Once in a while some old friend on the east coast rings me up: “hey, where the hell are ya? You just up and vanished!”
I always get this big, stupid grin on my face. “Yeah, sorry, ran away with the circus.”
It’s true. This golden state has become an epicenter for fringe carnival/vaudeville/cabaret activity in recent years and thanks to a strange series of coincidences and acquaintanceships, I’ve found myself in the thick of it: surrounded nightly by aerialists and clowns, can can girls and contortionists, feral marching bands, burlesque beauties, belly dancers, magicians, inspired costumiers, sword-swallowers,
snake veggie oil salesmen, gonzo musicians, stilt-walkers, fire-breathers, and well, the list goes on about as far as the Pacific ocean.
Aaron at Lucid Dream Lounge © Neil Girling
With Crash Worship warehouse roots in San Diego, an enclave of trendsetting troupes in LA, and benefiting from its colorful Bay Area yippie heritage, just about anything goes in this subterranean Cali carny set. Constantly touring, seat-of-the-pants caravans push themselves to the limits of physical and financial endurance, venturing into the fiery realms of SRL, the Crucible, Black Rock City and beyond. War wounds abound. This ain’t no Circe du Soleil. There is no safety net.
Circus time is not like real time: it bends and blurs. The antics of these feisty vaudevillians are surprisingly difficult to capture on film as they occur. Gorgeous posed studio shots abound, but cannot convey the mania of it all. Enter Neil Girling (aka Mr Nightshade), who took all of the pictures you’re seeing here. He’s a very busy young man doing a bang-up job of capturing the dark, joyful beauty of California circus life with his impromptu portraits of performers from all over the state.
Tuesday Blue at Bohemian Carnival © Neil Girling
“Bringing you the past one split second at a time,” Neil’s impassioned portraits are about as close to the real experience as you’ll get without being there.
And I do very, very highly recommend you be there, if you should ever get the chance! They’ll be glad to see you.
Christine on the trapeze © Neil Girling
Most of the acts I’ve mentioned tour the U.S. extensively. Many make it out to England and France from time to time. A few of them have been as far abroad as Bali or Australia. Bookmark their websites and keep yer eyes peeled…you never know when the secret circus is coming to town.
Aaron at Insomania © Neil Girling
Oop! Almost forgot to mention… if you’re looking for some friendly faces in the bay area this coming New Year’s Eve, I’ll be performing at the Sea of Dreams bash with the fiercely talented Vau de Vire Society and Dr Madd Vibe Orchestra (fronted by the inimitable Angelo Moore). Expect plenty of ridiculously hot, half naked people swinging from the ceiling and fellating fire and whatnot.
(Yep. Life is good.)
tiptoe parasol twirl at Xenodrome’s Bohemian Carnival © Neil Girling
Addendum: this post would be vastly incomplete without giving props to the world-famous Pixie, my other favorite circus family portraitist. Girl, wherever you are, a tip o’ the topper to you.