Bizarre as beautiful

“As someone who is born different, and performs on stage, my goal is to make it better for kids who are growing up like I grew up,” says Black Scorpion, the creative director of The 999 Eyes Freakshow & Surreal Sideshow. Scorpion gave himself that name in part because of a genetic abnormality that makes his hands resemble scorpion claws. “I want people to think, if they see someone who is born differently, that kid is probably interesting and someone I’d like to get to know — not something to shy away from, or leave alone in a corner.“

“The 999 Eyes Freakshow & Surreal Sideshow is the last genuine traveling freak show of its kind in the United States,” the band’s press materials proclaim. “True to the variety show style of yesteryear, the 999 Eyes consists of consists of a rotating cast of sideshow acts and authentic genetic human anomalies, all accompanied by the vaudevillian circus band.”

Or, as Scorpion puts it, “The 999 Eyes is a time-traveling sideshow that is there when people need us the most.”

While the old circus sideshows are a big influence on 999 Eyes, “The show is inspired by all of the stories that led us to where we are. Sideshow taught me a lot about the beginnings of American culture, because there is a lot of it drawn from Coney Island and the sideshow. That made me look further into every experience.”

As creative director, Scorpion penned the play on which the current show is based. Each of the acts add their own twist to the show. When it comes down to it, Scorpion says, “The story is about believing in one another. It’s about creating together.”

“I think each of us within the show have different things that we want to get out, different messages,” Scorpion explains. “For me, it’s to share the light that is within us all, that everybody can appreciate.”

For 999 Eyes founder Samantha X, the goal is “to see the world come to a place where freaks are celebrated again and where the strange and bizarre are seen as beautiful.”

“Of course when you have someone with a genetic abnormality on stage, their performance is very different than the rest,” Scorpion states. “My focus is on turning a preconceived negative into a positive. If you are a person of shorter height, we want to change that to be seen a positive, instead of a limitation or whatever you see. Even the word ‘freak,’ we’re turning that into a positive. You’ll go in thinking it’s just about a dude with six fingers, but you’ll realize it’s really about the magic of humanity, and seeing that there’s much more to that person.”

The 999 Eyes travel with hand-painted sideshow banners and an authentic dime museum, adding to the carnival feel of the performance. When asked about his act in the show, all Scorpion could say is: “It’s really strange; you’ll just have to see it.” He does reveal that “We will have fire eating, glass walking, balloon swallowing and a lot of excitement and creativity. There will be sideshow; there will be great storytelling and music.”

One of the members of the 999 Eyes touring band is Mike Gray, a former Asheville resident who played drums with Firecracker Jazz Band and the Screaming Js. “That guy lives rhythm,” Scorpion enthused. “He does an act with the Go Box that is amazing. I consider it a freak act myself.” (Yet another Asheville connection — the Go Box is an unusual instrument created by innovative local artist Robert Seven.)

Although Scorpion is a musician, he leaves the music in 999 Eyes performances to others. “I used to play music in a band, but I left music to pursue all of the arts. It’s a lot scarier to not have an instrument on stage. There’s nothing to fall back on. It’s a different kind of energy that I love more than playing an instrument.”

In terms of the story that weaves through the show, Scorpion says, “We use a lot of creative play to go back into history. We have certain elements to each of our characters. Samantha X is kind of the Mother Earth character, and Black Scorpion is the modern-day Cupid. As they travel through time, he’s trying to change things in history while she’s trying to put them back.”

Scorpion is confident that “It is a show like no other.” When asked why people should go to see the 999 Eyes Freakshow & Surreal Sideshow, he replies, “Because you can come out and see humanity creating something positive. Whatever is going on in the world at that moment it doesn’t matter. You’re with people who care.”

— Ami Worthen can be contacted at amiwhoa@gmail.com.

who: The 999 Eyes Freakshow & Surreal Sideshow, with the Sugarfoot Serenaders
what: The Grey Eagle
when: Wednesday, Dec. 14 (8 p.m. $10/$12. thegreyeagle.com)

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