Today at 4 pm the second edition of Virtual Vaudeville we be broadcast on Instagram. This is LIVE entertainment folks! At least for now! Today I interviewed the very charming ventriloquist Nigel Dunkley who is performing in the upcoming ‘Virtual Vaudeville’ show. You can see his performance at the following times: 4:35 6:35 and 8:35. The show starts at 4 pm on Instagram – @phonograhdjmac (due to a technical glitch I didn’t get to record the questions so I posted them in text for viewers!)
One of the great things about New York is that no matter how long you live here there are always surprises waiting for you just around the corner. I came across this amazing space through a few friends that have performed in it. 3LD ~ A technology oriented theatrical project space run by Kevin Cunningham. His experiences in the New York theater scene are bewildering. Blue Man Group, Richard Foreman, etc. But because of Kevin there is 3LD.
The current show “Not Knowing 1.0” is running through this week. It is an immersive theatrical experience with text by playwright Charles Mee. Here is my interview. But you should take yourself to 3LD and see for yourself what lies in the future of theater. NOW!
Vaudevisuals interview with founder/artistic director of 3LD Kevin Cunningham. Kevin discusses the “Not Knowing” workshop presentation that is currently being performed at the 3LD location at 80 Greenwich St. in Lower Manhattan.
Text by Charles Mee and conceived and directed by Kevin Cunningham.
A serious comedy inspired by the tumultuous life of Eleonora Duse and her poet-lover Gabriele D’Annunzio.
Sunday, February 18th only!
IMPERFECT LOVE is a story of love and betrayal, set just over 100 years ago, between the actress Eleonora Della Rosa, and her playwright lover Gabriele Torrisi. (Inspired by the real-life relationship between the great Eleanora Duse and the poet D’Annunzio). It’s a story set at the turning of an epoch, and the turning of two styles of theater: the more visceral and emotional style that Eleonora and Torrisi are exemplars of, and the ‘new’ psychological style epitomized by Nordic writers like Ibsen and Strindberg. Our characters Eleonora and Torrisi are both vulnerable and aware that their day may have passed, and along with it, their love. Should Torrisi abandon Eleonora and strike out for a collaboration with her arch-rival, the Parisian Sarah Bernhardt? Should Eleonora withdraw her support (and love?) from the possibly outmoded Torrisi and try to work with up-and-coming Ibsen? In the middle of all this is the classically trained leading-man Domenica, who doesn’t know which way to turn in his professional life, or in the tangled world of his emotional allegiances. One other delight of the play is how the traditional clowns Beppo and Marco not only comment on the action in a comical and human way, but how they themselves also embody the conflicting epochs – the rambunctious farce of the Commedia dell’Arte, set against a premonition, a whiff of the bold futurism of a Beckett or a Pirandello, a modernism that will eventually make all earlier styles redundant. In the end, matters of theater and matters of the heart come together in a climax both affirming and bitter-sweet. The play’s the thing. At least, until the curtain falls.
Vaudevisuals recommeneds this beautiful photography book by Helen Levitt.
Born in Brooklyn in 1913, Helen Levitt’s photographs made on the streets of New York have inspired and amazed generations of photographers, collectors and curators. Helen Levitt’s first major museum exhibition was at the Museum of Modern Art in 1943, and a second solo show was held there in 1974. Retrospectives of her work have been held at several museums including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, International Center for Photography and the Centre National la Photographie in Paris.
Helen Levitt’s earliest pictures are a unique and irreplaceable look at street life in New York City from the mid-1930s to the end of the 1940s. There are children at play, lovers flirting, husbands and wives, young mothers with their babies, women gossiping, and lonely old men. A majority of these photographs have never been published. Other pictures included in this book are now world-famous, now part of the standard history of photography. Together they provide a record of New York not seen since Levitt’s pioneering solo show at The Museum of Modern Art in 1943.
Introduction by Geoff Dyer:
Geoff Dyer’s many books include But Beautiful, Out of Sheer Rage, The Missing of the Somme, The Ongoing Moment, the novel Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, and the essay collection Otherwise Known as the Human Condition (winner of a National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism). His latest book is White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World. A recipient of a 2015 Windham Campbell Prize for non-fiction, he is an Honorary Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He currently lives in Los Angeles where he is Writer in Residence at USC.
I attended the Thursday night performance of “Margarete” at the Public Theater. I was taken to a small room upstairs from the main stages in what seemed like an apartment. Small shaded lamps and circular rugs highlighted the room with a small 8mm projector and a laptop to the right of the main rug area. The seats were all living room chairs and a few small sofas. Maximum attendance was 16 people allowed.
The small movie screen with a clip showing from the 8mm films of Margarete.
I was offered tea, coffee or a glass of water by the young woman that greeted me when I arrived at the door. A very different ‘theater’ experience for sure. Janek Turkowski began the show by lowering the room’s lights with a control board and then began his performance/talk about ‘Margarete‘. This performance was part of Under The Radar Festival and as such, I realized it was unique and a charming theatrical experience.
“I rarely leave theater so much convinced that what I just saw is a touch of the unattainable, yet important and significant.” teatrblog.pl
“Whatever happens, the information and the images in this book provide us with food forreflectionand many pleasant recollections of the way things have been in the past.” Forward by August Heckscher
One of my favorite books when I want to go down memory lane and experience the plentiful theatres that marked New York City’s landscape throughout it’s colorful history.
Written by Mary C. Henderson and published in 1973.
(Mary C. Henderson was Curator of Museum of The City of New York)
Here is the forward by August Heckscher.
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Book description by Amazon:
Remarkably well researched and immensely entertaining, this definitive history of theater in New York City spans more than three centuries and relates the development of theater to the social, political, economic, and cultural climate of the time. Readers learn that it was in 1699 that a petition was first made for a license to perform plays in Manhattan and that 30 years later the first theater opened in Manhattan. From colonial New York, the story continues through the 20th century to the birth, and rebirth, of the theater district in Times Square and the revitalization of 42nd Street in the mid-1990s. An A to Z listing of every Broadway theater ever to exist is also included. Each listing features a photograph or illustration of the theater, its address, the architect, the opening production, historical information, and, if applicable when the theater was demolished.
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I met Mary when I was doing research for my book on ‘Quick Change’ in American Vaudeville. (which I never completed)
She was generous with her time and her patience was plentiful in dealing with my request about this very obscure topic.
I had an opportunity to do some head shots for then upcoming magician Jeff McBride. He now heads up a school for magic in Las Vegas and performs worldwide with his shows “Abracadazzle” and “Magic at the Edge“.
Jeff McBride promotional shot by Jim R Moore.
Jeff McBride promotional shot by Jim R Moore.
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From Jeff McBride’s Website
A foremost innovator and among magic’s most exciting performers, Jeff McBride combines mask, martial arts, kabuki theatre, world class sleight-of-hand, myths & stories from around the world, grand illusion – and more – to create electrifying performances that thrill a wide range of audiences.
Founder of the McBride Magic & Mystery School, McBride is an accomplished creative consultant, teacher and lecturer, in addition to his amazing capabilities as a performer. He continues to travel the world performing and teaching, building an extensive network of contacts in the magic, performing arts, corporate theater and academic worlds who share his enthusiasm for all things magical.
I ask Tim if he would be so kind to share some of the wonderful text with my readers. He agreed!
Ward Hall — King of the Sideshow
“Ward Hall – King of the Sideshow!” is the first-ever biography of the man who has helped shape the American Circus Sideshow into what it has become today.
Ward has worked with monkey girls, half-people, fat men, sword swallowers, fire eaters, giants, colossal snakes, huge rats and diminutive horses. In addition to owning dozens of sideshow and circuses during his long career, Ward has written four books, four musical stage productions, has appeared in seven movies, and more than 100 videos and TV specials, performed at Madison Square Garden and Lincoln Center in New York City and has sung at Carnegie Hall.
Ward has the memory of an elephant, the exagerative dialogue of a Ginsu Knife salesman and a sequined wardrobe that would have made Liberace turn his head.
Ward Hall joined his first circus in 1944 when he was a 14-year-old kid living in Colorado. A year later, as a 15 year old 10th grade dropout, he ran away for good, joining the Dailey Bros. Circus. He never looked back. By 16 he was performing in a sideshow and by age 21, he owned a sideshow!
It was spring 1946, Ward was 15, and he was prepared, or at least he thought he was, when a Billboard ad caught his attention. Dailey Bros. Circus was looking for a magician and fire eater. He didn’t know how to do either very well. He didn’t tell them he was only 15, and he didn’t have a plan. He just knew he had to join the show at that time. Ward responded to Milt Robbins asking for the job, and soon a telegram arrived that read:
Show opens April 1. Join anytime.
Winter Quarters, Gonzales, Texas.
– Milt Robbins, Show Manager
Ward daringly told his father that he was going to leave and take the job with the circus. His father didn’t argue, telling Ward that he would get the circus out of his system and be “back in two weeks.” Ward laughs. “They are still waiting for me.”
Using what he had left of his last paycheck from the part-time job he had on the railroad to buy a $51.50 bus ticket, he caught up with Dailey Bros., still at its winter quarters in Central Texas. He borrowed his uncle’s steamer trunk, packed it with his one suit, a few other pieces of clothing and a small collection of homemade magic tricks. The day he climbed off the bus in Gonzales, Ward recalls thinking that at that point, he “was beginning the second part of my life. On that momentous day, my childhood ended.” It was March 27, 1946 – 116 days before his 16th birthday.
Anxious to get on with his life, he arrived in Gonzales more than two weeks early. Instead of the circus bosses sending him home, he was put to task on several small projects. He slept in a small shed along with sideshow equipment that would be traveling with the show that year. Ward’s pay was $30 a week with cookhouse privileges, which meant he could eat at the official circus cookhouse and share a berth on Car 79 of the circus train when the show hit the road.
While new to the circus itself, he had a pretty good idea of what to expect before he stepped off that bus, having been reading news and stories about the big top in Billboard for years.
It didn’t take Ward long to be noticed on the lot, but not necessarily in an endearing way. On his second day, he decided to further educate himself on fire eating, having never truly learned the skill. In his letter to Robbins, Ward claimed he could eat fire, so he thought he had better learn as soon as possible. On his first attempt he badly scorched his lips, turned around in pain, kicked over the fuel can and caught the shed on fire. Needless to say, a good eye was kept on this aggressive but polite newcomer to the business from that point on. Ward moved into the men’s dormitory where he spent only a few nights. “Having been a loner all my life, I was not knowledgeable on how men act after drinking large quantities of alcohol, so I discovered an abandoned circus wagon which became my living quarters until we moved onto the train.”
In August 1973, while playing in Indianapolis, Ward appeared in a television special called On Location: Alan King at the Indiana State Fair. Alan King kept asking very basic and non- informed questions and it was obvious to Ward that King didn’t quite understand, or like, the sideshow business. “I can’t imagine why anyone would pay 50-cents to see this stuff,” the comedian told Ward, referring to the sideshow acts. Taken aback, Ward retorted, “I can’t imagine someone paying $5 to go to a nightclub to see your act.” King bragged, “They pay $15.” To which Ward responded: “That’s actually worse!” The network edited out that exchange, but the edited segment effectively showed that freak shows “provide honorable livelihoods for handicapped men and women who otherwise might be unemployable.”
With the life that Ward Hall has led, it seems impossible that one single event would stand out to him as the best. What’s even more improbable is that event had nothing to do with a sideshow.
On April 22, 1994, Ward was the singing master of ceremonies at Carnegie Hall for Circus Blues, a show that was part of The Carnegie Hall Folk Festival. Stephen Holden, a reviewer with the New York Times, attended the show and wrote of Ward. “Wearing a sequined top hat and tails, Ward Hall, a former lion tamer and pitchman, presided over the program of old-time circus musicians, like Ralph Edwards leading a big top version of This is Your Life. Ward sang three numbers with the orchestra to get the show under way. “Hi, Neighbor!,” “There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” and “When You’re Smiling.” Among the musical guests on the same bill were Blind Willy, Guitar Gabriel (Robert Lewis Jones), Diamond Tooth Mary and Willa Mae Buckner.
“I have said it many, many times that singing at Carnegie Hall in New York City was the highlight of my life,” said Ward. “It’s the one singular thing that I have enjoyed most, and being a part of that program is one of my proudest moments.” Surprisingly, not too many people who know of Ward and his sideshow prowess know that the Carnegie Hall event took place, said Ward. “I don’t usually tell people that I sang at Carnegie Hall. It is so unbelievable that this sideshow bum would have been top billed in a program at Carnegie – with great reviews the
Ward celebrates 70 years of working in the weird, wacky and wild world of the sideshow in 2014. Now 84 years old, he doesn’t travel often with his show and he has passed the baton on to a younger generation who are now his partners. But he checks in daily and occasionally surprises them all by showing up in his red, sequined jacket, taking the microphone as he immediately starts attracting the curious to the front of the tent. There is only one person silver throated kind of the carnival talkers who could do that, Ward Hall.
Tim R. O’Brien is the author of Ward Hall — King of the Sideshow!, available wherever books are sold and online at Amazon.com and Casaflamingo.com.