Tuesday, March 20, 2012

My Night with Circus Freaks

Rhythmic music pulsed through the dimly lit room. All around me people moved fluidly with the music, surrounded by brilliant colored flags swirling about them like water, glowing wands on strings that swirled in incomprehensible patterns, and hoops that circled effortlessly up and down and along the supple and lithe forms of women about the floor. The smell of a freshly lit hookah wafted over from a table where a beat poet took a drag before passing it to a man in dreads and goggles that they only referred to as Monkey. A woman in a corset and a bowler hat moved past with an electric fiddle that was almost as much art as it was an instrument. A glowing blue ball bounced across my feet for the tenth time quickly followed by a girl with mousy hair who apologized again for losing her balls before running back to her juggling lesson. This strange world I had landed in ignited around me, seemingly unaware of the deluge going on outside. I sat silently watching, taking it all in, not wanting to disturb the flow just yet.

For nearly a year now one of my dear friends has been trying to get the me and the husbeast to come with him to a thing called Open Stage. The House of Poets he said. Circus freaks he said. Live music he said. I will pay your way in he said. I was intrigued.

Monday nights tend to be a bad night for me socially. Every week would begin with the same offer, but every week I found that I was simply not up for new experiences. I was certain it would be an interesting time, I just couldn't seem to get fired up about it. I wasn't sure what I was going to be walking into honestly. I am a shy person, and I get anxious in new situations, which often leads to me sitting on my couch watching tv instead of going to a group of circus freaks open mic night.

Then the freaks came to us. Last weekend they came out to faire to teach us some classes on hand flags and juggling. I skipped the classes since coordination is very low on my skill set, and crying in frustration over such things is very high on my responses to learning such things. The husbeast did attend though, and once they were gone his interest had been piqued enough to want to venture out on a Monday night to see what it was all about.

We pulled into the parking lot as the sky opened up and a torrential downpour began. I wasn't really sure if this was a good sign or not. 'House of Poets' was clearly displayed on a fabric swag over the door of a shop at the end of a very old strip center. It looked anything but permanent, and had my friend not been standing in the doorway I might have been dubious about going inside.  

We sprinted through the rain to the door, and despite our parking close we were fairly well drenched right off. I was really beginning to think we picked a bad night to come. There was a small crowd of regulars about the doorway to the shop, which looked like a strange book shop almost. As people entered they drifted through to a set of black curtains leading into the back of the room from which a jazzy sort of music was drifting out.

Our friend paid for us to enter and introduced us to a man in a vest and tie and a bowler hat. He was friendly shaking our hands and leading us over to an easel with a sign full of rules. He lightly covered a few of them; don't sue us (we have no money he said), be prepared to be photographed, be positive, and participate. The rules seemed simple and he passed us off to a lovely woman in a brown corset and matching bowler.

Our new escort parted the curtains and led us inside insisting we stop once we had passed the threshold. I took the moment to take in what was around me. A house band sat jamming on the far side of the room in front of a counter full of hookahs, a smattering of tables and clusters of leather sofas and chairs decorated one half of the hall while a small column lined stage sat beside a dance floor which was covered in large pillows.Overall the room was really cool.

Before I could process much more in the dark room our escort called out 'Hey!' and the band went silent as the entire room shouted back 'What!'. She bellowed to the room 'First timers' and everyone cheered. I was vaguely reminded of Rocky Horror for a second which filled me with a little terror, but that quickly passed.

We made our way to our friends and settled into some comfy chairs in what we were told was a good spot. The head of this whole thing made his way over to say hello. He had taught the hand flag class and taken a liking to the husbeast. They chatted contentedly as he kept his eyes open for what was going on; a consummate host.

There was an hour before the show was to start, and so I sat back and people watched. A few people were out on the dance floor spinning poi or doing hoop work, which is very fascinating to me since I don't have the coordination to manage any of it. The house band was amazingly good which was making the experience that much more enjoyable while we waited.

Finally, after a short delay to allow people to make it despite the weather, things began. Our host, the Emcee, made his way up onto the small stage. He had changed from his jeans and t-shirt to some very baggy harem pants, a jerkin, and a bowler over a head wrap. I instantly recognized the outfit as Moressca, one of our faire vendors, which made me smile and feel suddenly a little more at home.

He started the show making some announcements about what the troupe had been doing during the week. They had worked a con, they had done a spin fest in the park, and some other things. He ended by mentioning that there were a few members of the performance company of the ren faire in the audience. I was suddenly glad it was dark, because I could feel a ping of anxiety as we smiled and waved. 

They had all the new people come up to the stage, though I admit I stayed right where I was. There was no missing the husbeast, so he had to go, but I slunk down in my chair and stayed put. I had no idea what they were going to do, but I wasn't really eager to try just yet. I was not that comfortable. It turns out they were just reading the rules of Open Stage, which I heard fine from my seat.

After all the legalities and formalities were out of the way, the Emcee returned to the stage and did a monologue. He talked about being an artist and being stifled and his journey to where he is now. He talked about contributing and collaborating and creating. He talked about finding himself and his community. He quite honestly made me tear up a little. As a creative person he touched something in me that I think lives in all creative people.

Then the show began. Over the next hour we were treated to some wonderful belly dancing, several fantastic poetry readings, foul drinking songs, a spectacular hand flag routine, some fun silly burlesque type singing, and a lot of entertaining moments from the tech crew and our incredibly charismatic and talented Emcee. I found myself laughing and cheering with everyone else. I was left in awe at several moments and am pretty sure I didn't stop smiling the entire time.

The show ended and the floor opened up to what they called free play. Suddenly half the audience was out on the dance floor doing all manner of cool things; flag spinners, poi spinners with lighted balls and sticks, hoopers, jugglers, and dancers everywhere. It was suddenly like I was in the middle of a circus freak rave.

The Emcee came over to chat again asking how we liked the show. He ribbed the husbeast good naturedly about a particularly good heckle the husbeast had thrown out during one of the Emcee's between act bits. It was all in good fun and the Emcee seemed impressed, though he promised he would get the husbeast back once the husbeast was on stage.

We were told that there was an open mic portion, which they call the Dregs, where anyone could get up and do whatever. He was apparently hoping to drag the husbeast up there to do something, though I am not certain what. Not that the husbeast doesn't have talents, I am just not certain what he could do on such short notice with no tools.

As it turned out we couldn't stay for the Dregs as the hour was growing late and we had work in the  morning. Just as the first Dregs performer was plugging in his guitar we slipped out the black curtains and back into the real world. The keepers of the door told us we couldn't leave yet, but we sadly had to excuse ourselves from what had been an incredibly pleasant evening.

They call themselves circus freaks, though they don't fit my definition. I have met some circus freaks in my past that are actual side show performers, and these people look nothing like those people. I am well aware though that looks are not everything, it is more about what is in your heart and soul. It felt like I was in some strange world that seemed like a group of light goths got in with some rave kids and decided to throw a party in the middle of some beatniks open mic night that had been stumbled upon by some rennies. In other words, my sort of people.

If you are ever in the Dallas area on a Monday night and you are not otherwise occupied I highly suggest you occupy yourself with the Open Stage. It may seem strange and foreign but it is so worth stepping out of your comfort zone to try. It is a welcoming, positive, fun, and truly magical experience.

I experience the magic of faire all the time, and that is something amazing and powerful. I was so happy to find that magic lives somewhere else too.


  1. It *is* about what's in your heart and soul... not what's on the outside. I enjoyed this piece. Your writing is very distinct, descriptive, with an edge of dark. I like it :D Thanks, Beylit! 

  2. Aw man...we ALMOST went last night, and decided not to do so at the last minute.  I wish that we had, then we could have braved "being new" together!

  3. It was well worth it. And most every Monday Ryan and Christina are there so you wouldn't be alone per se

  4. I have trouble meeting new people, and going anywhere where I might draw attention to myself, but this sounds wonderful.

    Also, the way you wrote this was like the opening to some magical book :-)

  5.  Considering I am a performer at a Renaissance Festival and talk to probably a thousand or more strangers every day at faire you would think that I am good with meeting new people. In reality I am fairly freaked out by talking to strangers.

    And really it felt like walking into some sort of magical book. I am excited to go back again.

  6. Mystical AgnosticMarch 22, 2012 at 3:49 PM

    This is an amazing description of the Open Stage. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

  7. I hope that I did it justice, as it was a pretty cool experience.