As a kid, I always opted out of going to carnivals. The concept of clowns, mind readers, and bearded women all being in one place greatly unsettled me. Call me close-minded, sure, but how would you feel if you were ten years old and having colors, lights, and the socially bizarre thrust into your sensory consciousness at every turn? To me, this meant only one thing: nightmare. But recently, I decided it was time to face my ignorance and so last night I attended Carnivale Debauche at the Canopy Club.
Upon entering the Canopy Club, what surprised me most was the sheer number of people in costume. The crowd was littered with long black overcoats, top hats, fishnets, short skirts, red lipstick, and deep red corsets. This gathering of people constructed a wild, yet mysterious atmosphere that reminded me of pictures I’ve seen of Moulin Rouge in the late 1800s. The stage was somber with low green and blue lighting, barely illuminating music stands, a drum set, and various brass instruments. The speakers played soft, jazzy tunes that sang of sex or betrayal. I was intrigued, and found it appropriate to sit in the balcony so as to observe the event as a whole.
The show started thirty minutes late. During this time, I was attempting to enact willful suspension of disbelief, but my patience, along with the crowds, began to grow thin. The show finally opened with a large, bombastic dance number featuring all members of “fishnets and feathers” burlesque dance troupe along with troupe co-founder Matthew Fear (playing as Billy Boudoir). The girls of the troupe were dressed in lacy red skirts, along with black pinstriped corsets. The one male member of “fishnets” was wearing black dress slacks and a pressed white button down. The number was high energy and sexy, and seemed to stir up excitement for the event in the crowd.
Boudoir acted as the MC for the event, and took the stage after the number concluded. He was dressed in a frilly tattered tuxedo, and played in a charismatic, sleazy fashion to further the nature of the event. He proceeded to introduce the members of “fishnets” and list the order of events to appear that night. The list consisted of strip teases by one or more of the troupe’s dancers, and a plethora of side acts including a psychic, a comedian, a live band, and a poi spinner.
The strip teases were by far the strongest part of the show, (no bias, I swear!). I felt the dancers were charismatic, seductive, and talented. The house band played dark old tunes ranging from the 1920s and 50s in the background. There was never any explicit nudity, as the women always had tassels covering their nipples. Perhaps the strongest quality to these acts was their variety. Never once did I feel like I was seeing the same dance twice. There was everything from a sexy picnic scene, to an act featuring a cross dressing male.
The side acts were where the show lacked considerably. While the dancers are clearly experienced in the art of performance and crowd engagement, the same can not be said about the majority of the other performers. The psychic was unimpressive as a whole. If I remember correctly, he read one mind the entire show — incorrectly. He also seemed to drag himself around the stage and had a problem of mumbling into the microphone. The poi spinner was an attractive woman who clearly had talent. I feel however, that the act of poi spinning does not hold enough energy to garner a crowd’s attention for more than a minute or two.
Unfortunately, the act dragged on for about seven or eight minutes. The live band called The Curses had a style that was frighteningly similar to, The Stray Cats (remember the song “Rock this Town?”) Their biggest flaw was their lack of personality and stage presence, which left the crowd and myself uninterested. Perhaps, the one notable side act was the comedian. He was a disabled man who performed from his motorized wheelchair. I found him respectable as he had a great sense of humor while maintaining the rare ability to make the crowd feel comfortable and laugh in his presence.
I’ll admit, near the end of the event, the atmosphere initially constructed was completely destroyed. I no longer felt I was a part of some timeless traveling circus — it didn’t even feel like I was at much of a burlesque show. The acts began to resemble that of a local talent show, and the crowd had shrunk considerably. I left the Canopy feeling disappointed as my first carnival experience turned out to be underwhelming. I felt that if the Carnivale Debauche performance troupe found a way to strengthen its side acts, and keep the show moving at a faster pace, the entire event would have been much more convincing and enjoyable.