The Unholy Sideshow

rev at rest

Quiet and unassuming over a morning cup of coffee, Rev is anything but on stage.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan, who describes Rev as a P.T. Barnum and Criss Angel fusion.

He hands a red staple gun — the kind you’d use to tack carpets down — to a guy in a bar — the kind of guy who might tack those carpets down — holding a dollar bill. The guy in the bar staples the dollar bill to his torso. The guy in the bar smiles, comes back with a five and staples it to his cheek.

Why? Why would you let a stranger staple filthy currency to your body?

“Because I can,” Rev says. (He prefers his stage name be used, although his birth name is no secret to Facebook users.)

Rev is a lanky guy with a mesmerizing presence. Piercings, dreads, tattoos, along with a handlebar moustache, bow tie and a bowler. He prides himself in his dichotomy, down to his carefully planned ink — right arm bedecked with religious icons, left with more “sinister” imagery.

fox trap on arm

Rev’s right arm, in a fox trap, is inked wih sacred iconography. Here is St. Bartholomew, who was flayed alive.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.


This part-Steampunk-part-rock-‘n-roll charisma comes to life on stage. The Reverend First Minister (a.k.a. Rev) is a showman. My guess is that he could talk his way out of, or into, any situation. My fear is the circumstances he willingly puts himself in. I’m the squeamish type. Evidently, his best audience, the kind that watches through our fingers, wincing.

The Upper Black Eddy resident and four fellow entertainers form The Unholy Sideshow, a name that says it all. They perform wickedly irreverent feats of daring. Much of which I can’t watch. Some of which children shouldn’t, although the troupe can tone down their more risqué acts, and be quite entertaining for kids.

mousetrap on tongue

Rev lets a 9-year-old and a mousetrap loose on his tongue.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.


Joining Rev on stage are Davey Danger (few real names are used here – I’m setting aside good journalistic practices for today), a Pilates instructor also from Upper Black Eddy; Catalina Askew, an artist and burlesque dancer from Allentown; fellow Allentown resident Jay Sin Aces, a machinist who once raced BMX professionally; and Philadelphia’s Atlas Drugged, a former Navy nuclear engineer.

Danger’s marquee act is hanging from his ankles while escaping from a straight jacket. Askew is a “human dart board,” contortionist and fire breather. Aces excels at the bed of nails, often paired with breaking cinder blocks on his body. Drugged (yes, I just wrote that) is a strongman, trained in the traditional arts since age 12.

As Rev talks about eating light bulbs, sticking hairpins through his face and walking on swords, I worry that it’s all an illusion, that I’m more gullible than I’d imagined. No one could do that to themselves and not faint or bleed out on stage. He assures me it’s all real.

“When I’m on stage, I’m not lying,” Rev says. He is an expert on anatomy and physics. And pain tolerance. Years of piercings and tats have inured him to pain. “You get so used to it, it’s nothing. You know how it feels. When you know how something feels you turn off that pain response.”

Could be an explanation for Michelle Duggar. Just a thought.

When he opens his box of props, I’m nervous. Aw, geesh, don’t do it. But he grabs a screwdriver from the prop box and a hammer from his pickup (he’s a contractor by day) and hammers the screwdriver up his nose. I have nightmares about such things. Truly.

screwdriver up nose

Photo by Bailey Fucanan.


“On stage I use the microphone,” he says. “It makes a nice ‘thunk, thunk, thunk.'”

I’m dumbstruck. Do you thunk about what you’re doing to your body? I think.

“If you do it wrong, you hurt yourself,” Rev says. “People have died doing this.”

Rev specializes in what he calls torture routines. His props include regulation mousetraps and fox traps. Needles and swords, all sharp. Light bulbs still in the packaging and an anchor purchased at a boat supply. That anchor? He hangs it from his tongue. The swords? He walks on them, blade up, of course.

For him, it’s pushing the boundaries of what he can do. It’s a challenge. He seems ever ready to take on an exploit, saying he could walk on glass and swords just about any time, although during our early morning meeting, he does confess, “I’m not sure I want to eat a light bulb this morning.” Understood.

There are some stunts, however, that he can only do while on stage. The adrenaline helps spur him on. And the crowd. He’s a natural showman, at ease with a crowd of sophisticate-wanna-bes at a sweet sixteen party, families at a state fair or a rowdy bunch at a tattoo convention.

Not only is Rev the “pain-proof man” but he is the “talker.” He keeps the audience engaged. His innate ability to connect is how he got started in the sideshow biz. A friend was performing, but didn’t have the knack for addressing the crowd. Rev stepped in, to great success. It isn’t just banter that sets him apart. He can open a beer bottle with his throat, climbs a ladder of sharp swords 4 feet in the air and leaps off into broken glass. And his “face of pain,” involving needles and that anchor hooked through his tongue, is his signature act. No one else does it.

There’s a reason. It would hurt.

deathproof man

Rev has appeared on Science Channel’s Oddities and WMMR’s Preston and Steve show. Last weekend The Unholy Sideshow appeared at Jersey Shore Music Festival. August 3 they will perform on the new stage at Fran’s Pub in New Hope.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.


“The things he does and the way he does them really aren’t extremely painful,” Rebecca Gittings, Rev’s mother, says. “Except the stapling.”

Yes, the stapling. It worries her, especially the risk of infection.

“I’m a nurse, so I’m not terribly squeamish,” she says, yet still worries about the stapling. “There are a few spots I’m not fond of at all, like the head.” (For $20, Rev lets you take the tool to his head. I think he should raise his prices.)

She assures me he felt pain as a child. “He didn’t do anything dangerous, really, when he was growing up,” Rev’s mother says. “I never had to worry about him getting into trouble, never had any problems with him. All in all he’s a nice guy. He’s his own person, no doubt about it.”

Gittings just wants for Rev, his brother and his sister what all mothers want for their children. “I always wanted my kids to be happy with what they do.”

That guy in the bar, the one stapling a $5 to Rev’s cheek — he isn’t the only one smiling.

quiet rev

Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

— Jodi Thompson

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Artist Profile: Miriam Carpenter

feather in hand

Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

The anatomy of the feather is delicate. Each barb delineated as together they form both striated vanes radiating from the center. She grasps its fragile splendor by the calamus to avoid crushing the downy barbs. A single gust, a gentle breeze, seems capable of launching it skyward. Yet, however airy it appears, if her hold loosened, the feather would drop to the ground. It is wooden.

Artist Miriam Carpenter has carved the feather from white oak. Yes, she’s heard the jokes: her name is carpenter and she works with wood — Meta Miriam. This rather young and wholly exquisite artisan creates such beauty from wood, that she was hired by George Nakashima Studio more than six years ago, only a year out from her studies of Industrial Design at Rhode Island School of Design.

At George Nakashima Woodworker, Carpenter is assistant designer to Mira Nakashima. Already, the Carpenter Coffee Table will debut, among 25 other Nakashima works, September 20 at Moderne Gallery in Philadelphia. The eponymous piece is the first named for her, but she has signed other pieces for which she has had a strong input.

dovetailing

Miriam Carpenter shows some intricate dovetailing work she has done.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

Beyond the work she does at the prominent design studio, she is constantly exploring wood on her own. Even if that exploration involves a chainsaw, which she recently took to a 6-foot sassafras limb brought down by Hurricane Sandy. “The chainsaw was too slow. It wasn’t as aggressive as I thought it would be.”

Yes, this is the same long-limbed beauty who sings in a motet group with her parents and practices yoga complaining that a chainsaw isn’t aggressive enough. The same woodworker who double-turns bowls so flowing one is reminded of the sea. The same artist, who with Zen-based calmness, carves delicate feathers from blocks of wood.

feathers in box

Wooden feathers carved by Miriam Carpenter.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

Yet, surprisingly, Carpenter only carved her first feather in June of last year. Except for a block print, she had never even carved before. Her paternal grandfather, known for carving decoys from wood, (Yes, even Grandpa Carpenter was meta.) passed away in 2012. The family bestowed the young Carpenter with his workbench and carving tools.

miriam at workbench

The woodworker sits in front of the workbench and carving tools that once belonged to her paternal grandfather.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

Carpenter was invited to show at the 2012 EMMA International Collaboration in Canada, a biennial event bringing together 100 artists from around the world. The show theme was “Decoy.” Her grandfather had carved decoys.

miriam with decoy

Miriam Carpenter admires a decoy carved by her late grandfather.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

“I was thinking decoy, duck, duck, decoy,” Carpenter says. “Maybe I’ll just carve a feather.” She used a mallard feather for muse and a block of white oak with well demarcated medullary rays. She explains how the pattern between the late and early growth act like the warp and weft of woven fabric.

“The structure of each piece of wood is more fascinating to me than the subject,” says Carpenter. And she rushes to get a piece of white oak to pencil out how she’d find the feather in it.

pencil and block

Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

She says people often ask why she carves the curve of the feather and doesn’t steam-bend it. “That would defeat the whole purpose,” she exclaims. “Exposing the pores and the structure is the whole process.”

Perhaps born under an auspicious star, her initial attempt worked. “I was lucky because I did everything right,” she says of her first feather effort. “The second one took me a lot longer.” She positioned it wrong, causing tear out.

She also struggled with a piece of pine, a soft wood that didn’t lend itself to the lovely filigree effect of oak. Lacewood did work, however.

It’s somehow soothing to hear she has struggled. She seems so successful for such a young person. And yet she hasn’t made any effort to market her accomplishment. She has absolutely no online presence. Still she succeeds.

miriam in thought

Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

She has scored herself a two-month residency at Center for Art in Wood in Philadelphia in the summer of 2014. “I’m ecstatic,” she says with authenticity. “I feel unworthy.”

Her modesty is almost annoying, considering her substantial talent — not to mention youth and attractiveness — but she is able to dismiss any irritation with her slightly geeky zeal for new technology. She slides into a description of quantum dots and nanocrystals with ease. She launches into a mini-tirade about permaculture, which she has studied, and why it isn’t being done more when the research is there.

Permaculture design, music, yoga, quantum dots and nanacrystals! She admits her interests are varied. “I’m all over the place with what I’m doing,” Carpenter adds. But it is wood that ultimately woos her.

“I just love wood,” Carpenter says. “There are so many layers, so no matter how long you work with it, you discover something new.”

— Jodi Thompson

Acting Naturally Presents 13

cast singing

The cast includes Steven Rimdzius, Brandon Fean, Serena Weil, Kimmie Graham, Wyatt McManus, Lauren Esser, Christina Pullen, Connor McDowell, Spencer Ostrowsky, Sylvia Fisher, Dan Booda, Brynn Jacobs, Evan Kashinsky, Bryce Ritz, Brian Flatley and Victoria Vouk.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

Teen angst is something I make every effort to avoid, but there is no sign of its drama in this room filled with youngsters making a comedy of the transitional torment. Wendy Force McBride, owner of the Yardley performing workshop and production company Acting Naturally, directs more than a dozen 13- through 15-year-olds as they sing and dance in preparation for 13.

They practice a choreographed musical number without fuss. Run lines, answer questions. All with surprising congeniality and calm. Although certainly living lives at least somewhat fraught with fretfulness given their mutual age, these young actors don’t seem to share the teen turmoil of their on-stage characters.

singing

The drama of the teen years is comedy fodder for 13, a musical presented by Acting Naturally July 18 through 21 at Maureen M. Welch Auditorium in Southampton.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

Langhorne’s Dan Booda, as the musical’s anxiety-ridden Evan Goldman, is complaining that his life just went to hell. Anyone with a teen has heard this song, different lyrics many a time, often accompanied by a rhythmic slamming of doors. But poor Evan has it bad. He’s preparing for his bar mitzvah while navigating his parents’ divorce, which includes a move from Manhattan to Indiana.

The skateboarding, gossiping, texting teens in the dance number remind Evan of the importance of this milestone event, “the Jewish Super Bowl.” A girl tells him how excited she is to attend his party, while a boy relays knowledge of invitations printed on money — all raising the bar for a kid with competing distractions.

The characters obsess about moustaches, Wonderbras and killing their mother. Off the practice stage of this teen rock musical with what McBride refers to as a PG-13 book, Dan and his fellow thespians show little sign of their alter ego’s fixations.

Dan, who has never acted outside of four productions at Maple Point Middle School, is a newcomer to Acting Naturally. “I wanted to start doing more shows,” he says. “I saw this and it was close by.”

dan and lauren

Dan Booda and Lauren Esser portray Evan and Kendra in the coming-of-age musical.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

Those around him are equally nonchalant, although they have performed with Acting Naturally before. Lauren Esser, a student at Gwynedd Mercy Academy who plays Kendra in 13, has been dancing in shows since she was 3, and acting for several years, as well. Her role is as head cheerleader, vivacious and popular.

Playing the decidedly unpopular Archie, Pennwood Middle School student Evan Kashinsky says his parents got him involved in acting, something the Yardley resident has been doing since second grade, mostly with Acting Naturally. Archie walks with crutches, which Evan has never had to do, so he’s struggling to learn to move and even dance with them.

Sylvia Fisher, an eighth grader at Charles Boehm, became enamored with acting after winning recognition this past year with her school at the International Thespian Festival. She plays boyfriend-stealing Lucy in the musical. “I’ve never played a mean girl,” she says. “It’ll stretch me.”

dan and sylvia

Dan shares a hug with Sylvia Fisher, who plays against type as Lucy.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

I happened to be lucky enough to have heard Sylvia sing outside of Acting Naturally and the burgeoning talent has a gorgeous voice.

These young actors all share the stage during the Jason Robert Brown musical that enjoyed a three-month run on Broadway. “It’s an ensemble show,” Lauren says. “We all have a story, motivations.”

Evan agrees. “The characters are out there. You’ve never seen people like it.”

“There are no limits,” Sylvia adds. “We love it. It’s more like punk rock: energetic, more fun for our voices.”

Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

There will be live music, led by Bob Kashinsky on keyboard. The bass guitar, lead guitar and drummer are high school students. McBride says 13 is high energy, with great music and a lot of dancing.

They are learning complicated choreography from Megan Fulmer, who recently performed in the national tour of Shrek the Musical. Lauren refers to the dancing as “intense,” Sylvia as “challenging.”

The cast seems to be handling it just fine, surmounting the moves while their characters negotiate life at 13.

Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

“The show has such a great message,” Sylvia says.

Dan adds: “It’s a really relatable show.”

McBride says the young actors are embracing the story, despite its material being “a little racy.” She is long over her concerns at broaching awkward situations with the teens in her cast, calling them professional. “You tell them to learn their lines and they come back with their lines memorized. They have their songs memorized.

“It’s just so much fun, so much fun.”

— Jodi Thompson

Artist Profile: Kathie Jankauskas

Artist Profile: Kathie Jankauskas

easel and computer monitor

Easel and computer enjoy equal space and time in the home office/studio of Kathie Jankauskas.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

Artist Kathie Jankauskas will put to rest any ridiculous notions you have about “right brain/left brain.” She utilizes both hemispheres fully. She is equal parts civil engineer and artist, graphic artist as much as computer coder, as involved in business as in the arts. She never made what Mae Jemison, astronaut, doctor, art collector and dancer, would call a “foolish choice” between the arts and science. Jemison’s 2002 TED Talk imploring educators to reconcile science and the arts is a superb addition to any playlist, except for Jankauskas, perhaps. She’s got this.

“In high school it was either art or math,” Jankauskas says. “What parent wouldn’t want math?” So her parents pushed her to study math, which morphed into civil engineering at Lafayette College. As fate would have it, her first boss, Narendra Amin, was an artist and coaxed his mentee to explore that side of her creativity as well.

When Jankauskas had a son and, two years later, twins, she discovered they needed more time than she realized. “I liked staying home,” she says. “I didn’t want to go back to engineering.” A brush with serious illness brought clarity. “I didn’t want to wait until I retired to do art.”

She took art classes at Bucks County Community College, where the instructor recommended a class in PhotoShop. Her sister, a graphic designer, suggested graphic design as a career move, one compatible with being a stay-at-home mom.

kathie poster

Kathie Jankauskas designed several years of First Night Newtown posters, websites and collateral. Her first website for the family friendly New Year’s event earned Jankauskas an award.
The piece over her right shoulder is by her first boss, a retired engineer now volunteering as a docent at Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

Jankauskas built a career for herself, two, actually — on two separate websites, one for fine art, one for graphic design and web developing. She utilizes both sides of her brain in one office/studio, with an easel set up across from two large computer monitors, custom-made drapes that block the sun glare on the screens or lift to allow natural light to pour in.

Her fine art is no more restricted than her career path. She cut her teeth on watercolors, but that didn’t stop her from delving into oils. “I’d always wanted to oil paint, so I made time for it. If you don’t make time for something, you won’t do it.”

Representational pieces are the bulk of her work, with influence from Impressionism and Cubism. She loves to play with color. She paints en plein air and still life with friends (“We call ourselves the Painters Collective.”) on a regular basis but also used several photographs to create a holiday card. (“We weren’t all skating [on her parents’ pond] in one photo.”) She’ll sell a painting that hung in her family room for so long that her husband and grown children were perturbed when told it wouldn’t return. (“People like pigs. It was a happy pig.”) Yet, promises other pieces hanging in their Middletown Township home won’t be sold. (Indicating a colorful Cubist-style sun with ample attitude hanging over the family room fireplace, her husband, Joe, says: “She also threatened to sell that one, too.”)

kathie flowers

For a change of pace, Jankauskas painted these flowers “just out of my head.”
This piece was featured in Bucks County Designer House & Gardens. Jankauskas has had pieces in Artists of Yardley, Ellarslie, New Hope Art League Juried Show, and Phillips Mill Art Exhibition recently, many selling.
“I had a good spring,” Jankauskas says.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.


She shares a sly smile at her perceived dichotomy, because in her mind, there is none. “I love doing [computer graphics and web design]. It’s not like work,” she says in nearly the same breath as “I couldn’t not paint.”

Jemison would understand. As the astronaut/dancer says: “science provides an understanding of a universal experience” and “arts provides a universal understanding of a personal experience.” Says Jemison, “They’re all part of us, all part of a continuum.”

Jankauskas is a perfect illustration of that theory.

— Jodi Thompson

All Night Long

Late Saturday afternoon and Art All Night is just getting going.

Late Saturday afternoon and Art All Night is just getting going.

Just a quick trip over the bridge into the Chambersburg section of Trenton you’ll find the former Roebling Wire Works factory building, which until 3 p.m. tomorrow, June 16, is providing 50,000 square feet of excellent gallery space for about a thousand artists of varying ages and abilities. The fun spills out of the building into Millyard Park, with music, art in progress, food, drink and more.

The clay Warrior Eagle mask is part of a collection by my daughter-in-law Arkady Thompson, a talented ceramicist and story teller. Each mask in the collection is a melding of human and animal spirits.  Only one piece per artist can be submitted for Art All Night.

The clay Warrior Eagle mask is part of a collection by my daughter-in-law Arkady Thompson, a talented ceramicist and story teller. Each mask in the collection is a melding of human and animal spirits.
Only one piece per artist can be submitted for Art All Night.

art hanging
A standout Styrofoam sawdust and marble chip piece by Michael Gyampo.

A standout Styrofoam sawdust and marble chip piece by Michael Gyampo.

"Suture," of nails by Brady Warner.

“Suture,” of nails by Brady Warner.


Artists work live to bring Edgar Allan Poe to life on canvas.

Artists work live to bring Edgar Allan Poe to life on canvas.

Children frolicking in the fountain is most likely just a daylight occurrence, but you never know.

Children frolicking in the fountain is most likely just a daylight occurrence, but you never know.


Art All Night – Trenton 2013 is a 24-hour community event now in its seventh year. Go now – admission is a self-determined donation. Go tonight, tomorrow morning or even early afternoon. Wait too long and you’ll have to wait until next year. Despite the lack of jurying, the art is worth the look. The energy, from some 300 volunteers and thousands of visitors, is intoxicating.

— Jodi Thompson

Bucks’ Own

Solve the cryptogram to find a quote by Margaret Mead. Kudos if you know the name of the streets at the intersection in Doylestown where this sign is located (without googling it).

BKOKF XKRAKOK DSWD W YKT EWFABI QKGQRK EWB’D ESWBIK DSK TGFRJ. YGF, ABJKKJ,

DSWD’H WRR TSG KOKF SWOK.

Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

— Jodi Thompson

Risky Business: The Kingfisher

Back in April there was a bit of a buzz about marrying early in adulthood. Julia Shaw posits on Slate that getting hitched young is the bee’s knees. Amanda Marcotte responds with stinging data indicating women who wed young are more likely to get divorced and be poorer.

William Douglas-Home’s The Kingfisher looks at marriage, both young and late in life. Langhorne Players presents the comedy through June 15 in Spring Garden Mill in Tyler State Park, Newtown. The lead female character, Evelyn, swats away both the above nuptial theses. She tied the knot young but wasn’t happily in love; a new widow, she has plenty of money.

“Love is one thing,” she tells one-time beau Cecil, whom she fled 50 years ago when he didn’t propose, “marriage is another.”

Cecil wouldn’t know matrimony if it pricked him in the butt, even though he’s had a 50-year marriage of sorts to his butler, Hawkins. If only Cecil were as enlightened as Joel Stein‘s college sweetheart. In Time, Stein points out it’s a good thing he didn’t put a ring on it — she’s a lesbian.

The Kingfisher Director Sheldon Zeff chose not to pursue the relationship between Cecil and Hawkins, allowing the subtext to tell the story. “I don’t need to beat people over the head with it,” Zeff says. Yet, a distinctive characteristic of the kingfisher is the lack of differences between the sexes, something archetypal among many orders of the bird class.

I can’t help but wonder if Zeff had chosen to embrace the implication more fully might the production have delved deeper into poignancy, rather than stayed on the comic surface of Cecil’s missed opportunity for marriage with Evelyn.

The couple kissed for the first time beneath a beech tree after spotting a kingfisher together. “Damned risky business if you ask me,” Cecil says. “Thank God I’m not a kingfisher.”

If that isn’t an expressed fear of coming out of the closet, I don’t know what is.

Yes, Cecil purchased the land around the beech tree of that long ago moment of promised intimacy — certainly a romantic gesture. But Cecil seems to mine his shared history with Evelyn more for its fodder in his successful novels than true love. He may want to pick it up again where they left off only in an effort to avoid running out of stories to tell.

Elliot Simmons’ Cecil fumes at his butler’s fussing, and takes him sorely for granted. Simmons, however, most comes to life when interacting with the luminous Gail Foulke’s Evelyn.

Foulke shines with incredible comic timing as well as physicality. Watching her weasel gossip from a side-car-fueled Hawkins while also imbibing is delightful. Both characters know full well what life is like as a “side car,” Cecil’s “favorite.”

Scott Fishman is perfectly haughty as Hawkins, fully without his prey in his talons as the moniker would imply. Fishman’s desperate anger as Hawkins takes his leave of Cecil is spot on. (I would like to put Fishman in well fitting, plain-front pants rather than baggy pleats, but that is just being picky. I also think Hawkins wouldn’t let his Sir Cecil out of the house without a crisp crease in his trousers, and he would be more fastidious with the table setting, but I digress.)

I could write an essay on Douglas-Home’s imagery, but thank goodness I don’t have to — for the reader’s sake as much as mine. While parts amuse and parts bemuse me, overall it’s fun. There’s far less social commentary available to mine in today’s increasingly progressive world, but it’s there all the same. Even this married-young person who split the outcomes can see it.

— Jodi Thompson