Trav S.D.’s American Vaudeville Theatre was founded in 1996. In its twenty-plus years of operation the American Vaudeville Theatre has presented such diverse and well-known artists as Todd Robbins (True Nightmares, Carnival Knowledge), Brody Stevens, Tammy Fay Starlite, Molly Pope, Lady Rizo, The Flying Karamazov Brothers, Circus Amok’s Jennifer Miller, Jo “Boobs” Weldon”, Dirty Martini, World Famous BOB, Sammy Tramp, Chris McDaniel, Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, Lady Rizo, Johnny Fox, Zero Boy, Carla Rhodes, Howard Fishman, Bastard Keith, and hundreds more. The AVT began presenting burlesque acts in 1998, making it one of the earliest platforms in the current burlesque revival.
Its various incarnations have been seen at 45 Bleecker, the Slipper Room, the Players Club, NY Musical Theatre Festival, NY International Fringe Festival, Dixon Place, Coney Island USA, the Duplex, Theatre for the New City, Brooklyn Public Library, New-York Historical Society, the Brick Theatre, Under St. Marks and the now defunct venues Galapagos, Rose’s Turn, the Red Room, 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 pilgrimmage 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 principal 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, and Arlan Fieles.
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.
Here’s fan dancer Miss Bonnie Dunn at the AVT at Surf Reality in 1998:
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 run 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 as part of their Burlesque at the Beach series with Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, Miss Lora Marie, Miss Kelly Webb, World Famous Bob, and Rev Jen Miller.
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 Famous published 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. The highlight of that show by far:
January, 2007: Trav S.D. profiled in two volume encyclopedia Vaudeville, Old and New, Routledge Press
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, with musical direction by Rachel Kaufman. Guests include: Todd Robbins, ventriloquist Carla Rhodes, Mark Mitton, Goddess Pearlman, Raven Snook, the Maestrosities, the Main Squeeze Pigtail Orchestra, Hilary Chaplain, and many, many others. This was by far the largest edition of the show to date, and its first full theatrical run in almost ten years.
March 2009: AVT produces burlesque benefit for Theater for the New City, guest hosted by Cyndi Freeman and featuring ventriloquist Carla Rhodes, clown Ambrose Martos, Neon Lights (Jeff Seal and Chris Manley), belly dancer (and illustrator) Leela Corman, burlesque dancer Amber Alert, Vangeline, Katherine Adamenko, Ixion Burlesque’s Albert Garzon, et al. With Alyssa Simon as “Mother Nature” And, of course, the Three F–kbags.
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. To date, the series has profiled close to 1,000 vaudevillians. Travalanche also includes hundreds of sideshow and burlesque performers, minstrels, circus artists and other traditional entertainers.
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. The latter was Jack the Ripper’s Christmas Spectacular with Trav as the titular host, with musical direction by Albert Garzon and choreography by Becky Byers. This was Trav’s first experiment with incorporating a full dance chorus in his variety shows and revues, and they would become a permanent feature thereafter. Notable guests from this show 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, and featured such performers as The Great Fredini, Ching Chong Song, Juliet Jeske, magician Nelso Lugo, show biz Renaissance man Michael Townsend Wright, mentalist Rory Raven, Becky Byers and Six Sizzling Fajitas, and many others!
November 2011 – April, 2014: 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. Three dozen top NYC vaudeville acts were recorded for the series.
July 2012: Trav S.D. and the American Vaudeville Theatre present Travesties of 2012 in the New York Musical Theatre Festival. This smart uptown revue featured centennial tributes to Woody Guthrie and The Passing Show, and featured acts like rope spinner A.J. Silver, ventriloquist Carla Rhodes, Dandy Darkly, Bathtub Jen and the Henchmen, Rory Raven, Bob Greenberg, Killy Dwyer, Jenny Lee Mitchell, Noah Diamond, et al! This edition was directed by John Hurley, with musical direction by Sarah Engelke.
October, 2012: Trav collaborates with burlesque star Angie Pontani on a stage revue version of her Burlesque-a-Pades show at the Soho Playhouse, co-produced by Gary Beeber. In addition to the customary strips and dances, the show was knit together in a framework assembled by Trav, containing traditional burlesque comedy blackout sketches. The stars included the Pontani Sisters, Tigger, Albert Cadabra, Gal Friday, the Maine Attraction, Pinkie Special, and many more.
June, 2013: Trav produces and directs all-star vaudeville revue in honor of the 100th birthday of the Palace Theatre at the Players Club, as a benefit for the Theatre Museum, sponsored by Stewart Lane and Bonnie Comley. Sideshow king Todd Robbins was guest host, and the acts included Will Jordan (notorious Ed Sullivan impersonator of the 1950s and 60s), Joe Franklin, a couple of the Flying Karamazov Brothers, Poor Baby Bree, Chris McDaniel, Rebecca Joy Fletcher, a special presentation by the Vitaphone Project, et al!
July, 2013: The Burlesque-a-Pades revue returns for a short run at the Kraine Theatre, in Horse Trade’s annual Burlesque Blitz.
August, 2013: Trav presents and hosts his very old school burlesque show Trav S.D. and the Bathing Beauties at Coney Island USA as part of their Burlesque at the Beach series, with chorus numbers choreographed by Helen Pontani, and also featuring Sammy Tramp, Neon NYC, Bob Greenberg, Kat Mon Dieu, Kita St. Cyr, Grace Gotham, Edie Nightcrawler, and Gregory Levine.
June, 2014: Trav organized a variety show for the Theatre Museum’s annual benefit at the Players Club, in conjunction with Marxfest and I’ll Say She Is (see below). In addition to cast members from I’ll Say She Is (Melody Jane, Noah Diamond, Seth Shelden, Robert Pinnock, Matt Curiano and Bob Homeyer) the show also featured the talents of Lady Rizo, Bastard Keith, Michael Goldfried et al.
August, 2014: Trav produces and directs Noah Diamond’s adaptation of the Marx Brother’s 1924 Broadway revue I’ll Say She Is, reviving it for the first time in history. The show is a sold out hit of the New York International Fringe Festival. Musical direction by Sabrina Chap, choreography by Helen Pontani.
April, 2017: AVT presents a Centennial Salute to World War I at Metropolitan Playhouse, featuring Peter Daniel Straus and Chris Rozzi as Weber and Fields, Gay Marshall, Lorinne Lampert, Jonathan Smith, et a, with Ben Model, accompanist
June 2018: Trav presents Tall Tales, a longform vaudeville act of songs and storytelling at the Brick Theatre’s Festival of Lies
April 2019: American Vaudeville Theatre celebrates the 10th anniversary of Travalanche at the Slipper Room with Betsy Propane, Matt Roper, Dana Friedman, Glen Heroy, Charley Layton, Bob Greenberg, Jonathan Smith, et al
June-August, 2019: American Vaudeville Theatre at Under St. Marks, with Koo-Koo the Bird Girl, Jason Trachtenberg, Joanna Parson, Jeff Seal and Buttons, Bob Laine, Jennifer Glick, LJ Murphy, and Maven Peck Peck
December, 2020: Vaudevisuals Press publishes Rose’s Royal Midgets and Other Little People of Vaudeville, with essays by Trav S.D.
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