FreakShow Deluxe does not “tour” in the sense of doing club dates like a rock band.
We do a lot of traveling, sure… lots of traveling to the venues, amusement parks, events, fairs and such where we usually perform. But we do not book tours in the sense of town after town for weeks at a time, with our income dependent on the clubs ticket sales.
Not that there is anything wrong with touring night clubs. We know plenty of folks who do! They always seem to be having a great time.
HA! HA!! No… No – they don’t.
It’s just one story after another of broken down vehicles, rip-offs, low audience turn-outs, canceled gigs, bad food, sleeping in the van… the list just goes on and on.
In the conversations amongst the community of which we are a part, it often comes up about why, if everything is so bad out there on the road… WHY do folks keep touring that way?? Usually, the answer is something along the lines of —
We do hundreds and hundreds of shows per year! You can’t beat that kind of experience.
Reverend Tommy Gunn, here. I was talking with Harley Newman, who is a legendary performer and I am happy to call him a mentor of mine, about the above quote as we were discussing various theoretical aspects of performing and touring – as we often do – and he brought up a good point: it doesn’t do anyone any good to do 900 shows a year if you’re done 900 bad shows! Lots of shows does not, itself, make you better.
Something about it came together for me when I heard the following quote from comedian Brian McKim in the movie I Am Road Comic. Sitting at a table with his wife, talking about being a traveling comic, he says:
There’s this thing people think: if you sleep in your car, and you drive a thousand miles and you do this and you do this… and the end of it they think, “Boy, I’m going to be a spectacular comic.” And it’s like… well… you’re going to be a better comic. I think you can be a spectacular comic and, like, not endure so much heartache.
And this is so true.
I was happy to get that it was so true not just for sideshow – but for comedy (and, in turn, I guess for music, burlesque, acting, yada yada).
Oh – how many of those “road warriors,” with their stories of rip-offs and break-downs and bad food, think that this is the only way to do it. And make no mistake, there are a lot of folks doing it “this way” (whatever way it may be), because they only know “this way” to do things!
Perhaps, they probably read Jim Rose‘s Freak Like Me… but NOT read the infinitely superior Circus of the Scars by Jan T. Gregor, even though they both cover roughly the same time period – when the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow was at it’s peak. Days of sleeping in the van. Not seeing pay. Getting gear stolen. And hitting the high points (concerts, celebrity) Oh, yes!! But plenty of low points, too…
Traveling and performing this way is hard. It does NOT create the best situation for creating the best kind of shows. Especially when these shows are one-offs. When you’re traveling like that, you can be just overwhelmed with the constant turn over, driving, bad sleep, and worse food. It’s hard! Definitely a young person’s game.
But what I see so often is everyone who is touring like a rock band trying to do is to reinvent the wheel! More often than not, I try to steer them towards the book Tour Smart: And Break the Band by Martin Atkins (who has an impressive resume of touring and performing). This book is filled with so many stories – including pages of malarkey from the Suicide Girls (no link to them, because there was SO much cluelessness going on), and some great stories from The Enigma, among others. Every bit of it is useful! Even for someone not touring like a band.
Honestly, at this point in my life/career it’s about working smarter, not harder.
Yeah – I could still cowboy it (and sometimes I still do just for fun): sleeping in the car, with the same clothes for days on end, not bathing, and eating at gas stations. But, usually I need to be able to sleep comfortably to be able to function. I need a hot shower (lots of cuts, bruises, and pain at the end of every show that needs to be cleaned up). I need time at the venue to make sure everything is on deck. I need clean clothes to keep from getting rashes (and infections with all those cuts). I need to eat well so I don’t have an upset stomach or issues so that I can do the best job possible.
See – if I have those things, in the long run I can actually do MORE shows. I am more professional, calmer, and get more done at each place. I can create better shows, and keep them running. With guarantees, contracts, and more I can better plan for money – that means less break-downs… plus all the FSD performers get paid.
Bad shows just leave a bad taste in the mouth of every promoter. With sideshow – unlike any other type of entertainment – it seems that one bad show will make a promoter/venue never allow it there again, saying
Sideshow just doesn’t work here.
If a rockabilly band comes in and bombs (for whatever reason), they usually don’t just bar all the rockabilly bands. They just pay a bit more attention with the next one they bring in.
A lot of this is on the sideshow troupes heading into these places though.