Red, White and Black: Dr. Sinn’s Freak Island Musical Sideshow offers bawdy and sexy night of music, dance and comedy
By Tyler Francischine
Doctor Becky Sinn, stethoscope around her neck, begins the night by listing her qualifications.
She has doctorates in boobology, weedology, and gynecology to name a few. Many in the audience shout back at her incredulously: “Gynecology?” They’re in on the joke.
Billed as the all-singing, all-dancing, all-clowning merry-making mistresses of mirth, the women of Dr. Sinn’s Freak Island Musical Sideshow create an intimate atmosphere with their Vaudevillian variety show. The women performed a full-length show two nights at Market Street on March 27 and 29.
All members have been performers since youth and tackle several arts in one show.
There’s Sally B. Dash, a clown of a thousand faces who communicates by kazoo her disdain for danger and her penchant for punctuality.
Jenny Castle plays with fire, stilts, and tells a tale about Little Red Riding Hood that’s equal parts naughty humor and girl power.
Della Darling is a burlesque ballerina who wows the crowds with both her silliness and her serious wealth of ballet technique.
Together these three form a clown troupe, providing cheeky, naughty accompaniment for the music of singer-guitarist Dr. Becky Sinn and fiddle player Don Austin.
Sally B. Dash says, “We play a lot of silly instruments – the kazoo, the slide whistle, the cracker jack tin. We have the most amazing musicianship of Becky Sinn and Don Austin, and we clank along.”
Sinn, whose rich voice will fill a venue of any size, says her musical influences can be traced back to the 1920’s and 1930’s, when artists like Cole Porter used bawdy humor and double entendre to entertain listeners. She also draws from Weird Al and Tenacious D, Wanda Jackson and rockabilly music. (On a side note, if Weird Al is reading this, these women would die to open for one of your shows.)
Sinn’s songs are about wanting someone so bad you’d eat them, spending a night on the town fucking it up, and stalking. Her humor is tongue in cheek but there’s nothing funny about the quality of her voice. At times it’s husky and seductive; other times it’s flirtatious and light. At all times it reflects an emotional sensitivity, as if there are real feelings underneath the playful stories of her songs.
When Sinn was young, her father worked as Marion County’s litter control supervisor and he brought home (or “rescued” she calls it) items like old TVs, record players and antique costume jewelry. Being surrounded by items of the past influenced her aesthetic – she says her music is “steeped in old time.” Her dad also helped her learn the guitar.
“My dad taught me my first few chords and Kurt Cobain taught me the rest,” she says.
Aesthetically, the group has a signature look: all red, white and black. From the costumes to the makeup, these women don corsets, tutus and striped garments to create a style that reminds one of the circus.
And the crowds go wild. Sitting at a tiny table out front of Market Street on an early Friday evening, Dash and Sinn are frequently met with the smiling faces of fans and friends. Two middle-aged men pass by the two women, and one calls out, “Hey I have a crush on you.” The other says, “So your show is like female Chippendale’s?” He doesn’t get it.
Sinn says the group’s fans range from college kids to septuagenarians, from total punks to the completely straight-laced. And they’re one big family.
“When I get up onstage I feel like I’m home now,” she says. “It feels like everyone that’s there is my friend.”
Dash says their performances are initially received by gaping mouths and wide eyes, but before the show is over, the audience is participating and interacting with the performers.
“My expectations are always exceeded in how into it people get. When you look into the audience, you see them leaning over giving you the wide eye, like, I don’t know what I’m looking at but I’m into it,” she says.
What the audience is looking at is a series of women portraying strength, devil-may-care attitudes, and positive body image. These women are sexy and they don’t need outside approval to know their worth.
Sinn says it took her a long time to become the sassy and confident doctor she is today.
“I was picked on in school and through art was able to gain confidence. Once I started playing
guitar, it started changing. Everyone has insecurities, and it’s much more fun to try to overcome them than let them rule your life,” she says. “I’ve found myself in this hive of supportive, creative, strong women and don’t feel judged by any of them. I feel supported, I feel like they have my back. It’s so important for women to lift each other up. I’ve had other experiences where people want to tear each other down.”
Dash says this portrayal of strong-willed women isn’t a conscious choice but rather the natural outcome of their real personalities. She says she spent her childhood trying to fit in with kids very much unlike her, but that’s in the past now.
“As each year passes I feel more and more at home with myself,” she says. “I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of truly amazing women in my life whose friendships have helped me realize my value. But I do have insecurities that I struggle with to this day, and always will, but try to keep moving forward and not let them get the best of me. I feel like as long as I keep going and doing what I love, then I’m coming out ahead of the inner demons.”
The group formed in February 2014 when Becky Sinn and Jenny Castle performed for local musician and community activist Mama Trish Ingle’s birthday party. Jenny performed with fire batons while Becky played music, and the reaction was overwhelming. They were asked to perform at other events, but didn’t even have a name for the ensemble. Soon after, Sally B. Dash and Della Darling were brought into the fold, and Dr. Sinn’s Freak Island Musical Sideshow was officially born. The group celebrated its one-year “freakaversary” with a cake made from a skull-shaped pan and adorned with antique baby doll heads. In the last year, the group has performed at The Jam, Dirty Bar and Market Street Pub and Cabaret.
Sinn says this group is the realization of a dream for her. Back in 2013, she released an album at Ocala’s Ghost Rider Saloon, and her performance featured backing burlesque dancers. She was finally in the circus ring, and even though there was no food and it started drizzling, her audience stayed to watch her perform. She says Freak Island is a way for her to regain the feeling she had watching her devoted, soggy audience.
“I can see it right now, the raindrops falling in the spotlight and looking out at all the faces,” she says. “I wanted with all my heart to find something that was similar to that experience and I certainly have found it. Now I get to do it all the time. That was the spark for me.”
Sally B. Dash says performing has been in her blood since she was three, when her mother brought her to dance classes for the first time. She recalls looking at herself in the mirror wearing tap shoes and feeling transfixed by her reflection. A year ago, she quit her office job of nine years to focus on performing and producing stage shows.
She currently produces Freak Island, as well as The Market Street Revue, an intimate show featuring a rotating group of local and visiting performers. The Revue is held every other month at Market Street and features dinner and dancing in addition to the performance. The next installment of this series is to be held on May 16.
These productions are part of Market Street’s alternative live programming – the pub hosts a number of variety shows, burlesque acts, big bands, swing bands, belly dance groups and even a Klezmer band, which plays the music of Romania and southeastern Europe.
“There’s a lot of really interesting stuff happening here, if you want to see something different,” Sinn says.
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