Hidden away from the public eye, behind tall trees and bushes and large, wooden doors lies the California Institute for the Abnormal Arts – the CIA. “A castle of oddities”, as Matterz refers to it. The place is filled with gruesome treasures and esoteric artifacts. Upon entry, patrons are greeted by the tomb of a 100 year old French clown, the shrine to a mummified faerie, and a truckload of other macabre décor, all of which is basting in their own background stories.
CIA is absolutely not your typical venue. “There is a very close underground community of circus performers who recommends venues to one another.” Matterz explains. “We’ve performed at dive bars, nightclubs, everything. This place is really cool because it has a museum aspect to it.” Matterz adds. “We perform at museums whenever we can.”
Matterz Squidling, a surly, long haired fellow, Jelly Boy the Clown, a painted up, sad faced clown, the Illustrated Penguin, a lean, waist-high prankster with the hands of a T-Rex, and Betty Bloomers, the sword swallowing hotter than hot mess brunette, make up the Squidling Brother. Believe it or not, these talented performers all have day jobs. “After this tour, we are all going back home to New York to work.” Matterz tells me. Penguin and Betty work at Coney Island. Jelly Boy works with Ripley’s. Matterz is a film maker. Okay, so they may not be typical 9-5 jobs, but as the Velociraptor that Fred Flintstone uses as a garbage disposal might say, it’s a living.
Recently returning from a two week tour in Tokyo, the traveling sideshow performers have put on shows all around the world, including all of Europe and India in 2012 alone.
“The shows change depending on who we are working with.” Matterz explains. “We are always adding new tricks to try and change things up, but some venues don’t allow for certain stunts, like fire or aerials.”
Circus music plays in the background from an undisclosed source, setting the stage for a perfect ambiance.
“The language barrier is there, but in other countries English seems to be the connecting language for a lot of people. Even in France or India.” The illustrated Penguin tells me with his neck tilted way up. “We had help translating at a lot of shows.”
Dialogue isn’t the main attraction at a Squidling brothers show. The show relies more on shock value than spoken direction. “Everyone has been very enthusiastic and loud. People understand the call and response that we try to evoke from the audience.” Penguin says. “We try to get them as loud as possible without them actually taking over the show, you know?”
Evoking a response from a full house is not difficult for the troupe, whom perform stunts of daring valor, elastic contortionism, painfully comedic, and downright grotesque. Without giving too much away, it can be said that the show is unquestionably entertaining and that the performers bend over backwards to ensure just that.
While witnessing these death defying stunts, it makes me wonder what kind of people the Squidling Bros. are when they aren’t risking their lives for our own entertainment.
“When we are not performing…” Jelly Boy the Clown says through cavernous, dark pupils. “we like to relax.”
“We cook food, and eat food, and breathe air.” Penguin adds, eloquently.
“We do like to go and see other shows.” Matterz confesses. “The Show Devils with the Enigma and Swingshift Sideshow from Vegas, they are very intense shows. I personally enjoy all types of artistic, interpretive dance.” He adds. “Other people like Penguin like heavy metal and rockabilly. Jelly Boy likes all of the circus shows – especially the aerials. We are always looking for new ideas to adapt into our own shows.”
“Tricks are for hookers.” Penguin chirps. “We perform stunts.”
The stunts they perform are at times so painful to watch that you wish they were fake. “They’re not.” Betty attests. The traveling sideshow performers are actually fundraising for Jelly Boy’s medical bills, as Betty tells it, after he was badly burned in a fire.
Finally, just before the curtain goes up, I ask each performer to describe the show in one sentence.
“Good, clean fun for the whole family.” Penguin says with a wry smirk.
“A rollercoaster of wild and crazy things.” Jelly Boy declares. “You’re laughing at one point and disgusted the next.” He continues. “And like he said, fun for the whole family. Well, maybe not the whole family. More like the Adams family.”
“Or the Manson family” Penguin chimes in.
“Don’t try this at home.” Matterz warns before they all disappear behind the stage.
Whether the show may or may not be suitable for all ages is debatable, its entertainment value certainly is not. A little bit scary, a little bit sexy, and a little bit stunning, the Squidling Brothers are natural born stuntmen.