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Playing With Fire for a Cause

The Girly Freak Show hopes to deliver a message of empowerment through comedic acts, dangerous stunts and erotic dance

September 19, 2002|KASTLE WASERMAN

A woman in a pink bouffant wig, latex bustier and matching miniskirt walks up a ladder of swords with all the grace of a ballerina. Moments later, enough volts of electricity are shot through her body to light up a florescent bulb in her hand. She looks like some sort of punk-rock Bride of Frankenstein.

They call it the Girly Freak Show for a reason.

Not your average nightclub fare, this performance art troupe is providing an alternative to hip bars, thumping dance floors and live music concerts by upping the ante in a new wave in entertainment: the variety act.

Founded by Slymenstra Hyman (a.k.a. Danielle Stampe), a former member of the heavy-metal art band GWAR, the Girly Freak Show is a mix of comedic spectacles, erotic dancing girls and death-defying stunts.

According to Stampe, the idea is to develop a strong female icon from ancient acts as well as images found in literature and art. "I'm really into those evil yet fascinating characters. To me they have an underlying female empowerment," Stampe says.

Stampe manifests these archetypes in characters that include Spidora (a singing spider lady) and Slimy (a half-woman, half-snake man-eater) and in dangerous circus-style stunts. During a recent performance at California Institute of Abnormal Arts, those sitting in front of the stage retreated as Stampe began blowing blasts of fire.

She has set a Guinness world record for fire breathing using a circular breathing technique often practiced by dancers and horn players. "You breathe in through your nose and blow out at the same time," she explains. "I do something called Dragon's Breath that rolls out in a three-tiered flame. It looks like a nuclear blast."

Stampe set another record for highest human endurance of high-voltage electricity with a Tesla coil stunt in which she sits atop a huge electric generator and shoots lightning bolts from her fingertips. "It's about 3 million volts of electricity running through me. I've had lightning bolts shooting out about 12 to 13 feet," she says.

Touring with GWAR for 15 years gave her the best training for this type of show. The act was known for outrageous stage theatrics that included everything from fake pagan rituals to spewing faux bodily fluids on their audiences.

The Girly Freak Show started as a side project for Stampe in 1995, when she teamed up with New York performance artists known as the Pain-Proof Rubber Girls, taking her GWAR character Slymenstra with her. In the new show, Slymenstra clearly delves into her more "Girly" side, working with such guest performers as the burlesque starlets from the Velvet Hammer and Kit Kat Follies. "There's some bump and grind in the show, just enough to pay homage to women who were brave enough to do that when it was completely unaccepted," she says.

One regular in the Girly Freak Show is the self-proclaimed "Girly Man," Tim Cridland, a former member of the Jim Rose Circus (also known as Zamora the Torture King), whose stunts include licking red-hot pokers, walking on broken glass and piercing his skin with skewers. He and Stampe have worked with touring circus acts including P.T. Barnum.

Both agree that while circus-style theater has been reduced to obscurity in the last few decades, it's steadily making a comeback. "After being in rock 'n' roll for so long, it's time to see something besides music," Stampe says. "I think a lot of people are feeling that way."

Though Stampe and Cridland are serious about the stunts, ultimately the show's goal is to provide a little tongue-in-cheek humor. Stampe laughs and says, "How can you take yourself seriously in a five-foot bouffant wig."

*

Girly Freak Show, Saturday at the California Institute of Abnormal Arts, 11334 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, 10:30 p.m. $10 cover. www.ciabnormalarts.com (818) 506-6353.

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