Shelley Rossetter, Times Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 12
TAMPA — It took Tommy Breen three years to learn how to swallow a sword.
In the decade since, he has had few injuries, none serious.
It's mostly just uncomfortable, he said. A feeling made slightly worse when the sword sinks a little too deep — like the time an audience member accidentally pushed rather than pulled the blade out.
Still, it's hard not to cringe at the sight of a man sliding a solid blade of steel down his throat. But that's exactly the reaction Breen looks for.
Breen is manager of the World of Wonders Sideshow, a traveling carnival attraction performing at the Florida State Fair through Monday. The act based in Gibsonton has performed across the country for more than 60 years. Now, it's one of the last of its kind.
And, Breen, 32, is part of a new generation working to keep it alive.
The show hasn't changed much over the years. There's still the fire eater, four-legged woman and half man.
"We have magical illusions, oddities, giant snakes and weird animals," said Breen, who is from New Jersey. "It's kind of the essence of what sideshows used to be."
But the audience is different.
"When these shows first started, everybody believed what they saw was real," said fire eater Sunshine English, 26. "Now, the audience is a bit jaded."
The cast's young age — almost all of the performers are under 35 — could help combat that.
"We're trying to breathe new life into it," English said. "The veterans teach us as much as they can, but there are certain things they don't understand that younger people want to see."
Many of the performers in the show had never even seen a sideshow before joining. Breen read about the art of sword swallowing in high school and decided to teach himself. After graduating from college with a degree in film and biology, he answered an ad for the sideshow, much to his parents' chagrin.
"I was running away from being comfortable," he said.
Since then, he has helped shape the show.
read more at: