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Neighbor Spotlight – Sir Pinkerton

Sir Pinkerton Xyloma  By Ellen C. Warren

So, this spider walks into a bar… Oh wait! That’s not a spider missing six of its legs, that’s Sir Pinkerton Xyloma’s mustache!

Ever since I met up with Sir Pinkerton Xyloma, the central organizer and host of Milwaukee’s original and unique Dead Man’s Carnival, his handlebar mustache, twirled to the finest of points, resting whimsically upon his upper lip, has taken on a life of its own. It has turned into a spider, the Spider of magic and myth.

The Spider-Creator of Native American cosmologies is a descriptor for this magician who is a creative tour de force, weaving scenarios that push and surprise the senses. “When we first started the show [in 2007], it was a group of veteran street performers who wanted to do something that was a little bigger, a little more grand,” he explains.

Like the Spider-Creator, who wove all earthly creations and brought the sun to the world, Sir Pinkerton leads performances that shed light upon whole other possibilities and wonders. “We have a motto for our show,” he says. “Every act you can imagine…and a whole bunch you can’t.”

His lifeblood, it seems, is creativity. Besides hosting, Sir Pinkerton sometimes displays his own various magical skills and leads the masterful, eclectic, six-piece band. It is the art of weaving the present moment: The music with the performing act. The audience into the show.

The crowd, composed in part of receptive, vocal, loyal followers of the DMC, add in a “wild card element,” says Sir Pinkerton. “And I really can’t emphasize enough what an important element the live music is. Not only because are you in the moment… it’s not like when you go see musical theatre (where) there’s a score written out. A lot of times we’re really letting it breathe, seeing how the audience reacts and making it up as we go, for the most part.”

Magic, music, burlesque, circus, strange talents featuring large casts with “very unusual skills.” Dead Man’s Carnival is more often than not billed as a vaudeville show. “There’s a legacy in vaudeville that pushes boundaries. It’s supposed to have elements of anti-authoritarianism. There’ll be some strong language, some insinuated sexualness, brief nudity.”

This is the West African Spider-Trickster aspect of Sir Pinkerton Xyloma crushing altars of homogeneity and lassitude underfoot with a wink and a drumroll. Says a.k.a Professor Pinkerton, “A lot of the message you’re going to hear in ours, or any traditional vaudeville show, is very cynical of the status quo. It has a sort of radical edginess to it intrinsically.

“The early vaudeville stage (was) one of the first safe havens for women performers, homosexuals, even breaking down racial lines.” It is said of Anansi/Spider-Trickster that he could turn the table on his powerful oppressors using his cunning, and a few tricks.

Unlike standard burlesque dancers today, whose acts resemble 1950’s striptease, “We emphasize an earlier form of burlesque. Our show is much more inspired by turn-of-the-century American entertainment,” says Sir Pinkerton. “To me burlesque has more to do with being satirical, being tongue-in-cheek, being playful, and, specifically, anti-authoritarian. It has an element of creating an outlet for a voice that has nowhere else to go. It’s always been an outlet for people to say stuff that they really mean seriously, but say it with a smirk on their face.”

He elucidates what he refers to as an “HBO-censorship level. Honestly, I think it’s important that there are outlets for positive sexual expression. Like, you can say whatever you want about what kids should or shouldn’t be exposed to, but if your kid has access to the internet they are seeing a lot worse than what’s in our show. And, if you’re talking about something like extreme pornography versus an empowered woman doing something that’s expressive and beautiful, I personally think that every child in the world should… see a burlesque act at some point. But that’s just my personal opinion. I don’t speak for the show in that case.”

Sir Pinkerton juggles being a loving father to two daughters, Indigo and Lila; his day job driving a schoolbus; and his intense, time-absorbing involvement in the Dead Man’s Carnival. “I would say it would be within the realms of non-hyperbole to say that it is my driving purpose in life.”

Having trouble getting a full picture of what a Dead Man’s Carnival show is like? I recommend you experience it in the flesh. Seating begins at 8PM at their home base, the Miramar Theatre, every first Friday of the month (almost). “Our monthly show is kind of our focus. It’s our pet project. We put the extra effort in. It’s always the biggest, wildest of the shows that we do,” says Sir Pinkerton.

If you miss October’s show, Dead Man’s Carnival’s season finale will happen on November 1 at the Hotel Astor Ballroom. Or look for them at various events around town, or Minneapolis, Detroit, St. Louis, maybe Brazil in the future. This long-time Riverwester has siblings in the latter and wouldn’t consider a visit without bringing along the troupe.

I recently chanced upon this quote from Jack Kerouac. Perfect to describe, or be spoken by Sir Pinkerton Xyloma: “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”

For many Native Americans to this day, it is considered bad luck to kill a spider.

If You Go:

Deadman’s Carnival  Friday, Oct. 4, 8PM   Miramar Theatre  2884 N Oakland Ave

Friday, November 1  Hotel Astor Ballroom   924 E Juneau Ave