2020: A Glance Back Before Fleeing

Goodbye, 2020! Don’t let the door bang you on the ass on the way out!

I started my traditional year end wrap-up assuming that I hadn’t accomplished much in 2020, a feeling naturally enhanced by the fact that, like everyone else, I spent almost the entire year trapped in my house. But as always happens, in taking stock I realized that even this year I managed to get a bunch done.

We began 2020 like the rest of the country, distracted by the Trump impeachment hearings, which went from December 18, 2019 through February 5, 2020. That left a very brief window of relative normality, during which I did manage to hold my last (most recent) live event, a combination centennial celebration of Buster Keaton’s career as a solo screen comedian and 12th birthday of Travalanche, generously co-hosted by Slate critic Dana Stevens. The February 29 event was held at the much loved Brooklyn bar The Way Station, which has since permanently closed due to Covid-19.

Even at that early date, we were a little nervous about coming into the city, though the first case in New York State wouldn’t be reported until the next day. We’d been hearing about cases popping up in the U.S. for about a month by that stage. On March 3, I attended my last live event, a talk at the Great Neck Historical Society about the history of the LIRR. Things rapidly snowballed after that, and the lockdown and the fear grew serious.

As the weeks went by, I gradually pulled it together to participate in some online video events, including a performance of Trav S.D.’s Quaratine Song in the Lower East Side Festival of the Arts (late May), a talk for the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum’s Charlie Chaplin Days (June 26), Dixon Place’s HOT! Festival (I gave a talk on the history of drag, July 24), an online version of Edward Einhorn’s The Resistible Rise of J.R. Brinkley, performed as a fundraiser for Joe Biden (July 27), a talkback on vaudeville and tin pan alley following The Glenn Kryzter Orchestra’s weekly online concert (November); and two presentations for Coney Island USA in November and December. Starting in May I also delivered several talks on my own throughout the year, some of them open to the public, some strictly for my Patreon supporters, on such topics as Black Vaudeville, vaudeville clowns, George M. Cohan, Buster Keaton, Jerry Lewis, Italians in vaudeville, and the spooky aesthetics of stage magic.

Once again, Travalanche enjoyed its best year yet in terms of readership. April was my best month ever by a big margin, not surprising in light of people stuck at home killing time due to the pandemic. That said, the summer was weaker than expected in terms of readership, possibly attributable to a couple of rants I made here and here about Trump’s responsibility for the pandemic. I have no regrets. I wrote over 600 articles for Travalanche this year, and made considerable headway on a performance/podcast/book project that may see the light of day next year.

I am particularly proud of a series of articles I wrote for Chelsea Community News in 2020 — one about downtown theatres coping with Covid, followed by a series of holiday-related pieces for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. I’d like to take this opportunity not only to thank editor Scott Stiffler, but to salute him. It dawned on me while reflecting on his website that it is actually far superior to Chelsea Now and its sister publications, which Scott used to edit for, and it’s because he now has the freedom to make it excellent. No word of a lie, it’s serving the kind of fuction the Village Voice used to do. It’s got real, unfettered, neighborhood journalism, and even top drawer nationally famous writers like Michael Musto and Elizabeth Zimmer. My public hope is that circumstances can allow him to open up his beat beyond Chelsea (if he wants to), once he can figure out a way to do it that won’t compromise his present near-obsessive coverage of his ‘hood. At any rate, Chelsea Community News is proof that some good things do emerge out of turmoil.

The year ended on a particularly upbeat note (personally, certainly not globally) with the release of two new books in which I had a hand in creating: Rose’s Royal Midget and Other Little People, and Windows on the Bowery. There may be some online events surrounding the launch of these books early in the year, and hopefully some live ones in the summer and fall. I am chomping at the bit to resume the live touring I began in late 2019, and will be hard at work setting up more bookings following the New Year’s Holiday.

So at the moment we live in hope, and thankfully, we do so with reason. There is no living without it — without hope. Never before have I felt more intensely the wish that YOUR life will flourish and improve in the New Year. If vaudeville teaches anything (and it does) it tells us that we are all connected. Many thanks to my readers — especially my Patreon supporters !