Ever wished you could turn into an animal, just to see what it’s like on the other side? Erik Sprague did exactly that, using body modification to transform himself into a lizard. Full body tattoo scales, a forked tongue, sharpened teeth and subdermal implanted eyebrows made Erik one of the most talked about body modification marvels in the world. Meet your friendly Adelaide Fringe Lizardman.
The American sideshow performer has made the ultimate commitment to a cause – for art.
“As an artist, you don’t want to be taken away from your art. Your art is your expression, and you should be committed to it. I show my commitment as an artist by wearing it on my body. I don’t walk away from it. I deal with my decisions every day of my life.”
Every February since 2012, the ‘green man’ makes his way to Adelaide Fringe from his home in Texas. “I’ve been back every year because it was such an incredible experience,” he says. He’s part of the Deja Voodoo freak show. “It’s the show so good you won’t remember you’ve seen it before… you might have seen a juggler and a fire breather before, but you haven’t seen it in the way we’re doing it. We’re doing all the great classics in a new, fun modern way!”
Erik performs everything from sword swallowing to laying on a bed of nails but it’s his appearance that garners the most attention. Reactions are mixed, but there’s no denying the impact. “People react very viscerally to me, whether it be positive or negative. I am a punch in the gut.”
People react very viscerally to me, whether it be positive or negative. I am a punch in the gut.
Most are shocked, many jump to conclusions. “If someone is just overwhelmed, I try to help them through the experience. I’m just a person just like you. When I’m on stage, I’m fairly in your face, but that’s when I’m on stage. I don’t go walking down the street like that. It comes down to manners really… if I was a balloon twister, I wouldn’t walk into a restaurant and start twisting balloons.”
Erik planned the transformation during his teenage years, and put it into action during his early twenties. “I spent over three years planning about and thinking of this design. I have a long list of other full body tattoos but I didn’t want to commit to them for the rest of my life. I have always wanted a forked tongue. As a kid I drew forked tongues and I have since helped invent the procedure I had done. I always wanted sharp teeth, too so the reptilian theme just fit this all together well.”
Erik studied philosophy and performance arts as an undergraduate in the US. “I like to see the reaction, engage with the viewer, and have a back and forth with them.” The body modification adds another element. “You can do costumes and all that stuff, but then you have to take it off. To me, wearing a word on a t-shirt will get some attention but tattooing it into your body for the rest of your life will get people to realise you’re pretty serious about that. Using the body as a medium is a bit gimmicky but it’s also so darn effective.”
When he’s not sideshow performing, Erik is a stand-up comedian, lecturer and guest speaker. He was also a kindergarten teacher and been part of medical presentations with his wife, a nurse in Texas.
I don’t care how fabulous a freak you are, if you have a bad attitude, it doesn’t matter.
His advice for aspiring body modifiers? “I don’t care how fabulous a freak you are, if you have a bad attitude, it doesn’t matter. If you don’t want to sweep floors, sideshow isn’t for you. Do you want to get your face tattoo if you are going to lose your family or your job? I had other skills in terms of sideshow and performance before I painted my body. Hard work gets you further than a tattoo on your face.”
You have to enjoy it, too but it’s not all fun and games. “Most people who attempt the dumb things I do don’t make it to 30 sometimes. There is a part of me that realises, ‘You’ve only made it this far by risking your life’. I’m just trying to keep doing this without killing myself.”
Overwhelmed by choice this festival season? Check out our Fritz Fringe picks for some festo inspiration.