Play Piercing, Sideshow

Pain Proof Provocateur: Do I feel pain?

“Pain proof” is a sideshow term for acts and performers that demonstrate excruciating feats of mind over matter. Examples of pain proof acts include bed of nails, human pincushion, blade ladder, human dartboard, and glass walking. The point of pain proof acts is to convince the audience that the performer is preternaturally impervious to pain or alternatively that the act is painful, (and dangerous), but the performer has the strength to endure their extreme predicament.

Medical studies have shown that people experience pain from the same stimulus differently both in terms of recognizing pain (one’s “pain threshold”) and tolerating pain (one’s “pain tolerance”). Perhaps I am wired to have a higher pain tolerance than many. For me “Pain Proof” isn’t about not feeling pain, it’s about knowing pain. Pain is a useful tool for assessing my safety during performances. If I couldn’t feel pain, I wouldn’t know if something was seriously wrong or if I was reaching a critical point. (In general, the inability to feel pain can be a sign of a larger medical issue at play such as damage to the nervous system). My thoughts during pain proof acts include:

This is supposed to feel this way, so everything is going right“.

This hurts, but I have not met my peak pain tolerance yet“.

This is not the worst pain I have ever experienced; I know I can go on“.

This hurts, but I will survive, so no whining“.

This hurts, but people can see my face, so I still have to smile“.

Sometimes people ask me if I get off on my pain proof acts– if they are sexually pleasurable experience for me. They’re not. When I perform pain proof acts, I am actively engaging in self cultivation that builds my inner strength. Through the experience of pain, I am typically able to stay focused and composed even under duress. I enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes from being able to thrive where others cannot endure. Moreover, I love my audiences’ varied reactions to the visual display; it’s a hoot! Your faces are truly priceless. The screams and gasps of my audience members make me cackle like a witch (on the inside).

That said, these acts aren’t simply for my personal gratification at the audience’s expense. I remember the first time I saw a flesh hook suspension. It was grotesque, but the image floated around in my mind for days becoming ever more intriguing. With in a week I needed to know everything about it. I mentally reference that act when considering the goal of my work. As a performer, I want to create impactful, lingering, visceral experiences for people. I want my audiences to have the opportunity to escape the mundane, to question what is possible, and to use these performances as an opportunity to explore their own minds. I can not guarantee what they will find in those hidden nooks and crannies.

Since these acts are performed publicly for your entertainment, feel free to indulge in the idea that there is some personal eroticism attached to my actions if it does something for you. If you choose to indulge in those thoughts, also be sure explore the corners of your mind that make it a thing for you. If you are the kind of person who watches my pain proof acts and asks, “Why are you doing this”, instead ask yourself why you want to watch and haven’t instead turned away.

Special thanks to Fenyxfire (Canada) for teaching me about hand piercings and Eric Ross of Hellzapoppin for teaching me bicep piercings and for further assisting me with hand piercings.