Monday, September 18, 2006

Fools and money ...

Phleff, phleff, phleff. Eeeeeeeeeerrrrr. Scrabble scrabble. Click. Click.

The sound you didn't hear, dear readers, was me dusting off my soapbox, dragging it across the floor and climbing up. I don't do this that often, so please bear with me as I stand here precariously. It appears I'm wearing heels in unfamiliar territory.

Recently the husband and I, with the nod of grandparental support, stepped out for a night on the town. A friend of ours was having a comedy show at a local venue and we were prepared to go and laugh until our sides fell off, have a few beers and partake in conversations that didn't once mention inquisitive primates, purple dinosaurs or gigantic red dogs.

When we got to the Basilica Industria, a former knitting mill-turned-performance space in Hudson, we were beyond early.

"I thought his e-mail said 8 o'clock," I said as we arrived to find a hive of behind-the-scenes activity. Tattooed women and ponytailed men were busily performing sound and lighting checks. Some were even setting up chairs. A tall, lanky man wearing a full-length blue leotard, spangled rabbit ears and eight-inch platform shoes was also roaming amid the chaos.

"At least we have the right place," I say.

We go and find someone to pay and realize our second surprise of the evening.

"Fifty bucks! I thought this show was supposed to be $15 apiece." No matter, I'd gotten the time wrong I'd probably misread the ticket price, too.

We hand over the cash and staked claim to two seats on a dais facing the stage. Hubs goes to get two pricy beers from the concessions area while I peruse the flyers on the cabaret table in front of me.

"No wonder everything's wrong," I say when he gets back. "He's not performing until next week."

I can see that hubs is formulating a game of rock, paper, scissors in his head -- the winner of which will sit and finish their beer while the loser goes off to try and get back our picture of Ulysses S. Grant -- when more of a crowd trickles in.

There's no unifying demographic; the age range seems to meander from early 20s to mid 80s, and every designer from Levis to Channel is represented. No help there.

"Pssst. Excuse me, sir?" I ask of a man who plunks himself down next to us. "It seems as if my husband and I are accidental hipsters tonight. What are we about to see?"

"Oh, dear friends, you have bought yourself a ticket to the other greatest show on Earth. You, my dears, are in for an evening of revelation and rejuvenation. Amazements the likes of which you've never seen before await you. (Cue echo chamber:) This is the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus."

(Actually he said, "Oh, it's a really a cool circus or something," but since we had a babysitter for the evening and had decided the better part of valor would be to stick around, I amended the description when it turned out he had, in fact, undersold it.)

When the lights finally went down, a hobo clown trudged into the audience to bum a smoke and a light. I knew right away from the expression on his face -- a fluid, indescribable look that marks a good actor, even when he doesn't speak -- that this wasn't going to be amateur night.

He moved seamlessly from what appeared stiff and awkward attempts at slinging cigar boxes to a masterful display of diabolo juggling. Later, as another character, he swallowed swords in a display so terrifying I could barely watch. About a dozen equally skilled performers added more astonishing feats to the bawdy act: A trapeze artist hurled herself toward the stage, caught midway by a rope she'd curled around her torso before our eyes; a burlesque troupe gyrated lasciviously; dueling bolos ricocheted in unison against the hollow stage; and the aforementioned rabbit, who as it turns out plays violin, did whatever turquoise bunnies do under the glare of a spotlight.

I could describe everything we saw but I know I wouldn't do it justice. When the lights came back up and we made our way to our car, suffice it to say I actually felt good about being parted from my money. Granted, this particular raucous cup of tea isn't for everyone, but it reminded me how distanced we are from the real magic of entertainment.

We shell out comparable amounts of money for Hollywood special effects and larger-than life celebrities, and in doing so, without even knowing it, we lose an understanding of what real talent looks like on a human scale. To be reminded in such a way seemed a bargain at twice the price.

So it is from here on my soapbox that I implore you to take a chance on live performance. I promise you won't be disappointed. Variety, after all, is the spice of life.


ECR said...

At one point I thought this was going to be a written version of the Aristocrats joke ;) But, anyway, talk about serendipity! I think that's how the best things are discovered. Thanks for sharing your find. Is it a national tour?

ECR said...

Forget that last question. I finally opened my eyes and followed your link.