(Courtesy photo)

For the squeamish, "Hellzapoppin" might be hard to swallow.

Chelsea "NoPants" Rammer knows a bit about things that are hard to swallow.

Rammer is said to be one of 15 female sword swallowers in the world, meticulously sliding a sword down her esophagus and into her stomach before removing it -- without harming her or her innards. She is one of the four performers currently touring with "Hellzapoppin," an circus variety show featuring sword-swallowing, fire-eating, fire-breathing, walking on glass, lying on a bed of nails and other death-defying acts.

"It's either that, or it's working at Starbucks," Rammer said in an interview Tuesday night. "I got introduced to my first sideshow and got really interested in the limitations of the human body, and how far you can push it."

Hellzapoppin will take their stunts to Chameleons tonight at 8, as part of the Hellzapoppin Circus Sideshow Revue. Tickets are $10 for ages 21 and over and $12 for ages 18 to 20.

"Some people refer to it as a freak show," said Bryce "The Govna" Graves, the ringleader of Hellzapoppin. He started it in 2004.

"We do a lot of rock tours; we do festival shows," Graves said, "we do all sorts of things."

Graves was a manager of rock bands for 13 years until he decided to look for something different.

Hellzapoppin has opened for rockers such as Mudvayne, Static-X, Korn, Bob Dylan and Ozzy Osbourne, and toured as far off as Istanbul.

Every few months, the staff rotates so the performers can tend to other aspects of their life. It also keeps the show fresh and different, Graves said.


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For the tour that will stop in Pittsfield tonight, the four performers are: Graves of Jacksonville, Fla.; Rammer of New Orleans; "Trixtah" Rodriguez of Hollywood and a woman who only went by her stage name, "The Amazing BoobZilla." She says she took her name from a disease she has called gigantomastia, in which her breasts will not stop growing until she hits menopause.

"I myself am in a different category than the others," she said. "I'm a natural-born freak."

The Amazing BoobZilla joins Rammer as another one of the 15 female sword-swallowers in the world, and both will grace the stage with the stunt at Chameleons tonight.

"I learned how to drop a sword in seven minutes," BoobZilla said. "It's all about training your brain not to overreact, and to trust your body. If you're able to stay calm you can do anything your body will allow you to do."

Sword-swallowing is "literally the most dangerous stunt you can perform," Graves said. "We have had friends who have had accidents and punctured themselves."

For Rammer, the other female sword swallower, it's more comfortable than some of the more mundane routines.

"I can swallow a pool stick, but if I brush my tongue with my toothbrush, I'll throw up," she said.

Rodriguez is, comparatively, a newcomer to the circus sideshow scene. Whereas Rammer has been performing for 13 years, and Graves and BoobZilla have been performing since 2004, Rodriguez was recruited by Graves through friends just last month.

Rodriguez is a break dancer. During the act known as the "carnie stack" -- Rammer and BoobZilla are sandwiched between stacks of beds of nails -- Rodriguez does a handstand on the top board, nails pointing down.

He also break-dances and does acrobatics in the shows.

"My jaw drops every time I see this show," Rodriguez said. "It's interesting that when the show is over, they're telling me I'm so good, but I feel like the weak link."

Though the entertainers rotate throughout the year, Graves, as ringleader and founder of Hellzapoppin, stays with the tour bus all year. The performers live on the tour bus when they are performing, too.

"We don't have the normal lifestyle everyone else has," Graves said. "Everything that seems normal to us is completely not normal to the rest of the world."

ON STAGE

What: Hellzapoppin Circus Sideshow Revue

When: Tonight, April 18, at 8.

Where: Chameleons, 1350 East St., Pittsfield.

Tickets: $12 for ages 18-20; $10 for 21 and over. Under 18 not admitted.

To reach Adam Poulisse:
apoulisse@berkshireeagle.com,