Asheville Vaudeville finds a new home at Toy Boat Community Art Space

VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF THEATER: Queen April, left and Amber Shehan as Millie Van Illa, perform in a Black Forest Menagerie skit as part of an Asheville Vaudeville show. “You never quite know what you’re going to get,” says troupe member and producer Shehan. But, “it generally has a rather naughty spin.” Photo by Indulge Images Photo by Indulge Images

With the assistance of his Black Forest Menagerie acting troupe, the dapper and diabolical master of ceremonies Onkel Woland delivers risqué retellings of classic fairy tales and plays host to a cavalcade of brand-new acts. Woland is the ringleader of variety show Asheville Vaudeville, which returns to Toy Boat Community Art Space Saturday, Nov. 28, for a night of clowning, comedy, puppetry and burlesque.

Amber Shehan, a member of the troupe and the producer of the November show, is excited for the upcoming performance. Shehan (her vaudeville name is Milli Von Illa) says the group has included “everything from the burlesques: puppetry, comedy, folks who do storytelling while others act it out. We’ve had hoop artists and other kinds of flow art, we’ve had fire eaters and stage magicians. You never quite know what you’re going to get.”

Asheville Vaudeville began its fall season with a show in October, and the collective plans to put on more performances in December, January and February. Members of the troupe take turns being the producer and master of ceremonies. For the upcoming shows, mustachioed emcee Woland will be offering his comedic German impression of North American Thanksgiving traditions. He “plays a storyteller from the Black Forest, so I’m sure he won’t get everything right,” says Shehan. “It generally has a rather naughty spin,” she adds. For that reason, Asheville Vaudeville is recommended for ages 18 and older.

The theatrical company has been an on-again, off-again part of the Asheville community since 2008. After changing hands and venues several times over the past seven years, the troupe has taken up residence at Toy Boat. “It’s been going pretty steady since Toy Boat opened,” says Shehan. The circus arts school, located near Biltmore Village, offers classes in hula hoops and trapeze, and has a black-box stage. “It’s kind of a natural home,” says Shehan.

Beyond finding the perfect place to perform, Asheville Vaudeville has been seeking out new members. This month, comedian Craig Holcombe joins the show from Greenville, S.C., and tap-dancer Elizabeth Evans will be performing a comedy dance routine with a group of her students.

As for familiar artists returning to the stage, Shehan promises a plethora of novel acts. “[Asheville is] kind of a small town so you might see some of these performers throughout the year,” says Shehan. But even if an act has debuted elsewhere in town — possibly on a busy sidewalk or popular stage, she explains, it will be new material for the Asheville Vaudeville production. That influx of fresh ideas keeps the show interesting.

The members of Asheville Vaudeville take the entertainment business seriously.“‘Keep Asheville Weird?’ This is the front lines,” says Shehan. “These are not just the people who dress weird and walk down the street, these folks get onstage and do it, too. [These are] folks who have been contributing to the Asheville theater scene solidly for many years.”

At the post-Thanksgiving show, the lineup includes the physical storytelling of the Black Forest Menagerie acting troupe, the bizarre antics of El Payaso Fracasado, aka The Clown Who Fails, and the amazing acrobatics of Lucky Rigel 7, among many other acts. “It tends to be a fun, raucous show,” says Shehan. “You’re encouraged to hoot and holler. It’s definitely not the opera or the ballet.”

WHAT: Asheville Vaudeville
WHERE: Toy Boat Community Art Space, toyboatcommunityartspace.com
WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 28, at 7:30 and 10 p.m. $15 early show/$12 late show

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