MerPeople Review 2023 Tv Show Series Cast Crew Online
In a Las Vegas casino, a man lifts up his phone to film the creatures swimming in the 117,000-gallon aquarium at the Silverton hotel. Most have tails – but he is interested in the two women doing backflips underwater. Their colourful tails look thick and as if they might feel rubbery to touch. When one raises a hand to smile and wave, a little girl stares at her: could that actually be a mermaid?
These women are part of the Circus Siren Pod, a performance group from Washington DC run by Morgana Alba, a no-nonsense, ex-military former circus performer who is its founder. She is one of the main characters in the Netflix documentary series MerPeople. It is about just that: adults who wiggle their way into mermaid tails – lube helps – to perform underwater ballet, build personal brands and meet fellow obsessives.
The show zips around the US between mermaid performers trying to establish professional careers, business owners looking to grow “mer” empires and veteran mermaids who, decades on, still can’t get enough of deep-water diving. The effect is somewhere between endearing and nerdy as the mers throw around pun-filled terminology (“shello!” is a common greeting) and refer to each other strictly by their mermaid titles.
From the start, MerPeople dispels the idea that mermaiding is easy. As Alba says:“It’s one of the most physically uncomfortable situations you can ever be in. You can’t breathe. You can’t see. You can’t really hear. You’re probably cold. And the tail is dragging you down.” On a basic human level, “our bodies don’t want to be under those conditions”. Yet she and her “pod” (yes, like dolphins) endure it anyway. It is the only way to delight their fans.
Mermaid performance has always been hard. The series takes you back to a mermaid show that began in 1947, at Weeki Wachee Springs in Florida. Barbara Wynns, now in her 70s, started working there after secondary school, after watching the balletic mermaid show at 13. “We were all teenagers, in the woods and 15 miles from anywhere,” she says. There were strict rules for the performers. “One girl got fired because her boyfriend streaked,” she says. Wynns was fired for co-hosting a party in her cottage where a brawl broke out (“a bunch of drunk teenage boys”). They re-hired her a couple of years later after she “grovelled back”.
Wynns and her colleagues had to dive up to 15 metres (50ft) underwater in the springs, breathing through a thin air hose and hoping the pressure wouldn’t blow the blood vessels in their heads. Nose and ear infections were rife. But, as with everyone else, Wynns loved performing so much that she put up with the difficulties. “It’s in our blood. I know we sound neurotic, but there’s no place like it.” The Weeki Wachee performers often wore diving fins rather than tails, so were more like a cross between divers and dancers. “We were like the Rockettes,” Wynns says.
Back then, mers tended to look a certain way: white, slim, all women. Or, as Alba puts it: “There was a very homogeneous mould of who could be a mermaid performer.” That is changing. Chè Monique’s website bills her as a “fat, Black mermaid with natural hair”. As the founder of the Society of Fat Mermaids, she considers the word fat a neutral descriptor, not an insult or a source of shame. “When I first started looking for tails, it was definitely hard to find anything bigger than an XL. I was a 3XL when I started and I’m a 4XL now,” she says, speaking while pulling herself away from the action at the California Mermaid Convention. “I’ve definitely seen ads posted for jobs where you need to have a certain waist size.”
Alba agrees, insisting the mermaid community is pushing back against its reputation as a home only for performers who closely resemble The Little Mermaid’s original, animated Ariel: “Now, we’re saying anyone can be a mermaid, at any ability level, of any body shape, any size, any background.” In fact, Monique remembers being on a panel at a convention with Alba “and saying to her: ‘Yeah, I need to see some more fat fish in your tank. Or just any,’” referring to the Circus Siren Pod. Monique’s society makes and sells T-shirts featuring Black plus-size mermaids, and promotes the work of similar-looking performers online. As with all other parts of society, mermaids are reckoning with lingering biases and norms.
But that makes MerPeople sound worthy. Rather, it plucks at the heartstrings while educating. There is no gentle way to ease viewers into the level of commitment mers apply to their passion. One aspiring non-binary performer, the Blixunami, genuinely believes they are from mermaid stock, due to a family story about their great-great-grandfather encountering a mermaid on a South Carolina beach and nursing her back to health. Eric DuCharme, a performer and tail-maker known as the Mertailor, comes across as so singularly focused that nothing matters other than the mer world. When he auditions divers in his custom-built performance aquarium, he looks at them with the furrowed brow of an engineer overseeing a rocket launch.
Like Wynns, DuCharme first encountered mermaids at Weeki Wachee springs, at four, and was hooked. By about eight, he was making his own tails, befriending Wynns and other mermaids working at the time. “I was a very to-myself child,” he says, focusing his attention on learning to sew tails and dreaming of one day performing at Weeki Wachee. As a queer boy with Tourette syndrome, mermaiding was a refuge. “I went to school because I had to. But my free time was devoted to drawing mermaid tails, trying to figure out how to open my own aquarium and things like that.”
By 15, he was being interviewed by state newspapers about his tail-making business; at 16, he was hired to perform at Weeki Wachee. Now in his early 30s, DuCharme has accomplished everything he set out to do, including making a tail worn by Lady Gaga and several custom tails for retired Weeki Wachee mermaids. “The child back then would have patted this version of myself on the back in congratulation,” he says.
Sceptics may not understand what drives mers to invest so much money and time in their intricate costumes, or to suspend their disbelief in mermaids overall. “I am very protective of my mermaids, especially from vitriol online,” says Alba. “There are always going to be people who don’t understand why someone became a mermaid.” This is a community a bit like historical re-enactors: if you get it, you get it – and you are probably devoted.
Everyone I speak to mentions the word freedom. “Mermaiding just feels right,” says Monique. “It’s taken over my life, my family’s life – it just feels like what I’m supposed to be doing.” For DuCharme, “there’s nothing more special than to be underwater, in what feels like zero gravity, and able to move your arms, legs, feet. It’s a sense of tranquillity, like a meditative state.”
At its core, the performance side of mermaiding is about having an excellent swim, throwing in a touch of fantasy and making like-minded friends. MerPeople tempers the emotional climaxes with melancholy (and a few cringeworthy moments). Whether it converts people to the community remains to be seen. What is Alba’s hope for the TV series? “If it means I never have to explain what ‘professional mermaid’ means at another cocktail party, I’ll be thrilled.”