“The Circus Comeback: Brooklyn’s Nouveau Sideshows”

“The Circus Comeback: Brooklyn’s Nouveau Sideshows”


Brooklyn Historical Society

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Dick Zigun – moderator

Stephanie Monseu – Panelist

Adam Realman – Panelist

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Bindlestiff co-founder Stephanie Monseu, Coney Island USA founder Dick Zigun, and Dean of Coney Island’s Sideshow School and old-time strongman Adam RealMan sat together yesterday at the invitation of the Brooklyn Historical Society to discuss “The Circus Comeback: Brooklyn’s Nouveau Sideshows” before an audience of 60+.

Topics for the discussion, moderated by Dick Zigun, included:

– The roots of the current sideshow revival, starting in the late ’80’s when Zigun brought his lifelong fascination with the form to an empty building on Coney Island’s boardwalk; expanding in the early ’90’s, when Jim Rose brought sideshow to a mass audience through Lalapalooza and underground nightlife performers like Combustible Kiva, Otter, and Bindlestiff’s Monseu and Keith Nelson brought sideshow skills into clubs; and surging with the growing participation in Coney Island cultural events like the Mermaid Parade and Burlesque At The Beach.

– Brooklyn’s long, long history with Sideshow and Circus and it’s current status as incubator for the next generations with organizations and training spaces (a majority are woman-run)  like Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, Circus Amok, LAVA, Big Sky Works, House of Yes, The Muse, Hybrid Movement Theater, STREB and many others.

– What’s next? Finding the next levels of thrill and danger, are sideshow artists on America’s Got Talent pushing the envelope too hard?

– American life, culture, and circus- finding new ways to weave the richness of circus, sideshow, and variety arts into new areas like arts education, physical rehabilitation, adaptive learning for differently abled folks, cognitive skill building, fitness, social work, etc.

– What impact does Ringling’s closing have on a circus in America? The good news is that there a many, many high-quality shows touring right now:  America’s first Black-owned show,  Universal Circus is constantly wowing crowds all over the East Coast with a spectacular, world-class show; Circus Vargas  on the West Coast and Circus Vazquez on the East Coast represent the strong Mexican circus tradition with beautiful tented shows; Circus SMirkus from VT presents the heights of youth circus under canvas The Big Apple Circus will present an all-new season at Lincoln Center this year, directed by NYC’s Mark Lonergan (Parallel Exit), and small, independent tented shows like Flynn Creek Circus and Le Tigre are touring; and working in nontraditional venues, shows like Bindlestiff, Circus Amok, Circus Bella, Cirque Us, and dozens of others are thriving.

A brief demonstration of sword swallowing by Adam RealMan amazed the crowd, and Monseu performed bullwhip tricks, asking an audience member to hold targets for some precision whip cracking; next, audience members got the microphone and a question and answer period closed the event.

The takeaway? The circus is alive and well in America! And, invoking a traditional carny oath, Dick Zigun closed the evening: “You’re either with it, and for it, or you’re against it.”

Thanks to Stephanie Monseu for the text.

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Jim R. Moore


Photographer/Videographer/Recluse Founder of Vaudevisuals.com