Troupe offers family friendly version of baudy basicsPhotos by Saverio Truglia Juggler Dharmesh Bhagat (top) performs in Vaudeville Underground. The monthly shows are emceed by co-producer Christopher Ellis (below).
What has a home run, nine parts and a star-spangled opening? Although the great American pastime may fit the bill, the punchline is not baseball-it’s vaudeville, which also has its fair share of bad jokes.
This theater genre was popular in the 1920s, but by the end of the decade it had all but disappeared from the stage.
Once an epicenter of traveling vaudeville troupes, Chicago is again home to comedians, jugglers, mimes, burlesque dancers, sleazy clowns and trapeze artists, all performing on the same stage. A local troupe, Vaudeville Underground, mimics the format of old-school vaudeville performances but with a less sleazy, more family friendly tone.
"It is formatted like baseball," says Christopher Ellis, Vaudeville Underground producer. "There are nine acts. The fourth act is called the home-run act. In baseball, your fourth hitter is going to bring everybody home."
Vaudeville Underground performances are on the first Wednesday and Thursday of each month in Glade Memorial Hall, 2640 W. Altgeld St., Chicago. The show is produced by the aurorARTS alliance, a community group that fosters the talents of young artists.
Its founders researched 1920s vaudeville shows and they stick to a strict interpretation of the genre’s format. That means each of the show’s nine acts is only 10 minutes long-perfect for kids’ shorter attention spans.
"The fact that there is a formula gives structure to a show that could have no structure," says Dawn Marie Galtier, artisitic director. "The show never gets run until the night of the performance. But because each act is so different and they have no communication with each other, something has to hold it together. A lot of that is our organization, making sure it runs smoothly-or it could fall apart."
A typical show begins with a big opening number, followed by a low-key performance, then something more up-tempo. The finale is always the Acrofabulous Circus trapeze artists.
Because the show changes from act to act, the audience is guaranteed something new every 10 minutes-making it risk-free theater, Galtier says. Audience members do not have to commit an entire evening to one type of performance.
The next performances are 7:30 p.m. Sept. 3 and 4. Tickets are $10 adults; $5 children ages 6-12, under 6 free. Buy tickets at the door, or call (773) 782-9471 for information or reservations.
-- Lea Silverman, Medill News Service