Arts Beat: Step Right Up!

An exhibit at UCF looks at the art of the circus sideshow.

A new term is starting up at the University of Central Florida. And it’s a circus out there.

No, literally. Well, almost.

The UCF Art Gallery is wrapping up an exhibit called “Step Right Up: Art of the Sideshow” this week, featuring a collection of original painted banners, photographs, sculptures and films advertising the like of Lobster Boy, Sealo the half man/half seal, and the ever-popular Bearded Lady.

The gallery, which is in the Visual Arts Building, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Apart from that there’s a lineup of special, free events this week, so you can step right up!!!! to:

     * A film screening of the 1999 documentary “Sideshow: Alive on the Inside.” It looks at the world of the circus and carnival sideshows, and how the headliners found happiness in their careers. Screening Aug. 26, 6 to 8 p.m.

     * A reception in the gallery will feature guest appearances by Johnny Meah, one of the last banner painters and a veteran sideshow performer, and impresario Ward Hall. There will be cotton candy, corn dogs and catering by 4Rivers Smokehouse. Aug. 27, 6 to 8 p.m.

     * A live performance piece in the gallery, “A Look at the Sideshow,” written and directed by Be Boyd and John Shafer. The play portrays the challenging lives of real sideshow performers such as John Merrick, The Elephant Man, and Annie Jones, The Bearded Lady.  Aug. 29, 4 p.m.

This is the last week of the exhibit, which revolves around a collection  of sideshow banners on loan to the gallery from Orlando attorney Howard Marks. One of the banners, a 50-by-22-foot painting of funhouse clowns, takes up one whole wall at the gallery.

“I bought it many years ago, and believe it or not have never seen the whole thing. I never had a place large enough to display it,” says Marks, who has been a collector of art in various forms for many years. Marks’ banners date back to the 1920s.

All of them have a Florida connection: Gibsonton, near Tampa, was the summer home of circus performers and painters.

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Categories: Arts Beat