American Vaudeville Theatre
Trav S.D.’s American Vaudeville Theatre was founded 1995. In its sixteen years of operation the American Vaudeville Theatre has presented such diverse and well-known artists as Todd Robbins, Lizzie West, Dirty Martini, World Famous Bob, Howard Fishman, Mark Mitton, Kinko and Philomena Bindlestiff, Circus Amok’s Jennifer Miller, Red Bastard, Zero Boy, Carla Rhodes, Chris McDaniel, the Maestrosities, Bunny Love, and hundreds more. Its various incarnations have been seen at Galapagos, 45 Bleecker, Dixon Place, Coney Island USA, Theatre for the New City, Brooklyn Public Library, New-York Historical Society, the Brick Theatre, the Duplex, Rose’s Turn, the Red Room, and the late venues Surf Reality, Present Company Theatorium, Collective: Unconscious and Todo con Nada
For those who’ve only known about my work since they encountered my book No Applause, or don’t know who the hell I am at ALL, here is a little thumbnail history of the American Vaudeville Theatre and my various vaudeville-producing activities:
Prologue: 1989-95: Founder Trav S.D. (a playwright, performer and former assistant to singer Tony Bennett) makes his first pilgrimage to Coney Island, reads P.T. Barnum’s Struggles and Triumphs, and goes to work in the back office of Big Apple Circus. These and other related experiences inspire him to launch his company Mountebanks, a major project of which would be the American Vaudeville Theatre (AVT).
August 1996: Trav launches his American Vaudeville Theater and New American Lyceum at Todo Con Nada on Monday nights opposite Kirk Wood Bromley’s Want’s Unwished Work. The bill of core performers includes Adam Gertsacov (of Acme Miniature Circus) and Dapo and Daniel.
October-December 1996: AVT ensconced at the legendary Charleston Bar & Grill in Williamsburg, a former speakeasy, where Trav will also come to host the musical open mike night. Long time collaborator Robert Pinnock joins the show at this stage. The major act presented during this run was The Brooklyn Dodgers Sym-phony Band, formed in the 1930s and named by announcer Red Barber. A documentary crew for the film Dodgers Symphony came and shot during their performances. The open mike night, which Trav ran until late 1998, was principle rival to Lach’s Anti-Hootenanny at Sidewalks – Dave Mathews came to play once during Grammy Week, as did Corn Mo, still at the time based out of Austin, Texas. Trav drew many of the pop acts for his vaudeville shows from the open mike night – notably Lizzie West, who later went on to become a recording artist at Warner Bros. Records.
January-June, 1997: The AVT moves to the Duplex and Rose’s Turn, in a slicker cabaret edition. Here he presents his first burlesque act, Miss Bonnie Dunn, who would later produce and host the Cutting Room and Le Scandal. Also on the bill were magician Mark Mitton, Kinko and Philoemana Bindlestiff, Al Calienes (then one of the lead clowns with Big Apple Circus), a trained dog act from Moscow Circus, and many more. The show was filmed for an HBO pilot that never aired. The show is also prominently featured in a Backstage article and Trav and his acts make an appearance on a local television talk show in New Jersey hosted by Lee Leonard.
November, 1997-December, 1998: AVT runs for 14 months at alternative comedy club Surf Reality, breeding ground of nationally-known performers like Marc Maron, Jonny McGovern, Christian Finnegan and scores of others. In addition to being a bi-weekly platform for Trav’s surreal comedy sketches, songs and monologues, dozens of variety acts are booked, notably retro jazz man Howard Fishman, London-based music hall revivalist Earl Okin (who brought Duke Ellington’s sister with him as a guest), Lizzie West and Miss Bonnie Dunn. The shows are videotaped and broadcast in a televised version on Manhattan Neighborhood Network.
March 4-April 11, 1999: AVT returns to Todo Con Nada with a saloon-burlesque inflected show featuring a core company of chorus girls led by he/she performance artist Allison Ward as Miss Trixie/ Tex. In the month long show over 125 acts are presented. Favorable press in the New York Times, Newsday, etc results in lines around the block.
June 1999-July 2000: Various editions of the AVT presented at Surf Reality and The Present Company Theatorium (including an all-radio version at the latter).
March 2-April 13, 2001: Trav produces Orgy of the Dead, a burlesque show based on the Ed Wood stag film in collaboration with DMTheatrics and GeminiCollisionworks, starring World Famous Bob, Michele Carlo, Lyn Gathright (a.k.a Miss Bunny Love), et al.
July 20, 2001: AVT presents Trav S.D.’s Seaside Follies, at Coney Island Sideshows by the Seashore
July 23, 2001: Trav is prominently profiled in a New Yorker article by Adam Gopnick about the new burlesque.
October 2, 2001: Trav hosts and books a special benefit vaudeville show for the victims of 9-11 at the Red Room.
October, 2001-March, 2002: Trav co-curates and hosts (with scholar Andy Davis) a series of educational family vaudeville shows at New-York Historical Society. Among the acts presented are Todd Robbins, bearded lady Jennifer Miller (of Circus Amok), Chris McDaniel, Johnny Fox, Raven Snook, Magic Brian and dozens of others.
July 2002: Trav S.D.’s play Sea of Love presented in Soho Think Tank’s Ice Factory featuring choreography by Julie Atlas Muz, and burlesque mavens Kate Valentine (a.k.a Miss Astrid of the VaVa Voom Room), Bambi the Mermaid, et al as dancers
December 2002: AVT ensconced at the Bindlestiff Palace of Variety, Chashama. The novelty of the Times Square venue results in coverage in The New York Times, Backstage, et al. Notable among the acts presented was Eric Davis, better known as Red Bastard.
September-December 2004: Trav hosts and books Galapagos Floating Vaudeville at the Brooklyn nightclub Galapagos, where he presents the likes of Miss Saturn, Harvest Moon, Nasty Canasta, Steve the Whistler, and dozens of others.
December, 2005: Trav’s book about vaudeville, No Applause: Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famouspublished by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. The book gets raves in The New York Times, The New Yorker, the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Time Out New York,and dozens of others. Trav featured on The Leonard Lopate Show, the Sound of Young America and numerous others around the country. The book is launched with a gala event at the Palace Theatre sponsored by the Theatre Museum. Begins public national vaudeville speaking tour that continues to this day.
March, 2006: AVT presented at Brooklyn Public Library main branch, in two part program featuring Brooklyn-based new vaudevillians such as Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, bearded lady Jennifer Miller of Circus Amok, et al
April, 2006: Trav performs and lectures at the Moisture Festival (America’s pre-eminent vaudeville festival),Seattle
June, 2006: AVT presents Trav S.D.’s Health & Wealth Elixir Program, an intimate-scale revue, at the Brick Theatre in Williamsburg.
January, 2007: Trav S.D. profiled in two volume encyclopedia Vaudeville, Old and New, Routledge Press
June-October, 2007: AVT showboat edition at theWaterfront Museum and Showboat Barge in Red Hook, presenting such acts as Howard Fishman, the Maestrosities, Uke Jackson, Lorcan Otway (of Theatre 80 St Marks), and many others
July-December 2007: AVT presents “The Moxie Show”, an open mike night at Collective: Unconscious
April, 2008: AVT presents “Second Ave Treasures”, an immigrant-themed vaudeville show featuring Yiddish, Gypsy and traditional Italian-American folk performers at Eldridge Street Synagogue
Sept-Oct, 2008: No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Show that Made Vaudeville Famous, a vaudeville revue presented by AVT at Theater for the New City. Guests include: Todd Robbins,Carla Rhodes,Mark Mitton, Goddess Pearlman, Raven Snook, the Maestrosities, the Main Squeeze Pigtail Orchestra, and many others.
March 2009: AVT produces burlesque benefit for Theater for the New City, hosted by Cyndi Freeman
April 2009: Trav S.D. launches the Stars of Vaudeville series on his blog Travalanche, named one of the Top 50 Blogs for Theatre Lovers
April, 2010: Trav S.D. featured in Cirque du Soleil documentary film Banana Shpeel: A New Twist on Vaudeville
Nov 2010-January 2011: Trav S.D. presents series of intimate variety shows at Dixon Place and Bowery Poetry Club. Notable guests include recording artists The Tall Pines, whose debut album was named one of the year’s ten best by NPR
August 2011: Trav S.D.’s American Vaudeville Theatre 15th Anniversary ExTRAVaganza in the NY International Fringe Festival. Presented at 45 Bleecker, it is the largest scale edition of the show to date.
November 2011: Trav. S.D. and collaborator Jim R.Moore of vaudevisuals.com launch Vaudephone, a regular web video series showcasing top variety talent, modeled after Warner Bros.’ Vitaphones of the early talking era. The series is still ongoing.
To find out about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. Also please keep a look out for Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies From Nickelodeon to Youtube, coming out in September 2012