next month from one Temple graduate and three current Temple students who are displaying all kinds of Philadelphia housing in different colors, sizes and states of disrepair. The art occupying the walls of  Bügmüncher’s gallery fit a common aesthetic with the kind of alternative art showcased on stage.

Not solely the host, she performed in full burlesque fashion and gave a volunteer a shot of tequila from a tube that she snaked through her nose and out her mouth. Toward the end of the show, she had another volunteer cut a hot dog on her stomach with a sword.

Being that Philadelphia was once a main stop on the vaudeville circuit, this sort of alternative and outlandish show is not uncommon here, she said.

“It’s a working class city, there’s tons of universities, there’s tons of art schools,” she said. “We’re kind of sandwiched into a very affordable, awesome, art-concentrated, working class city and out of that breeds things like sideshow and suspension and alternative arts because it’s not very highfalutin. It’s not a place like San Francisco, it’s very organic.”

Colton Shaw can be reached at colton.shaw@temple.edu.

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