Archive for June, 2010

Swing Space

Posted in Indie Theatre, PLUGS on June 30, 2010 by travsd

For my money (ha, yes, entendre intended) one of the coolest artist development programs in the city is the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s “Swing Space” program. Especially in theatre, the name of the game is space — for some of us, it’s all that we need…and yet it’s generally almost prohibitively expensive….and yet there’s so much of it lying fallow in this city. Ironies, ironies, ironies. The LMCC sets up artists with empty downtown office space for limited periods. Frankly, some of us would rather have that than a million dollars. (No, that’s not illogical. A million dollars = taxes, leases, insurance, payroll, headaches)

Last night we saw an interesting adaptation of Richard II by resident director Mallory Catlett called rii, presented in the penthouse of 14 Wall Street. It was the first performance of a new workshop, and I wasn’t there as a reviewer, so I can’t say much about it other than that it is extremely neat to see environmental theatre done on the top floor of a skyscraper on a hot, summer night with a small, intimate audience of friends, strangers and colleagues.

Some views from out the window of the playing space, by my son Photographer Cashel:

To my fellow artists: Swing Space is currently taking applications for residencies through July 22. For details, go here.

Trav S.D.’s Gallery of Grotesques #15

Posted in My cartoons on June 30, 2010 by travsd

Tiny Dangerous Fun

Posted in BROOKLYN, Clown, Contemporary Variety, PLUGS, Vaudeville etc. with tags on June 29, 2010 by travsd

Some of my favorite clowns (Andy Sapora, John Leo and Deb Kaufman) are launching this new variety series at the Sycamore in deepest darkest Brooklyn. Tonight’s edition features one of my favorite neo-vaudevillians Lorinne Lampert (who’s performing with me at the Coney Island Museum on July 4). For more dope on these dopes go here.

To find out more about the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Stars of Vaudeville #184: Joan Davis

Posted in Child Stars, Comediennes, Comedy, Radio (Old Time Radio), Sit Coms, Television, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , on June 29, 2010 by travsd

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Is your correspondent a sexist?

I fear as much when I  realize that I think of I Married Joan as that tv show where Jim Backus plays some woman’s husband. Somehow, Joan Davis had become a footnote in her own show.

Oh, it’s not strictly my fault. Jim Backus (Mr. Magoo…Mr. Howell…James Dean’s dad in Rebel Without a Cause) is as awesome as it is possible for awesome to get. And, while I’ve only ever seen an episode or two of I Married Joan, it is perhaps not unfair to say that she trails somewhat behind Lucille Ball and Gracie Allen in making an impression. Yet her resume is so impressive, it’s definitely got me wanting to take a proper look at her body of work… and thus may this guilty (or at least, abashed) soul be redeemed. (Though to be fair to myself, I’ve seen some of the movies she made and she left…no impression).

Davis started out (like so many) in amateur contests at age 6 in her native St. Paul. Soon she was booked on the Pantages circuit, where she worked as the “Toy Comedienne” until puberty took its toll, and she retired briefly to finish high school. After a brief stint working in a  department store, she returned to the biz, eventually teaming up with (and marrying) baggy pants comic Si Wills. By the early 30s they had a child and vaudeville had dried up, so they moved to Hollywood. Her first break was in a Mack Sennett picture with Myra Keaton and the Sons of the Pioneers. She continue to make films for the next 20 years or so, with Abbott and Costello and Eddie Cantor among her many co-stars.

Here she is performing “Olga from the Volga” in Thin Ice (1937):

The Joan Davis Show began on CBS radio in 1945; the name changed to I Married Joan in 1949. It moved to television in 1952, where it ran until 1955.  She died of a heart attack in 1961. She was only 53 years old.

To find out more about these variety artists and the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Stars of Vaudeville #183: Polly Moran

Posted in Comediennes, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Silent Film, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags on June 28, 2010 by travsd

Polly Moran is probably best known today for a series of comedies she co-starred in with Marie Dressler in the late twenties and early thirties. In the years before this she was a key member of Mack Sennett’s onscreen stock company, which will give you some idea of her brand of comedy: physical and not by any means highbrow. Her first decade and a half in show business had been spent doing a music hall style act in vaudeville, and she returned to vaud periodically over the years. After Dressler’s death, Moran’s career waned, although she did play bit parts sporadically in lesser pictures. She had a nice part opposite Tracy and Hepburn in Adam’s Rib in 1949. She passed away three years later at age 69.

To find out more about these variety artists and the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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The Antique DJ

Posted in Amusement Parks, BROOKLYN, Coney Island, Music, PLUGS with tags , , on June 26, 2010 by travsd

My exquisite companion and I scoped out this gentleman’s act at the Coney Island USA bar last night. Billed as the “Antique DJ”, Michael Haar spins 90 year old records on a pair of Victrolas. Instead of “scratching” (the old disks do that just fine on their own), the poor chap has to crank his babies up every three minutes or so.His repertoire? Jolson, Cantor, Van and Schenk. He now has two new fans, and you ought to hire him for your next event–whatever it is!

It was an amazing scene–not just because of him. Spending a Friday night in a bar on Coney Island is to immerse yourself in a scene replete with characters both seedy and glamorous. It’s a pleasure just to sit there. Furthermore, there was an amazing set of fireworks, and a bright orange full moon, apparently ordered from God’s prop department. All in all, as an evening of fun, it was better than vandalism.

M.B. Leavitt

Posted in Burlesk, Impresarios, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , on June 25, 2010 by travsd

Here’s a bloke I wish I’d given more attention to in No Applause. He was a pioneer whose career was roughly contemporary with Tony Pastor’s, (post-Civil War era) and claims to have used the term “vaudeville” to describe his variety shows before Pastor. The sorts of vaudevilles he put together, though, were the full-show, self-contained touring units that became superseded by the more modern circuits that were assembled towards the end of the century.

Leavitt is better known for his contributions to the field of burlesque. It was he who, inspired by the success of Lydia Thompson and her British Blonds, decided to wed the concept of an all-girl show to the format of a minstrel show — and for a time that was the shape burlesque took. He was instrumental in the creation of the burlesque wheels, and he often had as many as eight or more burlesque and vaudeville shows touring at a time.

He was also a successful manager. Among his discoveries were F.F. Proctor, Alexander Herrman, and Harry Kellar.

The last thing to know about Leavitt (other than that today is his birthday) is that he wrote an invaluable historical document, the gazillion page, soporific 50 Years in Theatrical Management. I was thrilled beyond measure to crack open a copy at the New York Public Library Performing Arts branch, not because of its contents, but because of the title page, which Leavitt himself had inscribed to Sophie Tucker. It looks like Sophie never even glanced at the contents, and the truth of the matter is, vaudeville fans, I scarcely did either.  I have to confess that temperamentally I have way more in common with show tramps like Sophie than the suffering souls who wade through back copies of yellowing periodicals. I wanna go! I wanna step out, chil’run! I wanna shimmy! Hot-cha-cha-cha — whoopie! ….sorry.

To find out more about the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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