austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

You gotta start at the bottom of the bunch

The variety show was done, in part, by puppets --- in particular an extended sequence of Star Wars spoofing --- and in part by people in fursuits. This made for an interesting bit of vaudevillian experience, in part because some of these bits were attempts to do dances. One of the defining characteristics of dancing is moving in rhythm. One of the defining features of a fursuit is that it leaves the wearer with almost no range of motion and even less of a range of vision, so that the attempts to do much of anything in time were ... well, let's call them interesting. I don't mean to be sneering here; given the challenges of performing at all and the fact that the performers had maybe long enough to do two rehearsals if they were lucky the dances came off quite well. I'm impressed with how good the performances were despite some clumsy moments.

Overall, the comedy bits, particularly between the puppets, played better, probably because no matter how limited someone's field of view may be, they can still more or less hear and deliver a line. At least they can as long as the microphones work, and in the grand tradition of convention entertainment, they worked easily two-thirds of the time. Again, given the constraints of preparation and rehearsal time and the challenges of doing anything that involves dozens of people, some of whom really only get the chance to perform at conventions, the job was done well. It left me with that nagging, stirring feeling that I ought to perform something too. Maybe I shall.

The only bit which really, seriously, misfired, was an attempt to do a version of the classic Abbot and Costello bit, Who's On First. This is justifiably one of the all-time great comedy bits, made of a wonderfully precise alchemy, as can be shown when you listen to other bits where Abbot and Costello tried to duplicate what makes it work and find that it didn't have the same punch. But the first real problem is the variant they did was the Animaniacs version, with Slappy and Skippy Squirrel at Woodstock, where they try to establish Who's on stage?. The sketch as Animaniacs rewrote it suffers from the fatal flaw that it needs the performers to be consistently identified as ``Who'', when its name and the way everyone actually refers to them is as ``The Who''. You can kind of overlook dropping the ``The'' once or twice, as people don't always speak perfectly, but when people talk about that specific band, they say ``The Who'', and the sketch never quite gets over having that lie in it.

Getting past the structural problem there was a performing problem: Who's On First has to build to a climax. It's forgiving of a little padding, since you can slip in an extra ``I don't know!'' ``Third base!'' without wrecking the timing too much. But if you forget just where you're supposed to go, to get through what there is of the outfield, to get to the climax, you can get horribly stuck asking the same question and getting the same answer endlessly. And this, alas, is what happened to the performers. Who's On Stage loses the built-in narrative hook wherein one of the pair can call out other positions, so there's no natural way to force themselves out of a loop or to the end of the sketch.

And the pair performing Who's On Stage fell into that trap: they couldn't remember how to get out of the sketch, and there wasn't any way to prompt them, so that after several minutes of not making any progress in trying to act as though ``Who'' is the name of the band on stage, and my best efforts trying to telepathically transmit acceptable directions to go, they had to shrug and admit defeat and walk off stage. Call it the magic of live theater, if you like, in the way that actors can forget their lines and things can go irrevocably wrong. I'd really hoped they could carry it off.

I don't want to make it sound like the show was all bad, or even bad on average. And even if one sketch did fall apart thusly it was still fascinating to watch it fall apart and to watch the performers try to salvage it. I'm really glad we went to it. The only nagging thing was ... my phone never rang with word that bluerain and company had eaten. Neither did bunny_hugger's. It was great that we were getting to see more of the show, but ... if we didn't get to golf soon, we weren't going to get to dance either. It had been nearly an hour between the setting of our plans and the start of the show, and then an hour and a half, maybe two hours of the variety show. They couldn't possibly still be eating three hours later.

The show finished, and we wandered out. And finally got word from skylerbunny. They were just now sitting down to supper.

Trivia: Vaudeville performer Will Ferry, billed as ``The Frog Man'', was a contortionist who performed while dressed in a frog costume. Source: No Applause - Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, Trav S D (D Travis Stewart)

Currently Reading: The Best Of Damon Knight, Damon Knight.


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