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So You Want To Be A Sideshow Star? Ask Ward Hall!

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WARD HALL
Ward Hall, who has worked in the sideshow industry for 70 years, is helping to organize the 2nd Annual Sideshow Seminar, taking place Jan. 30-Feb. 1 in Tampa, Fla. | Tim O'Brien

Ever thought about running off to join the circus or sideshow, but didn't know where to start?

An event taking place in Tampa this weekend may help.

The 2nd Annual Seminar of Sideshow Arts starts Thursday evening and will give a few dozen budding carnies the inside knowledge on the performance and business techniques needed to succeed as a sword swallower, bearded lady or knife thrower.

"This is a behind-the-scenes look for sideshow enthusiasts" according to event organizer Chris Christ, who has been in the sideshow world for more than five decades. "We'll be discussing the history and acts that people don't know about."

For instance, Christ will demonstrate how to perform old sideshow stunts that aren't done anymore.

"We'll show one act where you wrap a rope around a guy's neck and have four guys pull on it," Christ told The Huffington Post.

Another arcane act that will be demonstrated has has four men from the audience try -- and fail -- to lift a 98-pound woman.

"These are acts that, for a variety of reasons, can no longer be done professionally," Christ said.

Christ, along with longtime partner Ward Hall, run the World Of Wonders.

Along with the Coney Beach Sideshow in New York and the Venice Beach Freakshow, the World Of Wonders is one of the few regularly working sideshows in the nation.

Even so, interests in the sideshow arts is at an all-time high, according to Tim O'Brien, a former executive of Ripley's Believe It Or Not!

"There are more glass walkers, blockheads and sword swallowers than ever," he told HuffPost. "But they aren't working regularly."

Christ believes that could change as there is new interest in the sideshow arts.

"Most of my crew is under 30 and most have Ph.D.s," Christ claimed.

Certainly, being properly trained is a better than the apprenticeship experienced by Hall, who joined the carnival when he was 14.

"On his first day on the job, he burned down a shed trying to learn how to eat fire because he said he could do it in order to get hired," said O'Brien, who is working on a biography about Hall.

Other events in the three-day sideshow seminar include a lecture on how to deal with tough crowds, bad weather and an audience that surrounding you on all sides; a historical tour of sideshow banners through the ages; and a panel called "Sideshow Through The Eyes of a Journalist" featuring O'Brien and HuffPost Weird News executive editor Buck Wolf.

Included in the $155 fee is a field trip to the International Independent Showmen's Association Showman's Club of Gibsonton, which is the official headquarters of the carnival and amusement industry, a private tour of The Museum of the American Carnival, and a behind-the-scenes tour of "The World of Wonders Sideshow" at the Tampa Fairgrounds.

On Saturday, there will be "Big Show" featuring what are being called, in true carny hyperbole, some of the country's finest sideshow acts including sword swallowers, knife throwers and whip crackers.

Some might consider it weird to have a three-day seminar focused on being a carnival barker, but Christ wouldn't be one of them.

"Why is it important to keep the Civil War alive?" he asked rhetorically. "This is an indigenous American art form."

Also on HuffPost:

Ward Hall: King Of The Sideshows
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