Editor’s note: Earlier this year, Helsinki played host to a truly amazing night of sideshow performances, featuring appearances by Maleficent Martini and Lucky Mladineo, Operafication, Pain Solution, The Saviours and Swing Shift Sideshow. This is an account of that evening, written by Lucky Mladineo, with accompanying photos by Riina Aarrekorpi and Tatu Blomqvist.
On a chilly Saturday night in September, within the walls of famous rock venue Nosturi, sitting imposingly on the edge of the docks overlooking the Baltic Sea, the scene was set for the first Helsinki Sideshow Night. Before things got too hectic, I walked through the crowd. As with the general feel of Helsinki, diversity was present and every type, stereotype and non-stereotype you could pick was there to see what this Sideshow fuss was about.
As Jussi took some time to welcome the crowd and introduce the first act, behind the curtains everyone that was not a part of the Operafication performance left the stage. As the curtains opened, silence swept through the room. The Operafication show is not one you can really explain: it has that special quality that requires you to be there and experience it in the flesh. So all I can say is that the expression on the sea of faces in the crowd varied evenly between confusion, appreciation and awe, and in the end, applause was somewhat stifled by shock, as beauty and sadness were brought together with mainstream theatre story telling through a very abstract medium. In the end, an Opera star, on the most bizarre of stages, impressed the hell out of everyone, especially those sceptical, “What is this Opera shit” few. As the curtain closed for the 20-minute break, you could almost hear the collective deep breath out of everyone watching.
The break ended, and Miss Martini and I got ready to do the opening act we had come up with for the Sideshow extravaganza. I secured my fake beard, climbed into the prop-box and waited for the music to start and curtains to introduce us. Martini delicately stepped point-toe by toe onto the stage, while I was having a hard time pretending to be asleep in the box — I was so excited and wanted to watch! As I climbed out of the box, all our choreography went out the window but it didn’t really matter and it all came together when we got into a nice, old fashioned cat-fight. Some punches, ballet shoes and abuse was thrown back and forth, some hair was pulled, but in the end we reconciled, letting out a collective “Aw!” and fumbling our way through a dance routine to welcome everyone at the microphones, screaming together, “Welcome to the Helsinki Sideshow Night!”
I sat high up side stage for the best viewpoint to watch and take notes for the show, and I was also attempting to get some backstage footage. Spotting Jussi’s bunny ears above me, fumbling with my pen, notepad and camera, I leaned forward to make the artsy shot and just about fell onto the stage — oops. Eye on the job, not the Bunny!
Pain Solution took to the stage in their usual charming manner and got right down to some don’t-try-this-at-home instruction. A little glass eating from The Maniac and some comedic narration from The Headmaster (“Bling in your poo” — that was a good one, Håvve) and the crowd was up and clapping. Pain Solution’s stage presence and international appeal was evident within the first 10 minutes of their show, their re-creation of the all time classic Human Blockhead act into a Blues Brother’s dance-along is testament to their originality and style.
As I watched Håvve put out a giant torch in the trunk of his underwear, I wondered, was he born on stage? The smell of singed hair (or flesh?) floats in the air but the crowd didn’t seem to mind, and they were going wild. Applause and yelling quickly became screaming and downright vocal chaos, either from the half naked Headmaster with a torch down his pants, or at the introduction of Swing Shift Sideshow to the stage. Actually I think it was the latter, as I do remember hearing someone cry out “Las Vegas, FUCK YEAH!” from the middle rows at the mere mention of their name. But really, they had no idea what they were in for. Miss Kelvikta the Blade and Andrew decided to give them a little taste of the Swing Shift style, both swallowing flaming swords. And if the crowd thought it couldn’t get much better than swallowing flaming swords, the Headmaster proved them wrong, breathing fire onto the flames igniting massive fireballs and even more frenzied reactions. Everyone just started screaming maniacally and aesthetically a stage couldn’t really look any better — now the night had really begun!
The night was divided up seamlessly, and with an ease of flow that is not usual to first time events of this size. Pain Solution and Swing Shift commanded the stage interchangeably, to address, entertain and scare the hell out of the very enthusiastic audience. Both groups have pushed side show and showmanship creatively to larger than life status and both in somewhat different directions, but the two worked contagiously together. Bouncing from one to the other, stunt to stunt and having a total stranglehold on everyone’s attention by not giving them any kind of break and really setting the tone for madness. Each stunt had at least a few over-stimulated viewers covering their mouths and eyes, and many having to turn away completely more than once. The screams and Finnish cursing (e.g. “Vittu” = “Fuck,” “Ei Saatana…!” = “No fucking way…!”) were heard frequently from where I was sitting way up in the wings, and were definitely escalating as the night continued and the side show rolled on …
After all that excitement, it was time for a bit of a romantic interlude. Slow music hit the amplifiers as Helsinki boys, The Saviours, set up their stage of love. PooPoo the Bunny sat down at a table, looking his furry best, kicking back with a big bottle of liquor and pills, while Lassi, in his German-style get-on-it pants and ever so insinuating smile, casually tried to slip his arm around the uninterested though intoxicated bunny. The Saviours mimed their show and it translated effortlessly — you could feel the love from the crowd at their brand of dark, slightly romancing comedy, which is totally at home in Finland. Everyone knew just what was going on when Lassi took to his zipper and to a beer keg. As Foghat hit the chorus of “I just wanna make love to you” and the beat dropped in, Lassi dropped his balls to the sound of screaming fans. From my experience in Finland, people simply cannot get enough of Lassi and his penis. But perhaps PooPoo was a little disturbed by this gratuitous show of genitals, because a fight broke out between the two, and Headmaster Håvve had to come in and remove them, Lassi by the ear, PooPoo by the bunny ear.
Once order was regained, Headmaster set up his stage to start the audience on a journey to even more chaos. Håvve standing on swords and demanding at the audience, “So do you want blood?!” getting them ready for the next instalment of madness. When Andrew and Kelvikta re-appeared, the reaction was something like hysteria. Andrew S. took the microphone and once the small talk was laid out, he pulled out the big gun, or in his case, the big coil, and the excitement was unavoidable, Andrew never fails to impress within a few minutes of getting to know the audience. Again, I couldn’t decide what to watch, the show or the reactions of the crowd. Swing Shift were once again amazingly well received and this has a lot to do with Andrew’s much loveable stage presence, his very brave attempts at using Finnish under pressure, and of course, Miss Kelvikta is always a big crowd favourite. When she asked for a cigarette, she had a whole packet thrown at her. Are we sensing a theme here?
The feeling of “Oh my god!” had started to filter onto the stage by the second half of the show and exploded with Swing Shift’s first few death defying stunts. If there was a climax to this feeling being emitted from the audience, it was definitely with the 30-kilogram anvil eye lift. I just remember everyone screaming like murder victims as Andrew swayed the Acme-style anvil, and Kelvikta threw up the metal hand.
Shrieking, screaming, laughing and having to turn away completely, the audience were both entertained and a little tormented through the night, having their boundaries pushed and testing their limits and opinions of what’s shocking. More than a few found out the fun way at the first annual Helsinki Sideshow Night.
Photos by: Riina Aarrekorpi and Tatu Blomqvist
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