BACK STAGE AND FRONT ROW
AT A LAZER VAUDEVILLE SHOW
By Darren Collins
Last December a group of well-adjusted young jugglers came to my town to perform a show called “A Lazer Vaudeville Christmas.” I had seen their regular show the year previous, and was impressed enough to recognize the show‘s name a year later. I had enough money in my pocket to buy a ticket to their show or a book on Elizabethan art. It turned out the local bookstore was selling tickets to the show; I didn‘t even make it past the comic book section before I bought one.
It was a couple of hours before showtime, and I thought maybe I could sneak backstage at the auditorium where Lazer Vaudeville was playing. The doors weren‘t open for seating yet, so I had time to kill. I got up the gumption and in one big gnarled mess of passionate, unbridled fearlessness knocked on their dressing room door.
“Come in,” a voice bellowed.
The door opened and there stood a vaguely familiar guy from the show last year. Later I learned his name was Randy Johnson. Behind him sat Carter Brown. Around the corner was a lady show I had never seen before. That was Cindy Marvell. A fourth person walked over and sniffed my kneecaps. That was Roxy, Randy‘s dog.
After stammering through introductions and whatnot, I found out that Cindy and Roxy were new since last year but that Roxy wouldn‘t be in the show.
“She falls asleep as soon as she hears the music,” Randy pointed out.
I was granted permission to watch the group warm up, set up, act up and whatever. I hung around the backstage area for the following hours until showtime, all the while stifling my urges to pipe up and plead, “Teach me some neat tricks, please, please, please!”
When showtime arrived, I plunked myself down right next to some friends from my high school who reassured me that all the books on Elizabethan art were sold out anyway. I reassured them that from what I saw backstage this show would be “worth more art books than…” The stage lights suddenly went dim.
A creature so bizarre it rivaled a good number of cheap sci-fi movie lizards wandered onto stage. I remember fondly the image of Alfonzo, the very glow- in-the-dark dinosaurish dragon, who should be set far apart from any other Puff, Pete, or (heaven forbid!) Barney. The Lazer Vaudeville troupe, you see, utilizes black lights to make some really funky looking props, juggling equipment, or, in this case, dragons, look dazzlingly bright and high-tech from the ultra-glow tapes and paints they are decorated with. Much to the audience‘s delight, Alfonzo introduced the show and devoured Beevis and Butthead, all in the opening scene.
What to my wondering eyes did appear next but a bunch of brightly colored sticks, hovering above the stage. This segment, called “Geospheres,” utilizes black light sticks hopping about from place to place on stage making different shapes and scenarios. The performers, dressed in black, can manipulate the different props to fly around the stage without the audience seeing them in the black light.
This use of black light really make for some interesting effects that most people have never seen before, particularly young audience members convinced that Yoda and Obi Wan were indeed backstage.
Before the lights went up for the first time, the performers appeared on the partially lit stage holding brightly glowing “Bolas.” These are hard balls on the end of a scarf. The trio spun the bolas in a variety of circular patterns, circular patterns, circular patterns, causing a hypnotic effect. They skillfully hit the stage floor with the balls in sync, creating a driving beat that really impressed the audience. This reaction was apparent from the number of “ooos” “wows” and “How do they do that, Moms?” I heard.
When the lights came up, a really silly dressed lady came forward claiming to be “Julia Childish.” Sporting her best kitchen utensils and worst accent, Cindy Marvell grabbed a young audience member for a good, wholesome round of public humiliation redeemed by successful plate spinning.
The next segment was a real favorite, and it certainly gave those who appreciated Wild West stunts a chance for some honest downhome applause. The lights went dark and a fluorescent cowboy believed to be Carter Brown strutted onto stage and whooped up one heckofa show. He boot scooted a storm in one wholloping display of rope spinning tricks underneath the black light. Using brightly-colored cowpoke ropes, he jumped in and out of the spinning lassos with the agility of a super hero.
If this was not already enough variety for a vaudeville show, the next sketch was performed solely with laser beams dancing enthusiastically about a gigantic screen. Hence, the name “Lazer Vaudeville,” and hence, some hearty open mouths in awe at the special effects.
The lights came up again to reveal Cindy Marvell, this time sporting a green and gold hand drum and a white ball rolling loose in the rim of the drum. After a minute or two of dance to windy flute and piano music, all the while manipulating the drum in different patterns without losing the ball, she was joined by the other two performers. The trio, each holding a drum and two balls, balls, bounce the balls back and forth to one another, crating rhythmical patterns off the drum and stage floor. The drums fly through the air between the beats, always keeping pace with the music of Japanese taiko drummers. It suddenly became a well-choreographed, wordless chant that drew the crowd into a trance of fascination and wonder to the haunting beat of the drums. This segment alone was worth the price of an Elizabethan art book, hands down.
Perhaps the most incredible part of the show, besides Alfonzo devouring Beevis and Butthead, is Carter Brown‘s hoop act. In this part of the show, Carter takes antique bicycle rims and manipulates them in a creative and original way that, I think, defines vaudeville. He juggles up to five of them over his body. This hoop act is a “must see” and is material that has been mastered to a point where one could call it an art form. He does a lot of things with these rims that are similar to the Native American hoop acts I have seen. Not only does he juggle and spin them off his body, but to end the act he rolls them so that they spin around his feet in wide circles on the stage like trained animals in a circus. As a finale, they all roll into their cage one by one. You can say what you want about Carter, but when it comes to bicycle-rim juggling, he doesn‘t mess around.
At that point anything more was just a bonus gift since the show had already been worth the price of admission, but the trio gave the audience some tremendous club juggling that left them cheering for more to top off the evening.
Cindy Marvell began a solo act performing a dance and juggling mix that began with one club and slowly progressed to five. During the whole act she never tossed a regular cascade pattern. It was a tremendous display that combined juggling and interpretive dance to synthesized music. The audience managed to stifle applause until the end of her routine. As one spectator put it, “You don‘t want to clap during the act; it‘s like clapping in the middle of a classical piece.”
A thick smoke then bellowed out into the audience, and just as I was about to dash to the nearest fire door, I realized it was just a fog machine. Lasers shot through the auditorium, danced to the holiday music and panned through the audience. Much to my dismay, the last number was up. The trio broke into a frenzy of club passing. Clubs shot through the air in one magnificent display of aggressive juggling and three-way passing to music by Manheim Steamroller. They wowed the audience one last time with a humor-filled act of not just vaudeville craziness and cheap thrills, but with skillful juggling and an overall stupendous wrap-up of an especially entertaining evening.
To my eyes, this show really offered something incredible to everyone who watched it. The trio combined everything from lasers, amazing glow-in-the- dark stunts, cheesy humor, and conventional juggling made crazy, to original acts that won‘t be seen anywhere else ever. This is truly commendable because it‘s hard to find a traveling variety show like this one these days. I give a warm applause to these folks for making vaudeville in the nineties traditional as well as high-tech.
Their parents should be proud.
Darren Collins is a 17-year-old high school student at Port Angeles High School.