Traditionally speaking, May first is linked to several festivals that have been celebrated in Great Britain, Ireland, France, Germany, Finland, Sweden, and the United States. It is recognized as International Workers’ Day, which commemorates the 1886 Haymarket affair in Chicago, and is an important official holiday in countries like China, Cuba, North Korea and the former Soviet Union. Saint Joseph is considered the patron saint of workers and craftsmen [among others], and so the Catholic church dedicated May first to him in 1955. May Day was celebrated illegally in Russia until 1917, and the following year it was protested by the Mensheviks, though it has been officially called “The Day of Spring and Labour” since 1992, and remains a major holiday. In an attempt to dissuade citizens from being inspired by the populist tones of May Day, President Eisenhower proclaimed the date to be Law Day U.S.A. in 1958. Carny Lingo dictates that the term “first of May” refers to a novice worker who has entered their first season with a particular outfit, and since shows typically open on this date, one can usually find help for hire. The date was also when many shows would leave their Winter quarters and signified the beginning of the traveling season.
On a personal level, May first carries an enormous amount of significance, as it marks the begining of my apprenticeship with Outlaw Cirkus in 2000, which was several months after I had met the infamous Reverend Saint Jon in NYC. Learning the skills of variety arts was not something that came easy, particularly since most members were self-taught and had dedicated numerous years of trial and error to hone their talents. It was their main source of making an income, which was split between maintaining vehicles, equipment and merchandise, and taking care of the troupe itself. They freely exchanged knowledge but it came with a price and was earned through hard work because respect was given to those who proved they deserved it. My time was spent repairing props and costumes, sitting in on practice to absorb everything I could and being a main part of the street team where promotion was done via word of mouth and invitation-only fliers that were distributed to a select audience. Often I felt overwhelmed by the immense feeling of accomplishment I felt when lying in bed and reviewing my day – it was hard to believe at moments but the aches and bruises were very real reminders of the effort I was putting forth.
When Summer came to an end, I was fairly convinced that being a part of Outlaw Cirkus would mean the world to me. An experience I had at Coney Island where I was randomly selected from the audience to participate in the Bed of Nails routine was what brought the idea that I could be a sideshow performer into my head. In fact, I frequently found myself driving the 18 miles from New Jersey to visit the amusement area and its resident 10-in-1 sideshow, which subsequently lead to acquiring reading material on its history, and in general I was constantly seeking out information about sideshow. My passion swelled and certainly did not go unnoticed, though most of the people I was acquainted with at the time had no idea how involved I was becoming with Outlaw Cirkus. While it was something I certainly held pride for, I also really enjoyed it being a secret I shared with the one person I felt understood my desire to perform.
As my friendship with Jon became an ingrained part of my life, the other members of Outlaw Cirkus were slowly warming up to me and each had their own way of teaching me various things. Winter was spent creating a new show for the following year, which included all new costumes, merchandise and programs, in addition to fresh elements that were incorporated into each act. By the time Spring arrived, the troupe had a solid hour and half performance which carried the theme that imagination was an important tool, and that everyone could accomplish anything they set their minds to. Of course the message was shrouded with brilliantly colored costumes and upbeat music that made most people unaware of the undertones in the lectures Jon delivered.
When May first came around again, I was officially considered to be a member of Outlaw Cirkus though everyone had pretty much already accepted me into their community. Suffering the loss of this Family has always been a permanent reminder that I have to keep moving forward in establishing the name as a brand that people can be familiar with. A non-profit fighting for recognition in its efforts to preserve American variety arts [circus, sideshow, burlesque, etc.] with education though live performances, lectures, workshops and a general exchange of ideas. This is something I have dedicated the past twelve years of my life to because it brings me great happiness, which I find difficult to put into written word.
Reflecting on all of the experiences I have had, whether good or bad, I can honestly say that these are some of my most valued memories and I would not trade them for anything in the world. Losing people who were incredibly important to me has left scars that are both physical and proverbial, yet I stand as proof that the spirit of Outlaw Cirkus lives on and will continue to do so as long as I am here. There is no doubt that Jon would be proud of me, and that is something I keep in mind every time I perform or find myself with the opportunity to speak about the troupe. Occasionally I still get that overwhelming feeling, because I see myself as a fairly ordinary person with an alternative lifestyle who is passionate about their interests and actively speaks about them. Having people come up to me after a performance and receiving compliments is one of the reasons I enjoy what I do and I always value the opportunity.
Today I found myself in Margate, New Jersey with my future father-in-law and husband, as we had to visit City Hall in order to pick up our marriage license. The weather in Philly has been rather dreary lately, so being out in the sunshine was quite refreshing. We had lunch at some corner bar with a view of the ocean and I stuffed my face with bacon-wrapped shrimp, as one simply does not come to the Shore without dining on seafood. As always, it is the small things in life which may seem insignificant that fill me with the greatest happiness. Mostly because I am content though constantly evolving, rooted in the past but pursuing the future, and greatly enjoying each day to its fullest with confidence in who I am. There are things I may desire, but at the moment I cannot think of anything I could want, and I truly appreciate this more than I ever have.