Arts & Events

Vaudeville enters the Canary Club

Paul Shortt and Chris Gabel perform at Atomic Vaudeville
Paul Shortt and Chris Gabel perform at Atomic Vaudeville's Halloween cabaret.
— image credit: Supplied photo

Wine bottles and chairs have been hurtled at the stage. The director was once pummelled with firm tomatoes. And then there are those nights when someone in the audience thinks they’re the stars of the show and continually yell out at the performers. An Atomic Vaudeville cabaret is definitely not a night at the Belfry, but the company has proven prowess with that, too.

“There’s certainly no fourth wall,” said Atomic Vaudeville’s artistic producer Britt Small of their seasonal cabarets at the Victoria Event Centre. “The audience is the last piece of the performance. The audience is complicit in the performance, and the audience can not only turn on you in a second, but they can take over.”

For 10 years Small, along with AV co-founder and director Jacob Richmond – who survived the ill-conceived tomato assault during his never-ending rendition of the Star Spangled Banner – have been redefining a night of theatre for Victoria audiences. Their shows have taught twisted after school special-style lessons, hosted by the likes of Ronald McDonald, Death, Sid Vicious and Osama Bin Laden and have featured the work of some 300 artists from the theatre, sketch and improv communities. Small and Richmond’s initial hope for the company? To create work for themselves in Victoria. Like any new undertaking, its longevity wasn’t expected.

“When the shows started to take off and the audience started to dig the show, that’s what made us keep doing it, because all of a sudden it didn’t feel like it was our show anymore, it was our community’s show and we had a responsibility to keep doing it,” Small said. “In our community, which is relatively small, it feels like a great gathering place. People from all different companies come and work with each other. Sometimes people meet at our shows and decide they want to do a project together. It’s kind of a great lab, where creative energies meet and spin off into other things.”

Their latest undertaking, an original production inspired by the music of singer-songwriter Anne Schaefer and her latest release, The Waiting Room, is following a similar path to Ride the Cyclone, an award-winning musical which toured the country earlier this year.

“The idea that’s explored is that of the lonely crowd,” Small said. “A waiting room being a place with people in transition, waiting to be somewhere else. It can be a place where there are a lot of people, but those people are rarely a community. Especially being on the Island, it does have such a community feel because of the size and relative isolation – the idea of the lonely crowd was interesting to us.”

To get audiences acquainted with the project – and to generate some funds for development with a playwright, Atomic Vaudeville is hosting a roaring ‘20s-themed speakeasy Nov. 28, from 7 to 11pm. The evening features performances by Schaefer, along with a line up of company regulars. Dubbed the Canary Club Speakeasy, Rifflandia Headquarters (1501 Douglas) will go Gatsby-era glam for an evening of cocktails, catering, and a chance to win uniquely Atomic Vaudeville prizes, such as dinner with Small and Richmond or singing telegrams from Hank and Lily.

Tickets, $50, are available at ticketrocket.org and include a year-long membership to the Atomic Vaudeville Society.

“The show has taught me a lot about theatre,” Small said. “It’s been interesting training ground for our company and thinking about what theatre is. A lot of people said it’s not real theatre. What do you mean? It’s the most real theatre in a way. It’s completely live and completely engages its audience. ... For me now, when something unexpected happens on stage, it’s a gift because then you can riff off of it and the audience loves it because they know it’s happening in the moment and it’s very spontaneous.”

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