Know Your Mushrooms
Everyone has a story about the Circus and Carnival, the same is true for those who are "with it". Many who’ve been under canvas are all too willing to spin a yarn or cut a jackpot, often tall-tales that must be taken with a grain of salt. Still others are not so eager to enlighten and will evade your queries at all costs. Be it secret knowledge or secret societies, problems with the law or the true circumstances that let a person to a life in the carnival, it can be difficult to know which stories should be believed. As such, it can be daunting compiling biographical information about circus performers. The following is an attempt at just that, information gathered from books, scouring the Internet and with the help of bloggers, photographers and historians. Believe what you will.
Levi “The Mighty Leviticus” is a shining example of the multitude of stories that can surround one artist. The Strongman’s true pedigree is still a mystery, though in my opinion, he resembles a Danish Raider known only by Kjarl. Rumored to have been found on a mid-way by István, other elaborations say he was captured in the jungles of darkest Afrika, still other stories tell that "Levi" was a sailor who after having sailed the seven seas many times over, his thirst for adventure led him to abandon the sea in search of what lay the end of the horizon.
There is an abundance of photographic material, found by various internauts, as well as from the archives of collectors, which would seem to place Leviticus, anachronistically in various shows in the past. There are photos of the Strongman on the midway in a prominent 1930’s mud-show named Carnivále Lune Bleue; there are glass negatives that place him as an attraction with a Victorian era sideshow, or perhaps it was a dime-museum. The name of that show was lost to history, the only known details are that it was a wonderful show in its hay-day, but it is said that the show lost its appeal with its inheritance by the original founder's nincompoop Grandson. One collector has claimed to possess a photo of “The Mighty Leviticus” and the famous Strongman, the Great Louis Cyr arm wrestling. The collector has however declined to part with it, or even produce it for verification for that matter.
[Back to Top]
István Betyár is another shady character. Known by a Hungarian name, but also having an intimate knowledge of India, the tales that enfold István would seem almost believable, were they not so unbelievable. His mastery of ancient arts like Fire-Eating and Sword-Swallowing are only the beginning, for István possesses an almost druidic understanding of wild plants, mushrooms and the magic of fermentation, adding to the complexity of the task for any researcher.
Many of the photos of Leviticus also feature a character bearing a frightening resemblance to István; this would seem to indicate that they might have worked together on many of the same shows. Their strong friendship would also seem to confirm this, but István’s story has many more avenues to follow – some are as yet, unexplored. The rumors, should one bend an ear to them, suggest that István trained to swallow swords under Fakirs in 1930’s India, but the political climate at that the time and the locals distaste for Europeans, drove István to America and many of the dust-shows of the time. One old-timer claims to have known a sword swallower by the name of István in 1936, but due to problems with the local constabulary, he vanished in the night. The old man further added that no one could find bootlegged alcohol for quite a spell after István’s departure. Stranger yet is the surfacing of photos from the early 1990’s, portraying István performing at events in the fledgling Rave scene.
Not only would the existence of the photos of Leviticus and István together imply something strange is afoot in this show, there is also a profusion of newspaper articles and historical manuscripts that place István at much earlier times than Leviticus. A Sword Swallower, going by the name István, performed for the crowned heads of Europe, other documents describe István with an early French equestrian show that escaped the French Revolution to astound audiences in New France. Further, “Betyár” is the name of the freedom fighters or outlaws that were the scourge of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the late 19th Century.
Due to the rarity of photographs and artistic renditions of performances of that time, all the researcher has to go on are news paper articles and pitch cards, some of which survived in the hands of collectors. A treasure trove of circus memorabilia was recently discovered in a farmer’s hayloft, a wealth of István pitch cards was discovered in that dusty trunk, though the surnames are different. The surplus of these cards will be offered to other collectors through this sites “Mercantile” page.
[Back to Top]
Miss BonBon Bombay, oh what to say about Miss BonBon?
This classic beauty was thrust into notoriety after having won the Montréal Burlesque Festival’s first prize in 2009, and later 2nd prize at the New York Burlesque Star Search, however evidence would seem to imply that she is no stranger to the stage, though she looks none the worse for wear when her true age is considered.
Photographs from the golden age of Burlesque have been discovered that resemble Miss BonBon, and many photographs from smoky cabarets, German beer halls, minstrel shows and dusty sideshows also feature this veteran performer. Her experience surpassed only by her beauty, her charms distracting the researcher to the point of losing himself and his endeavor to document the story of Miss BonBon. This enchantment is surely a finely honed skill to throw the curious off the trail of these apparent time-travelers, and it is only the beginning of your astonishment as this beauty has taken the reins acting as Ring-Mistress of the troupe. She guides the spectator along our own voyage through Circus history, as well as her own quest to become a "Freak" in her own right.
[Back to Top]
Angela's story is a little hard to nail down. No one is quite sure where, or even when, she comes from. Folklore dating back to the 30's from America's deep south, tells the tale of an “unkempt misfit” travelling with blues acts to shady speakeasies and dance-halls. It was believed that she spent these years on the road honing her musical skills into what you now hear today.
Other faded artifacts place her in Victorian India, on a quest to find the ultimate Sideshow performers. Time, as we know it, doesn't seem to apply to Angela, as "Solo Sightings" have been documented across the globe, dating back hundreds of years. From the Far East to the Wild West, she seems to have slipped through space and time, all to be a part of Blue Mushroom.
[Back to Top]
Semira, The Muse. She is the constant companion on the voyage that is this show. She is the DJ that provides the musical “accompaniment” throughout the production. Her taste and influences are eclectic to say the least, from swing to electronic to world-beat, and I swear I heard some wax cylinder recordings! There is something to please the most discriminating ear. For the parts of the show that the timid turn and cover their eyes, Semira offers refuge, her sounds enveloping the listener as a Mother would embrace a child, as if to say;
“Don’t worry, it was just a nightmare…”
The Sufis, as well as the more contemporary Ravers, share the common belief that spiritual ecstasy can be found through music. After listening to Semira perform, I may also be considered amongst the subscribers to this belief.
[Back to Top]
The Blue Mushroom Sirkus Psyshow has always concentrated not only on preserving lost or dying arts, but also mixing varied art-forms within its presentation, thus bringing these arts to an audience that wouldn't necessarily have the opportunity to enjoy them otherwise. Sharon Ep1c is a shining example of this effort - she is a “Live Painter”. While painting is usually an intensely private endeavor, Sharon takes this discipline out of the studio, turning it into a performance art. She has painted over 750 events over the last six years across Canada and often joins the Blue Mushroom Sirkus Psyshow when possible to paint their freaky antics.
Sharon’s Live Paintings, are also a unique opportunity for audience members to directly support the arts, as the paintings created throughout the performance are auctioned away at the end of the show.
[Back to Top]
“Diamond Grit” Dan Reigler, The Impaler. MISSING! A rather embarrassing development, but it would seem that the Troupe has "misplaced" their "Human Pincussion", as it has been quite some time since Dan has been seen amongst the troupe. He was reportedly last seen tending to his garden, but rumor has it that Dan has, once again, gone on sabbatical to study alchemy and continue other mystical pursuits. As soon as he is found again, rest assured - you will be the first to know.
[Back to Top]
There are a host of other artists that have been seen performing with the Blue Mushroom Sirkus Psyshow in its various productions and incarnations. However at the time of publication, this author has no further information to share, although rest assured, more info will follow as it becomes available.
As I stated at the beginning of this “Biography”, hard facts are few and far between when it comes to circus or carnival acts, leaving only the images trapped forever in the celuloid of the time. Exaggerations and half-truths are only the beginning of the story in some cases, this one being the perfect example. I always felt that this troupe had the feeling of the sideshows of days gone by; the questions raised by the documentation outlined above may lead to the explanation as to why I was given that impression. The Blue Mushroom Sirkus Psyshow would seem to merit further investigation, and the old adage “Seeing is believing” would seem to be obsolete in this case, “Believe what you will” may be more appropriate. The sideshow has always been entertainment for people that make up their own minds anyhow; I invite you to do just that.
[Back to Top]