For a while now I’ve been wondering about a theme to use with a spoken word performance. A theme, a main idea, or a character.

I’ve been reluctant to simply read my poetry into a microphone. Even musical accompaniment wouldn’t cheer me up too much about the idea. I want to do something more like what I consider to be “real” spoken word performance, something thematic, something more like a performance than a rote reading.

William S. Burroughs’ spoken word recording entitled “Priest They Called Him” is one that comes to mind as a good example. In this one, the speaker is involved in the account given.

That got me to thinking about “roles” while I was searching for a main idea. I’m fond of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust role, where he becomes this character and the character is somehow a part of the performance.

A good role should accompany a good theme, and I thought of one!

The Outside Talker

I’m fascinated with the image of The Outside Talker. “The Outside Talker” is an old carnival term for a person who attempts to attract patrons to entertainment events, such as a carnival, circus, sideshow, or freak show by exhorting passing public, describing attractions of show and emphasizing beauty, variety, novelty, or some other feature believed to incite listeners to attend entertainment. The pejorative term for such a person is “Barker

At any good carnival, circus, or freakshow, there’s always a person outside, talking, with things to say like this:

Well, step right up ladies and gentlemen, and feast your weary optics on this little prize to sympathize, empathize, and put the blue back in those bloodshot eyes. I'm talking about the one, the only, Sheema the jungle girl. She shimmies, she shakes, like jelly on a plate, has four eyes, four ears, four nostrils. Crawls on her belly like a reptile, eats hay like a mule; was captured recently on the south sea island of Hallamallagoola. Such an interesting sight to behold, so step right up ladies and gentlemen, but be careful not to step in that fresh pile of cow....shame, shame, on you boys for stickin' your finger in that goat's.....ask your mama for a quarter so you can come inside the tent and see the elephant source: Side Show World

The word they have for this kind of shtick, this bullshit, is “bally” short for “ballyhoo”. I’m doing everything I can to get my hands on recordings, or scripts of as much of this bally as I possibly can. Of course, I could simply turn on the television and listen to the commercials … that’s the same shtick … but it lacks any of that fantastic imagery: bearded women, flea circuses, etc.

I’m not so sure that I’m as attached to the carnival imagery as I am to the idea of that character, that role “being on the outside, vividly and urgently describing what’s “alive”, “on the inside”. “Freak Show” imagery probably isn’t what I’ll focus on, but that adds a creative challenge. I like that such a performance, bally, if good, stands for itself, and illicits the images of whats inside, perhaps with more impact than the images of the things themselves, which are typically cheaper, and depend on the imagination for their effect.

Now, the only creative question left for me is - outside of where, and what’s inside?