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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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

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

I Love a Parade

The haze was a result of special effects on a passing float. The weather wasn't at all steamy last year, and promises to be just as glorious this year.  Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

The haze was a result of special effects on a passing float. The weather wasn’t at all steamy last year, and promises to be just as glorious this year.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

Each year the tiny town of New Hope celebrates with a parade. People and vendors line the route. Those marching are a crazy-fun mix of liberal religious groups showing support and proud folks showing, sometimes, much more.

A float in the 2012 parade that played a loop of Donna Summer songs to honor her recent passing.  Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

A float in the 2012 parade that played a loop of Donna Summer songs to honor her recent passing.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

These photos were taken by K. Bailey Fucanan at last year’s parade.

The parade enjoys a festive air. Not all are gay, but all are happy. Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

The parade enjoys a festive air. Not all are gay, but all are happy.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

New Hope Celebrates Pride Parade 2013 takes place Saturday, May 18 at noon.
Plenty of references to popular films and Broadway favorites.  Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

Plenty of references to popular films and Broadway favorites.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

tee

The t-shirt I wore in last year’s parade. Alas, although members of my congregation will once again march this year, I am not able to join them this time around. There’s always next year.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

— Jodi Thompson