Like most other people, I have had more than one episode in my life where I had to “screw my courage to the sticking place” — leaping through a hole cut into the ice in a freezing pond for a silent film in college; climbing some damn wall or other in Outward Bound; clinging to my seat on an amusement park ride when the carny forget to buckle me in (true story!) For sheer and out-and-out terror though, and may I say equal parts courage (if I may pat myself on the back), none of those episodes equals my having traveled out to the Moisture Festival in Seattle, an unfamiliar city where I didn’t know a soul, to perform cold for an audience of several hundred strangers. I mean, not a single body in the room I had known more than a few hours — no one who had ever seen me perform, or for all I knew, knew anything about me. And I jumped on to the stage and did my act without even a single pint for fortification.
The audience, perhaps primed by the title of my book, threw coins at me, not the first or the last time that has happened. Whether it was because I was a smash or because I was a bomb I don’t know — and I prefer not to. (Not the first or last time for that, either).
So the Moisture Festival will always have a special place in my heart. An introvert by nature, I’ve always made a point of trying to toughen up my mettle by taking a chance of one kind or another to get over my shyness. After you’ve done that, routine performances become almost a breeze by comparison — at least they don’t paralyze you with stage fright. And the Moisture Festival was the first place I ever performed before more than about 50 people. (About ten times more!). Making the task easier of course was the fact that everyone there — both the people who run the festival, and their audience — are so completely nice.
At any rate, this year’s edition of the festival, opens today. It is, I believe the pre-eminent variety arts festival in the country right now. This year’s line-up includes scores of vaudeville, circus and burlesque acts, and even some films. For more info on the Moisture Festival, which runs through April 4, go here.
To learn more about the roots of variety entertainment, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.