A few weeks ago I attended the latest show being offered at Zombie Joe’s Underground titled ONE OF US. As with most show at ZJU, I didn’t know too much about it except that it was centered around circus “freaks” and was being directed by the lovely Anna Mavromati and Marlee Delia of Shine On Collective. As someone who has always been fascinated with the creepy side of carnivals as well as the people that work them, I was interested in this show right from the get-go. As my group arrived, we were standing outside the door waiting to go in, when I noticed a gentleman standing off to the side leaning against a tree. Something about him seemed off, as he stared vacantly at the crowd with an old-school camera around his neck, but I didn’t think much of it. Once inside, I completely forgot about the strange man and proceeded to take a seat. It was at this point that that same man came up to me and explained that I was sitting in his seat and that I needed to move. Not wanting to start anything, I obliged, and moved one seat over and waited for the show to begin.
As I’m sure you can tell upon reading this, that man was part of the show, and it’s one of the best aspects about ONE OF US. The whole scenario started the moment we got to ZJU, before even entering, and I love how that continued on throughout the entire show. I had unwittingly become a participant in the show without even realizing it and because of that I found becoming emotionally attached to the characters in front of me, even protective of them. ONE OF US introduces the audience to the world of circus performers and though on the outside they seem shiny and bright, there’s a darkness that looms behind the faces of each of these performers. We are introduced to a slew of characters that include a psychic, a contortionist, the reptile man, the woolly mammoth, a mute clown (which is literally one of the most terrifying performances I have seen in years), the human skeleton, a true blue albino, and conjoined twins. Each of these characters comes out to perform to the audiences praise and applaud only to reveal the sadness and pain that is keeping them at the circus. Each one of them is self aware and knows that we are only there to laugh at their expense - some of them accept this as is and move on while others throw that back into our faces. The show is extremely powerful in shifting the attention back on the audience and in doing so brings to light a social commentary on people who are different. It’s so easy to pick on and bully people that we don’t understand, to make fun of the “weird kids” or the “freaks”. However, at the end of the day, we all have skeletons in our closets and normal is a word that really has no meaning because the definition changes per person. Instead of putting down people that are different than us we should be raising them up to feel accepted and loved.
As the show goes on the audience begins to really let the meaning of all this sink in, with the exception of the gentleman sitting next to me. He continues to jeer and make fun of each performer, becoming louder and louder as the acts go on. It’s clear he is uncomfortable by how different they are and goes so far as to even mock them at their own expense. The more sad and hurt they become the more happy and pleased he is with himself. At first the audience giggles at his ridiculousness but as time goes on, it becomes apparent how uncomfortable all of this is. We are spectators sitting by, watching the events unfold, watching this man harass and defame these people, and we are not doing a single thing about it. To bring the point home, the man aptly called Reptile Man, says this to our face and accuses us of being just as guilty as the jeering man in the audience. It’s a sobering moment and a moment that hits you right in the gut. We do nothing to change what this individual in the audience is doing. It’s clear we don’t want to be a part of it but we also don’t want to stop it and at the end of the day, it says a lot about ourselves than I think we were ready for.
All in all, this is one of the best shows I’ve seen at Zombie Joe’s and one that really affected me. Growing up, I was severely bullied by classmates and those around me for being different and not fitting into society's standards (whatever that means). During this show, a lot of that was brought up again and it made me realize how glad I was to go down my own path. It hasn’t been easy and it’s been a struggle at times but I’ve always tried to remain true to who I was regardless of what people thought of me. Seeing the events unfold during ONE OF US, leading up to the climax and then the anger from the carnival folks, really struck a chord in me and one that has lasted the last few weeks since seeing the show. If there is one thing to say about Zombie Joe’s Underground, it’s that each time I leave, I always leave learning a lesson. This go around, it’s be kind to everyone; we may not know someone’s story and we may not know the demons they are facing, but the least we can do is be kind and accept each and every person for who they are, no matter how different they may appear to be.