Step Right Up! Hellzapoppin Circus Sideshow urges ‘face your fears’

Step Right Up! Hellzapoppin Circus Sideshow urges ‘face your fears’
MONICA HOOPER/APRIL WALLACE
mhooper@nwaonline.com

awallace@nwaonline.com

A sideshow circus troupe invites audiences to “face your fears” as acrobats fly without nets and performers swallow swords and razor blades, eat and breathe fire or walk on broken glass while others perform magic and illusions over a soundtrack of rock ‘n’ roll.

The Hellzapoppin Circus Sideshow, named after a 1930s Broadway musical that inspired a 1941 film of the same name, will be at Temple Live in Fort Smith on Aug. 12 and George’s Majestic Lounge in Fayetteville on Aug. 13.

“When we started the ‘Face Your Fears’ tour, it was in February of 2021,” explains performer Willow Lauren. She says that performers literally face their fears every night in that “all of the stunts on the show are incredibly dangerous,” but the title also refers to their fears of getting sick on the road or not making ticket sales, especially in the earlier days of the pandemic. “Our lives, as well as the lives of the masses, were completely turned upside down and our livelihoods taken away for a year and a half at that point. We had no choice but to face our fears head-on and hit the road or risk closing our doors for good.”

Conceived by Ringleader Bryce “The Govna” Graves, who directs and produces the show, Hellzapoppin has been featured on “Ellen,” “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!” and AMC’s “Freakshow.” The current lineup includes Lauren, who swallows swords and razor blades and spits fire, and Short E. Dangerously, a “3 ½-foot half-man daredevil” who walks on his hands through broken glass while on fire. A magician and stuntman, Eric Ross pokes steel skewers through his body with no blood or pain and performs other “daring mind over matter feats.” Finally, juggler and unicyclist Lucian Fuller provides comic relief.

“We want to inspire people to step out of their comfort zones and grow. We as humans tend to play small with our lives, as though great things were meant for someone else,” Lauren says. “We want to limit what people see as being impossible, but not just on our stage by our death-defying acts and feats; we want to challenge them to limit what they see as being impossible in their own lives.”

The troupe takes this inspiration home and on the road with them as well by pushing themselves to do even better shows and to reach more and more audiences.

“This isn’t just a hobby or a job. This is a lifestyle. When we are not on the road, we are working daily on our stunts, fine-tuning, making them bigger and better for the next time we step on that stage as well as challenging ourselves to learn new stunts and grow,” Lauren explains. “Each show day from the moment we crack the trailer to load into a venue to the minute we close the trailer doors after the last road case has been pushed back in, we are looking at 12-13 hour days. We joke often that we are professional movers that get a brief break to perform each night.”

The performers also face misconceptions about their show and their lifestyles, but Lauren is quick to put those down.

“People see the name ‘Hellzapoppin’ and automatically assume that it has some religious meaning,” she says. “The definition of Hellzapoppin is, ‘Anything can happen and it probably will.’ This not only sums up the Govna’s life but the show itself. Other common misconceptions are that we are partiers, drug addicts, uneducated, dirty, weirdos, I could go on and on. Truth is, aside from our stage presence, we are ridiculously normal. We are a diverse group of people from various walks of life with different talents, passions and personalities traveling together, living out our dreams.”

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FYI

Hellzapoppin Circus Sideshow

8 p.m. Aug 12 at TempleLive in Fort Smith. Tickets are $20-$40 at fortsmith.templelive.com/concerts.

AND

8 p.m. Aug. 13 at George’s Majestic Lounge in Fayetteville. Tickets are $20-$40 at georgesmajesticlounge.com/shows.

Categories: Music