The Night Has (Nearly) a Thousand Eyes With Sideshow Revivalists 999 Eyes

Austin original celebration of exceptional oddity returns

With a name like Whorie the Clown, it's no surprise she ended up as part of the sideshow. But she honestly never expected to join the freak show - except that's exactly what has happened, courtesy of Austin's 999 Eyes, the original modern touring freakshow, as the troupe returns home this weekend with its freakshow and esoteric sideshow.

If the term freak concerns you, then the performers of 999 Eyes are there to tell you that it doesn't worry them. This isn't the old tales of penniless souls sold into the life by their families and forced to exploit their disabilities for Barnum-esque figures. These days, the freaks run the show: as in, 999 Eyes is owned by Jason Black (the Black Scorpion to his friends), who is a modern lobster boy. "Six fingers, six toes," as musician and inside talker Samantha X explained. "We don't like the word disabled," she added. "We use the word freak to highlight a genetic human anomaly who is willing to perform and show off their way more interesting body than the 10-finger, 10-toe model."

Dating back to the 19th century, the freakshow is a powerful element of America's vaudeville tradition, and that's what Jim Rose tapped into back in 1991 when he established the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow. Yet most of his performers were sideshow performers and what's called self-made freaks: performers who had altered themselves through body modification, or performed sideshow routines. There's a certain dismissiveness in Samantha X's voice about people who have usurped the term freak. "Were you born with that sword in your mouth?" She added, "Other shows were too afraid to bring out genetic anomalies or didn't see the purpose or meaning."

For Black and X, there's a liberation within the freakshow that celebrates the uniqueness and abilities of, as they call them, the genetically different - attributes that all too often are not given an outlet in the 10-fingered, 10-toed world. If the woman who was rejected from a career in ballet because there's a height restriction, suddenly finds an outlet for her terpsichorean skills and wants to call herself Dame Demure the Dancing Dwarf, then who the hell are you to stop her? "They always knew they were artists," Black said. "They just didn't know they had a place for their art."

Astoundingly, there's still pushback. "Sideshows and freakshows are being asked not to hire performers who are natural-born," Black said, "and now there's been some political waves that have crashed onto the shores, and the pandemic hit, and it feels like we've had a whole reset, and we're trying to hide people who are born different."

During the pandemic, 999 Eyes had to cut back on touring, and began to reconsider exactly what they wanted to achieve. Enter Minx + Muse, Austin's purveyors and practitioners of esoteric witchcraft, Samantha X said, "and they discussed the idea with us of merging the freak show with some of the old girl vintage burlesque acts, and a bunch of sideshow people who wanted to perform with us." Now the show's reshaped into something closer to the classic midway 10-in-one shows. So now 999 Eyes combines all the strands of the great sideshow experience: freakshows, carny tents, and hoochie coochie dancers, all set to live music from That Damned Band. "It's been really wonderful to collaborate," said Samantha X.

And that means collaborating with new talents like Whorie, who is undertaking her first show with 999 Eyes. "I'm ecstatic" she said. "I'm bringing some wackiness, and some lighthearted fun, and some fun. And clowning."


999 Eyes Esoteric Freakshow Plays
April 15, Doors 8pm, Show 9pm
Sagebrush, 5500 S. Congress
Tickets at minxandmuse.com

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

999 Eyes, Freakshow, Minx and Muse

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