Admittedly when I thought about doing archive posts for attractions, I only thought about parks, rides, and whatnot. Howl O Scream attractions, specifically, didn’t come to mind at first.
Maybe I’ll write it off as being because many HoS attractions don’t have but so much history or source material to do a whole deep dive for. But for my beloved freak show, Sideshow Square, I know for a fact that there is plenty.
When it comes to Sideshow Square and other attractions I’ve been in, I’ll leave a few things unsaid. Namely backstage life, onstage ordeals not part of the normal show, trade secret types of things, etc.
But I can detail the lore behind them, stuff that’s part of the attraction’s onstage show for guests to enjoy.
Some people probably don’t realize how in depth some of the terror-tories are if they’re just passing through and only see them as fancy named scare zones. But, there’s quite a bit more.
Now, for the terror-tory that I’ve seen from its inception to curtain call, through its good and bad… the attraction I’ve shed tears from laughter as well as blood and sweat… and the one that has given me the best circus family a doll could ask for: Sideshow Square.
Running Away With the Circus
Sideshow Square, with the corresponding Circo Sinistro, debuted in 2016 as a part of the Evil Encore event theme.
Sideshow Square itself was supposed to be a troupe, from the nearby Circo, who lured people into the big top for wholesome soul collecting purposes.
The original character lineup consisted of a ringmaster, ringmaster swing, a fortune teller, clowns, clown abouts, and living dolls. For those who know Sideshow, it probably seems like I missed a character–the magician.
Initially, there were four marionettes before the magician became a spur of the moment addition for reasons I’ll omit. The cast was about 12 or 13 strong, the average number for terror-tories.
On the subject of terror-tories, a terror-tory is meant to be an immersive hybrid between a theater show and a scare zone. These attractions originally featured elaborate facades built into the hamlets they resided and saw the actors engaging in ongoing improv between both the cast and guests in between atmospheric and startle scares.
They’re meant to take you into whatever story world the attraction is themed to. Atmosphere and immersion being the operative words in the concept.
And, while Sideshow Square debuted in an era when all terror-tories no longer received large-scaled sets, it was one of the last terror-tories (if not *the* last) created under the direction of the management that came up with the concept. So in every other regard of what a terror-tory was intended to be, Sideshow embodied that. And according to its reception, it definitely delivered.
Our area originally spanned from the basketball games at the front of Festa Italia to the opposite end of the Coke market and the path around the tea cups attraction. By 2019, Pantheon construction cut Sideshow Square’s area to just in front of Tempesto and the Coke market. (Thanks, Pantheon)
I will say that the rehearsal period for 2016 Sideshow was my favorite because it consisted of creating Sideshow Square. Creating the backstory, characters, skits, and scares.
For the marionettes, we even got to pick out which corset, skirt, and patterned fishnets we wanted for our characters. Upper management did the lighting, set, boundaries, props, and music.
The show itself, the performance side of the attraction, was what we got free reign to create together as a cast. The only prompt we were given being “19th century circus” and everything else detailed below (from 2016-2017) being the brainchild of our imaginations.
Our attraction director, Phil Raybourn, and our stage manager provided feedback on ideas, scares, skits, and other material that we came up with.
Material that also included character dynamics like the puppets needing to be soft spoken, childlike sounding since we set their backstory as people who got taken by the circus and turned into marionette dolls.
The windup doll was an actual mechanical creation–created by the Sinistro Brothers and Mr. Karver (a renowned doll marker & part of the Evil Encore theme)–who had two volume settings, on or off. No in between. A character trait that would serve well for startle scares.
The ringmasters being brothers, the Sinistro Brothers, wasn’t a thing until the four guys sat together and said, “Wait a second… what if we’re all siblings?” (as was common in 19th century circuses) And furthermore, why not base all of their names around natural elements. Fierre, Icesic, Cirrus, and Voltimus.
The story world, as per the debut year, centered around this circus run by a maniacal band of brothers that’s toured the realms, worlds, and times for centuries with the primary intention of soul collecting. Two brothers, Cirrus and Voltimus, ran the show’s big top Circo Sinistro. The other two brothers, Icesic and Fierre, spearheaded the Sideshow Square.
In the Sideshow, they recruited a fortune teller, Madame Syrena. Subsequently, they took on Rellik (a big top clown), Chef (a carousel clown), and Mumbles (clown puppeteer) from whatever hell hole realm they came from. The clown abouts (the clowns in doll like masks and suspenders) joined either of their own psychotic volition or having been given the ultimatum of join or die.
The wind-up doll, Wendy, was a creation that the ringmasters and renowned doll maker Mr. Karver constructed. The marionettes (Margot, Madeline, & Olive) were people who were lured to the circus, held hostage, tortured, brainwashed, and then turned into living dolls.
As a whole, they’d beckon people into Circo Sinistro where that person’s soul would be collected.
Half the cast consisted of more outright terrifying characters for the startle, or so people would be intimidated into Circo. While other cast characters were atmospheric and unsettling. So, it’d be easier for them to approach people who’d otherwise be too terrified and lure them into a trap… and it’d be easier for them to distract you… or for them to deceive you…
As such, it never failed that people would see a ringmaster or doll and not think anything of them because when compared with the clowns, they weren’t as scary looking. And those people quickly learned their mistake, which was always fun.
Madeline definitely never convinced a group to wait in a 2-hour line for Circo Sinistro when they weren’t planning on doing any of the mazes because they’d be too scary for them. Madeline definitely didn’t reassure them that “it’s not that bad” and promptly omit the rest of that line “it’s actually worse.”
That group may or may not have returned to the Sideshow afterwards, upset with the marionette for the fact that Circo was terrifying and they waited in a long line for it. Madeline may or may not have laughed at that fact and laughed even harder when a clown then scared them into a sprint out of the Square.
Amongst quite a few other schemes, tricks, and shenanigans…
Some of my favorite scares are from Sideshow Square just because people underestimated some of us and found out the hard way why they shouldn’t.
Debut year skits consisted of the opening ceremony, nap time/deadbolt, circus auditions, we’re all Wendy, and show & tell.
The opening ceremony was ~an opening ceremony~ where after the troupe paraded out, Fierre and Icesic would go into a spiel:
I: Gentleman and ladies…
F: Ladies and gentleman…
I: This is my brother Fierre…
F: And this is my brother Icesic
I & F: And we are the Sinistro brothers!
I: Tonight, we have a delightful exhibition for your entertainment.
F: Now some of you may cry, but that’s a sacrifice we’re willing to make.
I & F: With that said, let the good times roll!
The troupe would then disperse and proceed to terrorizing the watching crowds.
All of the other skits were spontaneous ones that happened throughout the night. In nap time/deadbolt, Fierre would summon the troupe to the center of the Square and tell them to go to sleep so they didn’t get too worn out during show.
Consequently, Icesic would then argue with Fierre that in the middle of set wasn’t the time for that. He’d then wake the troupe up who’d all go hyperactive for a minute running around and rushing everyone in the Square.
The circus auditions consisted of the two brothers recruiting a guest to audition for their show. If the auditioner did well, the Brothers would get dismissive; not wanting a guest to upstage their precious freak show. If they didn’t do well, they’d coldly dismiss the auditioner and sic a clown on the person for fun.
The we’re all Wendy and the show & tell shticks didn’t happen as frequently.
In the former, the whole troupe would have a sanity lapse from hearing the wind up proclaim her name and start impersonating her until the ringmasters snapped them back out of it. In the show and tell, a ringmaster would take a character up on the platform and showcase that character’s sadistic features/how they collected souls.
At the end of the night, the ringmasters would round the troupe up before dragging them back to the big top. All throughout the set, there’d be miscellaneous gags between characters such as a marionette stealing a clown hammer or the magician trying to overthrow the ringmasters.
The music soundtrack for Sideshow Square for its entire run (2016, 17, 18, & 19) is as follows:
Steel Dream by Cirque du Soleil *note: first 53 seconds only
Goons & Greasepaint by Midnight Syndicate
Mice Circus from the Coraline Soundtrack
Haunted Carnival by the Fiechters
Dr. Atmore’s Elixirs of Good Humor & Fortification by Midnight Syndicate
A Strange Menagerie by Midnight Syndicate
Welcome to the Carnival by Midnight Syndicate
Secret by The Pierces
And yes, in this exact order. I still hear it sometimes when I try to sleep at night.
…not that I mind. Sideshow was fond times!
Evolution of the Evil Encore
Year one to year two for Sideshow Square brought a few changes, but nothing in large. The cast lineup was predominantly the same with a few new characters.
Madame Sirena took over Madame Syrena’s job. Pickles replaced the big top clown, Rellik, and Happy J replaced the carousel clown, Chef. One of the clown abouts, Pinky, was now a new clown about, Wick.
The biggest change came in the form of props. The clown abouts lost their siren guns, the marionettes no longer had strings, the magician rarely had his jack-in-the-box, and the ringmasters no longer had bullhorns.
The skits stayed the same save for the show of force and clown fights replacing the we’re all Wendy and show & tell.
The show of force was when the troupe would group up and do a sweep through the Square in a wave of terror from one end to the other. The clowns fights were standoffs between the clowns and ringmasters at the center of the Square.
Gags consisted of ongoing ones from the previous season, but also had a few new ones in the second year. For example, the marionettes would occasionally play patty cake with Fierre (a nod/inside joke from their night in Circo’s dollhouse), Madame Sirena had a very active love life and would break up with characters mid-show for another character, and the windup had a tendency to steal guests toys.
Overall, the second year was a continuation of year one with minor tweaks.
For a marionette’s perspective from living in Sideshow Square, check out Madeline’s diary Mind of the Manic.
Also to add, this year so much of the attraction was documented that my family ended up making a Sideshow Storybook for me and I got copies printed for the rest of the cast too. It included a lot of Sideshow lore that I penned for preservation (fortunately for this blog post) shared on my Instagram.
Here are the biographies of each character from the 2017 season as detailed on my IG and in the Sideshow Storybook:
The Year the Clowns Cried
At the end of the Sideshow Square’s second season in Festa Italia, the Sinistro brothers had a fall out.
Fierre staged the dolls deaths, making Icesic believe that the hot-tempered elder brother had accidentally broken all of them when they were actually hidden within the dollhouse alongside Fierre’s literal baby-doll daughter, Iris. Icesic was angered about this and few harsh words near the railroad when somehow Fierre ended up on the tracks, the train came by, and Icesic’s brother had disappeared presumably dead.
Fierre had actually staged his own death to take the dolls and the magician and begin touring separately of the Sideshow. Moreover, upon finding out she was pregnant, Madame Sirena left the circus.
Icesic was now left with the most troublesome troupe members, the clowns, and didn’t have the patience to manage them without Fierre. Consequently, Icesic up and fired the clowns. Fierre caught wind of this and took them under his wing too.
Icesic then reconnected with the Sideshow’s original fortune teller Madame Syrena and then cast new additions to his show.
The new lineup consisted of more old-fashioned traditional clowns, a knife thrower, an escape artist, and a juggler. During this year, Jack the Ripper terrorized me as I worked the streets of England. As such, this particular year’s gags and skits I’m not familiar with.
I do know they still did an opening ceremony. But any other specific theatrics, I’m not aware of and might add in after digging around into that.
New Era of Terror
Year four (at least according to our realm’s time) of the Sinistro’s Sideshow Square saw Icesic find Fierre and the rest of the original troupe alive and well. The two brothers then agreed they needed to get together and work out their issues.
Consequently, their sister was crowned in charge of Sideshow after she escaped an insane asylum. She took her pick of the old and new troupe members to join her lineup.
Under the new ringmistress, Lilith, the roster consisted of new characters, returners, and revamped performers.
New was Clyde (the horror clown), Hector the Horrible (knife clown), Jeffrey Sinatra (the organ grinder), Madame Fortuna (fortune teller), and Lolla Ingrid Poponopolous (the lollipop clown).
Returning was Mary (the merry go round) and Grasshopper (the knife thrower). Revamped was Happy J (from carousel clown to smash clown), Mumbles (from clown puppeteer to crash clown), Madeline (from marionette to circus pixie), and Wick (from a clown about to the creeper clown).
The opening ceremony still took place, the troupe still collected souls, and performers still got thrown in the box for acting up.
Nap time took on a new form where the troupe decided themselves that they were tired and would pile up together and go to sleep until the ringmistress woke them up.
Clown fights still happened where the ringmistress would pit two performers against each other to impress her. And, the ringmistress and her pet, the circus pixie, conducted auditions.
A new skit where the troupe played clown car with the boxes consisted of them all jamming into the boxes together. The whole troupe bombarded the curious crowds who wandered close.
A number of new gags became a part of the attraction.
The lollipop clown often got her lollipop stuck or would try to eat her troupe mates. The smash and crash clowns often tried to whack guests or cast mates with their mallets. The circus pixie would steal her troupe mates props or costume pieces to give to Trickster or Mayhem (the clown faces on the boxes). And, the cast would steal the creeper and horror clowns’ faces.
For now, time will tell what’s next for the Sinistro’s circus. Currently, they are off in other realms touring and soul collecting.
Management used to grade Howl O Scream attractions by their performance, scares, guest reviews, and such. For 2016, 2017, and 2019, Sideshow Square was crowned as the top terror-tory for the event.
With every attraction, you always hope that it does well. When you’re new and debuting, obviously you don’t want to be the addition that fell flat. And then in the following years, you want to do just as well if not better than the year before. So all around, you don’t want to be the attraction or year that bombed.
Sideshow really being the fruit of our labor and embodiment of us as opposed to being a preset attraction we were added to, made it different and set the stakes higher for us.
If people didn’t like it, that was on us. We created the backstories, the dynamics between characters, the personalities and the way those translated into the characters’ scares… So, if the reception was lackluster on account of performance–people not being entertained or scared–that was on us.
It was ourselves we put into it and wasn’t just a script we followed like cogs in a programmed machine.
And all that said…
The reception of Sideshow Square was far more than any of us really expected. We hoped that people enjoyed it, whether that was running out terrified or sitting and watching us do our thing for a while. And, the reception superseded that and then some.
There were a lot of people we’d recognize night after night, year after year that came to see us and followed along with our story world enthusiastically. A lot of people also followed along with the characters themselves, with each having their own groupies.
Photographers often came and took some top-notch shots of us in action. Furthermore, there were a number of people who made fan art for us, created shirts, brought us gifts, played with us in character, and wrote tributes for us.
It was really kind of surreal how into some people got. And you would think I of all people would know, because I was that Howl O Scream fan once upon a time. But I guess I always figured I’m an oddball, an outlier who likely fan-girled more than most, but nah… Nah.
Busch has a rich community of fans niched in the Entertainment and Howl O Scream categories. And, they are so very cherished and appreciated.
I don’t know where the Sideshow is heading, what’s in store for it. But I do know that it will forever have a special place in my heart.
It reigns as the most dysfunctional freakshow in the realms with the craziest band of oddities there are. And regardless of whether or not they return to the Festa tour stop, they’ll always be out there terrorizing the realms, worlds, and times.
As of June 2022, the Sinistros have indeed made off for the other realms, worlds, and times.
Going into 2019, we’d anticipated it being the closing season and spent the summer planning the season’s storyline accordingly.
However, halfway through that season, the possibility of one more year come the next wasn’t exactly off the table. (The attraction reigning back at the top caused some second guessing.) But, we still proceeded with what we’d planned for the season’s arc nonetheless.
As we all know, 2020 fell to a dumpster fire in a handbasket. Consequently, Howl O Scream did not go forward that year. But a last-minute fall event, Halloween Harvest, did run during October only.
During this (in essence) Howl O Scream crossover event, a few Sideshow Square characters did return in what would be their last appearance in this realm as of currently.
Ringmistress Lilith, Madeline (circus pixie gear still), and Jeffrey (organ grinder) were back for the Harvest event, essentially marking an encore/one last hurrah for the Sinistro troupe.
Amongst these final festivities, the Ringmistress took a few spins on the tea cup ride, Madeline got chased around by Jack the Ripper, and they filmed a few media shoots before bailing back to the big top. It was a fun time.
By the fall of 2021, Ringmaster Noctilucent was persuaded to have one more go in Festa and reopened Circo one last time. Jeffrey and Mary-Go-Round pitched in to join Circo in this Festa farewell. But, the Sideshow troupe had bid their goodbyes and were off to take other lives.
As of 2022, the Sinistro circus is touring as one whole menagerie for the first time in centuries. Moreover, all the brothers are banded together again, their sister is still free of the insane asylum, the dolls are once more with their strings and key, and the collection of clowns is greater than ever before.
The Festa tour stop will forever hold dear to the Circo & Sideshow troupe.
It’s the realm they first originated in back in the 1850s–where the Sinistro circus began, evolved, and their zenith lied. It’s home to all the hallmark moments in their production’s history. And, despite their dark intentions being well known amongst their audience/victims, they’re still beloved for the charmingly eccentric nightmare they are.
And while the curtain’s dropped on their time here, they will always be out there touring the realms, worlds, and times as one freakshow family.