Wednesday, February 29, 2012


 Last night, at the UVU Library Auditorium, courtesy of Alex Caldiero's Happenings in Humanities, Jennifer Miller, "The Bearded Lady" of the Coney Island Seaside Sideshow, performed.

I left the auditorium a different person from the one who had entered it an hour earlier.

For one thing, laughter changes a person for the better; and there was lots of laughter involved. In the lead-up to juggling three "razor-sharp machetes," Ms. Miller knocked over the microphone, kept dropping the knives, stopped to ask if the people in the front row had insurance, tripped and fell, and then juggled the knives as skillfully as she juggles gender. 

It was a combined side-show performance and gender-studies lecture, personal and theoretical and profound (and profoundly funny).

 She began the performance with a recital of Ginsberg's HOWL, the Holy section in which everything is declared holy, including "the cocks of the grandfathers of Kansas."

"Circus Amok is a New York-based, one ring, no animal, queerly-situated, political circus spectacular.  We’ve been touring the parks of New York City for 18 years.  We are jugglers, acrobats, stilt dancers, puppeteers, writers, theorists, sculptors, painters, and musicians."

A clip of a section of the show, close to the one we saw, here:

"Circus Amok is thriving in its eighth year of reinventing the circus form, borrowing drag fabulousness from Charles Ludlam’s Theater of the Ridiculous, large scale transformation using whole-body masks from Bread and Puppet Theater, and the outdoor bally and verbal rhythm and repertoire from the sideshow, as well as movement vocabulary from post-modern dance. The troupe balances danger with laughter, slipping its critique between the pies in the face and the surreal, scary, and sometimes gender-bent characters of the charivari."  –Mark Sussman, in Disturbing the Peace: 20th Century Radical Street Performance, 2001

To end her show last night, Ms. Miller showed a clip of a street performance of the Circus Amok in which a couple of New York City nannies have left their employers, rich women who come looking for them because someone has to watch the children while they go on a cruise and there are no other candidates who will work for as little as these illegal immigrants who declare that they are returning to Argentina where they can act in the circus AND have decent health care.

Driving home, disturbed and enthused and entertained and thoughtful, I turned on the radio. 

NPR was just announcing that Mitt Romney had narrowly won the Michigan primary. Then came the victory speech:

"You know, a lot of people say that if you’re running for office, you can’t speak honestly with the American people.  Well, I did – and I will – because this is a decisive moment that requires real leadership."

. . .

"These days, when he’s not spending our money or infringing upon our rights, President Obama is busy running for re-election.  He believes he ranks among the top four presidents in history."

. . .

"President Obama believes he is unchecked by our Constitution.  He is unresponsive to the will of our people.  In a second term, he would be unrestrained by the demands of re-election."

. . .

"He passed Obamacare.  I’ll repeal it."

And I'll move to Argentina.

Give me the Circus Amok.
Give me the Bearded Lady.
Spare me the unbearded politician.

"a politician is an arse upon which everyone has sat except a man." e.e. cummings

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