When most people set to work planning how they'll spend their New Year's Eve, fire-eating, dueling vaudeville medicine men and cabaret-style burlesque – among other spectacles – rarely come into consideration.
For the Dead Man's Carnival, it's all in a day's work.
For over four years, this circus/vaudeville/theater troupe has entertained growing crowds with a variety of new and surprising neo-circus feats, both in the area and across the country.
The carnival, which took root in Riverwest, has grown from a group of core members to include a rotating cast of approximately 36 acts, guest performers from around the world and full musical accompaniment, provided by their five-piece house band, Sir Pinkerton and The Magnificents. Since combining their efforts, the members of Dead Man's Carnival have worked their way around various local bars, including Club Anything and Stonefly Brewery, and have now found a regular venue in the Miramar Theatre.
"We were some of the most talented and unique performers that didn't have a venue or crowd to work for," explained "Gypsy Geoff" Marsh, who performs with the carnival and also as a solo career entertainer. "Movies or regular television can't hold a candlestick to live entertainment. We needed a place to express ourselves and give a rebirth to vaudeville."
Since securing their regular home at the Miramar, the Dead Man's Carnival has performed multiple times on its stage, including last year's sold out New Year's Eve show, which brought in an audience of over 350 people.
"There was a line out the door. We had to strike all the chairs to make room for all the people standing out in the cold to see us," said Marsh.
This year's New Year's Eve show – which also serves as the Dead Man's Carnival season finale – will likely prove to be even more popular. With the ever-changing lineup of performers and acts, even veterans to the circus are in for something new and exciting.
"We're always devising ways to take old classic circus routines and put our own twist on them," said Marsh. "It's a personal goal of mine to constantly be new and better. Our show is so off-the-cuff and avant garde that we have the freedom and time to create these new performances. You expect to be entertained when you go to a show, and we do that."
Among the many acts featured in the Dead Man's Carnival are a roue Cyr wheel balance (a giant wheel rolled and steered from the inside), a dueling medicine man battle and even a world record attempt to balance the world's largest gyroscope – on the performer's face.
"Some people have stamp collections. We live, eat and breathe circus," explained Marsh. "The show is constant high energy. It's definitely an eclectic group of people."
As if the spectacular visual entertainment weren't enough, the Dead Man's Carnival house band, Sir Pinkerton and The Magnificents, perform live music throughout the show. Much like the carnival's performers, the band members have performed independently of the carnival's performances and also rotate in and out of the band lineup.
For Pinkerton "Pinky" Xyloma, joining the band with the carnival provided a chance to expand on both forms of entertainment.
"I've always had an inclination to theatrics," said Xyloma. "I felt that the live performance of music was a very limited form of expression. With vaudeville and carnival, it's more of an extravagant atmosphere. It goes hand-in-hand with live music."
The music of Sir Pinkerton and The Magnificents also serves as the perfect musical fit for the carnival atmosphere.
"Our type of music is pretty eclectic. It has a very old-timey feel and draws heavily from American roots, everything from old time roots to soul and funk," said Xyloma. "We have a pretty even mix of adaptations of traditional songs as well as originals. The upcoming show has a much fuller band; a lot of local jazz artists as well as guest singers are coming out to play with us."
Though the New Year's Eve show serves as the official season finale, Dead Man's Carnival isn't taking any breaks. After ringing in the new year in Milwaukee, the carnival is heading out to Madison for a 9 p.m. show New Year's Day at the High Noon Saloon. Those looking to check out either show are guaranteed a unique experience.
"We've always exceeded people's expectations, and I've always had a lot of pride in that," said Xyloma. "We try to take the audience through the whole spectrum of emotion. People have consistently been surprised by the spectacle of the show and the variety of acts, and the level of talent our show has to offer."
Contrary to her natural state of being, Renee Lorenz is a total optimist when it comes to Milwaukee. Since beginning her career with OnMilwaukee.com, her occasional forays into the awesomeness that is the Brew City have turned into an overwhelming desire to discover anything and everything that's new, fun or just ... "different."
Expect her random musings to cover both the new and "new-to-her" aspects of Miltown goings-on, in addition to periodically straying completely off-topic, which usually manifests itself in the form of an obscure movie reference.