Tinderbox Circus Sideshow

Zak Crouch, as Captain Darron von Awesome, will swallow swords and more at this weekend’s CreepyCon in Knoxville.

Pinhead from Clive Barker’s “Hellraiser” (1987) often would tell the unfortunate individuals who summoned him: “We have such sights to show you.”

The same can be said about the CreepyCon Halloween and Horror Convention, where seekers of all things creepy can find magic, sideshow shocks and killer clowns from Aug. 23-25.

“We have made two big changes this year,” CreepyCon promoter Jennifer Johnsey said. “We are now a three-day show. This is our third installment. The first year was a one-day event, and the next year was a two-day show. We needed three days to do all the creepy things we wanted to do. The other big change is the location. The show had been held (downtown Knoxville), yet this year we will be at the Jacob Building in Chilhowee Park. The event will be held upstairs and downstairs. The venue is solely dedicated to CreepyCon, which means we are not sharing a building with anyone else and/or fighting for parking. The parking is also free.”

There are some new horrifying editions to the Halloween/horror show, and some of the favorite creature-features will be returning as well.

“We will have the Midway of Mayhem, featuring scary clown characters,” Johnsey said. “There will be a miniature light-up Halloween village, which looks really great and spooky. We will have a magician, a juggler, the Tinderbox Circus Sideshow, the Envied Clothing fashion show, and one of my personal favorites — the zombie beauty pageant.”

CreepyCon guests scheduled to appear include John Duggan (Grandpa in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” films), scream queen Monique Dupree, Lyn Lowry (Kathy in George A. Romero’s “The Crazies”), haunted attraction celebrity Father Evil, actress Marian Sing, Queen Alexandria Goth (model for Sanctuary Magazine) and Knoxville’s Salome Cabaret.

The Tinderbox Circus Sideshow is an attraction worthy of its own spotlight. The traveling troupe primarily is comprised of Kayti McMyermick, stage name Trashique, and Zak Crouch, stage moniker Captain Darron von Awesome.

“We love CreepyCon,” McMyermick said. “They put us on a pedestal, and we can be loud and proud to be members of a sideshow.”

Added Crouch: “As a teenager. I started falling in love with the history of sideshow. Through my early adulthood, I realized there are not as many shows like this around. It was something I wanted to see, and I was going to have to do it myself if I wanted to see it. It was the birth of starting a show, and then I met Trashique, and we started working together and the show took off from there.”

Tinderbox has been operating for nine years. The troupe presents classic side tent acts (sword swallowing/glass walking/bed of nails/fire eating), modern acts with a twist (extreme waist cinching/the human pincushions) and daredevil stunts (knife throwing). According to McMyermick, the show is performed without the aid of smoke and mirrors.

“Everything we do in our show is 100% real,” she said. “We stay away from illusions because it is hard to keep an audience with you if they think they have been tricked. Sometimes I do extreme waist cinching. I use a (twist tie) and wrap it around my waist until my waist is at around 13 inches. The audience sees that happen in front of them, and it impresses them.”

Sword swallowing is a skill where the performer passes a sword through the mouth and down the esophagus to the stomach. There are around 300 sword swallowers in the world, according to the novelty website Ripley’s, and the risk of injury or death is high. Sword swallowing is Crouch’s forte.

“I am taking a sharp sword and shoving it down my throat,” he said. “One thing goes wrong, and I could be (in serious danger).”

It seemed as though sideshows were all but dead by the end of the 20th century. However, McMyermick said they’re making a comeback.

“We talk about that all the time,” she said. “We think there is this disillusionment with modern times. People that see our show will tell us how (exciting) it was to see it live, as opposed to watching it on television. I think for a time there, television put live shows like ours into the toilet.”

The troupe will have a show packed with scares and shocks at CreepyCon, but it won’t be too frightening.

“We hold back a little on the shocks and scares when we have a venue where the attendees are of all ages,” Crouch said. “We want to have (thrills) in the show without making children cry. We smile a lot and make sure the audience knows this will be fun.”

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