Contemporary sideshows are different than their predecessors. Modern day Sideshows are less about biological differences and more about the danger and overcoming the impossible. Contemporary performers study and train for years before taking their act on the road.

Sideshows are also not strictly attached to circuses, allowing for expansion of venue opportunities such as theaters, bars, wedding locations—even the Utah State Fairpark.


Many people conflate the term “sideshow” with “circus,” but the two are not mutually exclusive. Sideshows were a secondary production to a circus, carnival, or fair, and are unique to American circuses.

The concept of the Sideshow was the idea of P.T. Barnum and first used on the Barnum and Bailey Circus. Sideshows used to have two main categories: working acts—such as sword swallowing, fire eating, contortionism, and novelty performances—and “human oddities.”

At the time, that meant showcasing a body type that would be considered “abnormal,” but also included acts such as live “mermaids,” “reptile men,” and more. These performers were called “freaks” because they either had biological rarities or were partaking in actions that would be considered extremely painful, unnatural, or dangerous by most (i.e. fire eating).

The Sideshow showcased people of extraordinary feats, whether in sport or stature. Regardless of your body type, there is no limit to the things you can do.

For instance, Frank Lentini “The Three-Legged Man” was born with a third leg—the result of a partially-formed conjoined twin. Originally, his condition depressed him, but after spending time at a school for disabled children, he gained pride in his body and accepted himself. Lentini became one of the most famous sideshow acts of all time. Another famous performer was Ella Harper “The Camel Girl,” who had the unique ability to bend her knees forward, allowing her to walk on all fours. She eventually made her way into W. H. Harris’ Nickel Plate Circus, where she was the star of the show. And Mirin Dajo, “The Invulnerable Man” was able to pierce his body without injury—a sideshow act that is still prevalent in our modern day.



Sideshows look for the best of the best: daring trapeze artists, hypnotic aerial dancers, impressively tattooed bodies, ability to shatter a threshold of pain, eating fire, and much more.

The Utah Museum of Contemporary Art is excited to bring on local daredevils and sideshow performers for our 2017 Gala: SIDESHOW. We hope to inspire you and demonstrate that nothing is impossible. We have a fire within us that drives our passion for the arts, and we couldn’t think of a better way to express this than with the most daring entertainment our diverse state has to offer. We plan to awe you with acts of incredible feats and dare-devil–worthy performances. Join us at 6 p.m. on June 3 at the Promontory Building at the Utah State Fairpark (155 S. 1000 W., Salt Lake City, UT) for a night to remember!



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