Bigger, better, taller, spookier

Asheville Vaudeville is not only back, it's bigger and better. Topping a previous maximum of 22 performers, the upcoming Halloween show is up to, according to producer Brian Sneeden, "thirty-five performers and growing." Add to that a move from 70-seat Bebe Theatre to 400-seat Asheville Community Theatre and you see where this is heading: "There's no stopping us until we reach Diana Wortham Theatre," quips Sneeden.

Asheville Vaudeville originated as an outdoor festival produced by Scapegoat Theatre collective. Sneeden noticed the show taking place at the (now-defunct) New French Bar courtyard and got involved. A three-a-half-month European trip introduced him to street theater that inspired the re-envisioning of Asheville Vaudeville. Sketch-writer Thomas Butler, who had been performing with No Shame Theatre, brought his comedy to the production. For a time, it ran monthly at the Bebe Theatre, selling out each performance with acts Tom the Magician, Chaplin impersonator Charlie K. Chaplin and torch singer Vendetta Creme.

The events brought local artists together: "You perform and then you have the opportunity to be performed for," says Butler. "In a play you meet five, six people; with Asheville Vaudeville, you’re going to make 35 friends." It also created connections that hadn't previously existed. "A lot of the performers didn't know each other, and now they're doing collaborations," says Sneeden. "It's part of the Renaissance."

The shows also create, if not collaborations, then innovative juxtapositions. "One of the things that makes Vaudeville so absorbing is that [each act] is paired up with another act that's its contrast," says Sneeden. "You'll have one-man act followed by a multi-person act, like an acrobatic act with lots of people. You'll have an act with just one guy — we have El Diabolo, a guy who does the Chinese yoyos — followed by a seven-person juggling routine. It's about pairing up the size of the spectacle, but also having the comedy next to acts that suggest a more poetic appreciation."

He adds, “A lot of what we do is comedy, but because it is a variety show we like to have one or two acts that aren't necessarily disturbing, but they kind of pause you. Like a contortionist. It's a bouquet of different sensations.”

A month ago, Sneeden and Butler held auditions for what is both the return of Asheville Vaudeville (the last show was held in May) and the newly expanded performance. But wait, there's more. This is also a Halloween show — not that Vaudeville in and of itself doesn't already have a spooky element.

This time around, the carnival aspect of Vaudeville spills over to a pre-show costume gala (both nights!) and, says Sneeden, "We do have some acts that are going to be particularly scary." Like a four-legged-man sideshow act by Sneaky McFly. And knife juggling — with a volunteer from the audience.

"We're sort of evoking an element of Halloween with every show we do," says Butler.

What else stays the same (despite the audience-participatory knife juggling) is the family friendliness. And the charitable element: one third of proceeds go to MANNA FoodBank. "We can provide 5,000 meals if we sell out these two shows," says Sneeden. Past Asheville Vaudeville productions have provided around 600 meals per show, he estimates.

So bigger might really be better. It certainly provides some interesting opportunities. "We going to really make use of the facilities," Sneeden says of the ACT stage. "We'll have the winch for the aerial artist and do projections on the big screen. One of the things that we've been fantasizing about about is having a camera guy on Madison Cripps' marionette, projecting the image on a big screen. We're also going to do that for Sophie the Wonder Dog. We also have the stuff that we couldn't do earlier because of height limitations, like people juggling on each other's shoulders and belly dancing on stilts."

Other acts on the bill for the two-night Halloween special include Jim Julien and the New Delicious, Jennifyre Acrobatics, the Sugarfoot Serenaders and house band Sirius.B.

And, really, that’s just the beginning. Asheville Vaudeville plans to go to a quarterly schedule, with a next show tentatively planned for March 2011.

who: Asheville Vaudeville
what: Halloween variety show
where: Asheville Community Theatre
where: Friday and Saturday (Oct. 29 and 30. Costume party at 6:30 p.m., show at 7:30 p.m. $12. AshevilleTheatre.org)

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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