See Milwaukee’s Cris Siqueira as the amazing, mutating Ape Girl!
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“Monga” is a Brazilian myth of surreal transmutation where a beautiful woman transforms into a powerful gorilla, only to break free from her chains to chase terrified onlookers out of a tent. This extraordinary metamorphosis is so fantastical that it can only be found in contemporary culture’s last refuge of mystery: the sideshow.
Cris Siqueira is very familiar with Monga. As a child growing up in São Paulo, Brazil, she was captivated by this terrifying attraction at Playcenter, a now-defunct amusement park not far from where she lived. The tale of Monga terrorized a generation and captivated the imaginations of thousands during its peak in the ’70s and ’80s, and it’s the inspiration for Siqueira’s documentary, Ape Girl, currently in production.
Playcenter began Siqueira’s lifelong fascination with the circus and its sideshows, and her interest continued to grow after she moved to Milwaukee to pursue her MFA in film at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She realized that although Brazil had Monga, the United States had “Girl-To-Gorilla” shows—something that to her knowledge didn’t exist in the rest of the world. Now, close to 30 years after their prime, Girl-To-Gorilla shows are disappearing across the U.S., while in Brazil, Monga shows are once again increasing in popularity.
Siqueira’s interest in sideshows was perpetuated by the magazine Shocked And Amazed, and she began a regular correspondence with editor Kathleen Kotcher. In 2004, she was invited to Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, to the annual Sideshow Gathering where she met Ward Hall, an entrepreneur who is often touted as the “King Of The Sideshow.” In 2008, Ward gave Siqueira an offer she couldn’t refuse: He was looking to hire a girl for his Girl-To-Gorilla show, and Siqueira was it. Now pursuing her second Master’s degree at UWM, Siqueira figured summer break was the perfect time to join Ward and Chris Christ in their World Of Wonders sideshow at the Minnesota State Fair. She spent the summer turning into a gorilla 30 times a day and never looked back. She belonged in the sideshow.
Siqueira’s documentary project Ape Girl is the result of nearly 10 years of involvement with the Brazilian circus and American sideshow, with four years of hands-on field experience in the World Of Wonders and Jim Zajicek’s Big Circus Sideshow. Directed by Siqueira and written by Siqueira and Dan Ollman, the film uses Siqueria’s firsthand experience to tell the story of Girl-To-Gorilla shows in the U.S. and Brazil. Through her travels and her longtime relationship with the sideshow, she presents the spectacle of the monkey girl as a vehicle for further examination of Brazil’s economic growth and prosperity compared to the recession-hit U.S.
Siqueira explains it best: “Once awakened, the gorilla can no longer be controlled. The cage that looked so sturdy is not strong enough to contain the beast, who bangs on the bars and is able to escape toward the audience. The people run outside toward the ride lights, some laughing, some stumbling, some scared, but all forever affected by the transformation.”