Seduction Sideshow: Pansexual Burlesque

by Elizabeth Kirwin

The other night I was watching River Phoenix’s last movie “The Thing Called Love” and it struck me how much he and Johnny Depp resemble each other. It’s like a ghost of one actor lives in the other or something wyrd like that. I know they’re not the same person but the influence is there, in their acting styles, speech and attitude.

It’s the same with the Seduction Sideshow, a theater troupe of dancers, singers and actors that convey their love of combining playful and seductive simultaneously. As I watched their entertaining show on New Year’s Even in Hookah Joe’s in Downtown Asheville, underneath the legendary Club Hairspray, I couldn’t help but remember the Surreal Circus, and the antics they performed publicly in Asheville at the SW Cafeteria circa 2002 or 2003.

The remembrance of my attendance at a Surreal Circus performance began to haunt me as I watched Seduction Sideshow unfold. The one acts performed were short and sweet and did resemble a circus sideshow format. It was intentionally staged and produced this way so that each actor could have a chance to shine and collaborate with others. And it worked.

I noticed that some, though not all, of the actors on stage could claim lineage to the Surreal Circus and maybe even one of the stage crew. The Surreal Circus was an all night performance in the decadent setting of the SW Cafeteria, one of Asheville’s premiere Art Deco buildings. Complete with a master of ceremonies with a bullhorn, BDSM dress and displays, and a guy hanging himself from his nipple rings, music, outrageously funny theater shorts that made fun of fundamental Christianity, and more, the Surreal Circus went over the top — and deliberately so. It was theater in the streets, not designed for the traditional venues at all. Surreal Circus was a night of wild music and ostentatious displays of sexual audacity. At the heart of the performance was a charismatic and sexually liberated woman who helped keep that anarchy somehow glued together, and her name was Brianna. She is long gone from Asheville now, but the influence of the Surreal Circus lives on.

The Seduction Sideshow was far more tastefully done, better organized and rehearsed but alas – there were no public spankings, or preacher style ridiculing of right wing Christianity with repeated proclamations that sexuality in all forms is healthy. Yet Seduction Sideshow titillated all the senses just the same. The intentions of the troupe were not to mimic the Surreal Circus, but to distill its best essences.

The Seduction Sidheshow aroused the deepest erotic sensibilities in me (and the rest of the audience), while the Surreal Circus made me wonder about Asheville’s underground and mysterious, seedy underbelly and all that it contains. I had to leave the Surreal Circus when sustained contemplation of these elements became a little too much for me. But at the end of the Seduction Sideshow – just like a good bedding – I wanted more.

Some of my favorite acts include Beagle and her group of dancers and actors. Beagle transforms from a woman to a man onstage and challenges the audience to feel the complexity of the transgendered experience while making fun of it and her/him self at the same time. Another favorite act was a woman masturbating on the floor with a vibrator who is later awakened by a huge flowing dick in her dreams. The dick is funny and a bit aggressive about waking her up and entices her to dance to an old 70s tune. The piece was so delightful and fun – I laughed almost the entire time. Morganna, a local favorite and a proud faery woman had a fire swallowing act that I missed, because I had to head upstairs to the bathroom. Damn. But I’m sure it was a real thriller for the audience and her. I was there for the rest of her performances and I always appreciate her exquisite costuming — which is straight out of fairyland.

An endearing characteristic of Seduction Sideshow is the straight men who dress in at least partial drag. Wearing lingerie during the day in public, pasties, and burlesque dress are all popular in Asheville. Though none of the guys bothered with pasties, they were not shy about wearing lingerie or burlesque outfits. They seemed to have a great deal of fun parading around in booger drag — and the audience loved every minute of it.

This romping good time of a show covered the whole sexual terrain, easily combining queer, transgendered, straight, lesbian, and even light BDSM into its repertoire. One of the audience members at the bar shouted “I LOVE Asheville” over and over again as the show unfolded. She communicated the feeling that expression, adventure, and sexual freedom are accepted and encouraged here. In some cases, these qualities are just what attracts people to this quirky mountain town where just about any sexual or gender expression flies.

As a whole the Seduction Sideshow takes a pansexual stance and enlightens the theatergoer about this approach to sexuality and life. Seduction Sideshow is funny, bawdy, exciting and erotic. The flavor of the show will appeal to the sexual libertine who might just want to cast the Kinsey sexual categories into the abyss and embrace the myriad of possibilities a pansexual approach has to offer instead.

Seduction Sideshow is definitely a good time, so keep your eyes peeled and ears to the street for future performances. Depending upon who you end up going along with — it might even be the right choice for a first date.