The last gunfight at the Old Tombstone Western Theme Park, on Sunday, April, 15, began with a safety warning. Then, Lee McKechnie explains the code of the West: the “good guy” always wins. McKechnie wants a louder response from the audience, so he cracks a round from his pistol, jolting the crowd with a bang.
Next, he introduces a special guest performer, who reigns from Eastern Europe.
Anny Barvínková, 21, takes center stage armed with two 8-pound western revolvers. When the music starts, the handguns begin orbiting her body like foreboding satellites. Barvínková’s radiant appearance and graceful technique hushes the crowd. Then, she pivots, catches her gats and shocks the spectators awake when she squeezes the trigger.
During her second act, Barvínková is brandishing two whips. She begins by swirling the weapons simultaneously, creating a swooshing hurricane of cracks that center around her blood-red corset. Her father, Monty Barvinek, steps to the stage for the grand finale. He places a dandelion in his mouth, arches backwards — then Barvínková strikes, splintering the flower to bits.
Barvínková, is from Zálesí, the Czech Republic, a small village located about 81 miles southeast of Prague. She started training with whips when she was 14 years old. One year later, she added gun twirling to her repertoire.
Her first trip to America was supposed to be a birthday gift. But when Barvínková and her father arrived for their five-week vacation, she got an impromptu invite to perform in Tombstone.
They were lodging at the Tombstone San Jose House, which is owned by Eddie and Anne McKechnie. Eddie’s brother, Lee, owns Old Tombstone Western Theme Park. When the McKechnie brothers found out they had an award-winning gun twirler in their midst, they asked Barvínková to perform for two days.
The father and daughter team are artists in the best sense of the word, whereas they’re concerned about showmanship but are simultaneously gracious, says Lee McKechnie, adding they are always welcome to perform on his stage.
“They are very humble people, we like that about them,” he says. “And those are the kind of people we like to work with.”
Moreover, he’s excited to watch Barvínková’s career evolve, considering how talented she is at such a young age.
She’s played roles on various European television shows and has won multiple competitive accolades for her gun twirling and whip routine. And most of time, she’s competing against men, Barvínková says.
Whether it’s lacerations from a whip or blows to the body from a falling revolver, bruises are part of her daily life. Each of her revolvers weighs more than 3 pounds; the heavier guns she used in Tombstone were loaners. From a woman’s perspective, the only drawback to her work is she can’t have fingernails, she says, playfully.
At first, Barvínková trained at least four hours each day, but now practice lasts about an hour or two. She choreographs her entire routine, which is essential for an entertainer.
“It’s necessary for you to have a personal performance, so you can create something you enjoy,” she says.
America is beautiful, she adds, and she would love to stay. Regardless, having the opportunity to perform was a fantastic highlight to her first stateside visit.
Competing in a male-dominated industry gives Barvínková a sense of freedom, she says.
Looking forward, Barvínková will continue to take on roles in television, and she would love to become a full-time stunt double. But her ultimate goal is to star in a major motion picture playing a “bad gun,” she says.
David J. Del Grande is a reporter for the Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here for a Word version of this story and high-resolution photos.