Oberlin Blogs

Bed of Nails!

November 16, 2008

Aries Indenbaum ’09

Most events at Oberlin start a little late. Timeliness is a virtue, of course, but most shows are friendly to stragglers. Especially at the Cat in the Cream - the line for cookies gets pretty insane. Given that, we expected to close the doors at 8:10, anticipating that by 8:00, the show's start time, we wouldn't have much of a crowd.

Except by 8:00, every seat was taken. And by 8:05, the room was packed.

When Ed started playing accordion - mostly as background - the audience took it as an overture. They sat still, went quiet and rapt. I choked down a blissful squeal as Chris and Greg ran up from the audience, yelling, "Welcome, to the Johnson Family Circus!"

Because I'm in an act, I don't watch the whole show. But the parts I saw were brilliant. The jugglers nailed most of their throws. Greg and Chris added new lines to their scenes, so the dialogue was even punchier. Jim's act was phenomenal - he worked the crowd into a screaming ball of delight. When he screamed "Do you love me?" the crowd roared back, "YES."

There were no disasters, no missed cues, the step didn't break this time... It was polished. And good. I felt so proud of every single person involved.

The show's tone was well-balanced. There were cute acts, like the hula-hooper with self-esteem issues, the stepdancer who triumphs over other bullying steppers, an independent mermaid and a ballet act. Then, there were more mature acts, like mine... a bed of nails act.

Over the summer, I saw a circus cabaret in NYC called Vicious Vaudeville that incorporated a bed of nails into a strongman sideshow act very successfully. We like success; we wanted to emulate. So, over Fall Break, Yoshi, Amanda, Nikki and Atty built this terrifying looking object with the nails spaced an inch apart. It was meant for Yoshi.

But when Yoshi lay down on it, it hurt him. A lot.

When I lay on it, it didn't. It tickled.

The way a bed of nails act works is basic physics. The amount of surface area you have spread over the nails, the easier it is. Weight and pressure gets distributed evenly - the more nails you cover, the less painful it is. If you drop an apple on the bed, the nails will rip through the apple. If I walked on the bed, the nails would go through my feet. That would be bad.

But, if I lie down on them with my torso flat, my weight more or less evenly distributed... all is well. It's also a helpful thing that I'm really tall (nearly 6 feet) and have a bit of flub around my stomach. It hurt Yoshi most because he's both smaller and slimmer than me. When he lies down, the nails hit bone and muscle, with less surface area to compensate. On me, they hit flub and muscle. Flub is malleable - bones aren't.

Of course, enough people have seen the county fair boards where any volunteer can lie on a bed of nails without a whit of pain tolerance or training. This is why I complicate things, by using less surface area, doing low-level contortion and by ... uh... not wearing a lot of clothes.

Is this safe? Safe enough.

Do I have a spotter? I have two at the ready, a bit offstage!

Does it hurt? Yes, but no.

Is it fun? Yes. Oh, yes. In the audience's glare, my adrenaline peaked and my ability to feel pain decreased. For the full houses we brought in, I landed two moves I hadn't before - a split with my hands up, and a cool stretch on my belly. I felt like a million bucks.

I love the circus.

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