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Decadents Abroad 

State of the Arts

Published July 13, 2011 at 10:10 a.m.

Spielpalast Cabaret
  • Spielpalast Cabaret

Each May, Spielpalast Cabaret, Burlington’s Weimar-style vaudeville and burlesque troupe, offers theatergoers entertainment that’s far from the mainstream. But this summer, the “dancing ladies” and their cohorts are going a little farther out — to the Fringe. The renowned Edinburgh Festival Fringe, that is.

This is the first time the cabaret will go abroad, says troupe member Jessie Owens. But cofounder Lois Trombley “has been dreaming of bringing Spielpalast to the Fringe Festival probably since the Spielpalast started.” Trombley’s cousin, Suzanne Mackay, who’s a Fringe veteran with her own theater company, Firefly Productions, “did the legwork” to secure Spielpalast a slot.

A reduced crew of seven dancers, five players and “a couple of band members” will perform every night but one from August 5 to 18 at Edinburgh’s Hill Street Theatre. The show will be a compressed version of the one local audiences saw in the spring, which featured dramatic chair and fan dances, pointed satirical sketches about mechanized sexuality and a Dadaesque piece involving a pair of white gloves. “We had to cut a couple of pieces to whittle it down to an hour-and-a-half-long show,” Owens says.

Fringe takes a toll on performers, says Owens, because shows at each venue are scheduled back to back. That means Spielpalast will have only 15 minutes to set up each night. In terms of sets, bringing “the big stuff” to Scotland is out of the question, so the troupers will need to get creative in finding props.

They’ll also need to find novel ways to publicize their act. “The Fringe Festival is really crazy,” says Owens, who has attended as a spectator. “There are so many things to see; you have to really push your show.” The troupe will do “a lot of grassroots advertising,” such as touting the cabaret on T-shirts and hawking upcoming performances on central thoroughfare High Street.

In Vermont, the troupers have been busy fundraising to cover expenses. Owens admits that “right now, we’re nowhere near being able to pay for the entire trip.” But “we’re gonna make it happen,” she says. “We’ll be piling into two flats, spending as little money as possible.”

Some troupe members have started personal fund drives on One is cabaret cofounder Terry McCants, who currently lives in Santa Cruz. She’s obtained about $1300 in pledges toward her goal of rejoining Spielpalast in Edinburgh as one of the troupe’s “cigar girls,” who dispense both absinthe lollipops and attitude to the audience.

Local fans — and curious Spielpalast virgins — can contribute by attending one of three fundraising shows this weekend in Vergennes, Waitsfield and Barre. The cabaret will perform the same lean and mean version that’s going to Edinburgh. A July 23 fundraiser at Burlington’s the Bakery will showcase some “naughty bits” of the Spielpalast repertoire, says Owens.

We’re guessing that the European city once famous for buttoned-up churchmen will welcome the hedonists of the Play Palace with open arms.

Want to see for yourself?

Thursday, July 14, 8 p.m. at Vergennes Opera House. $23-25. Friday, July 15, 8 p.m. at Big Picture Theater & Café in Waitsfield. $25-30. Saturday, July 16, 8:30 p.m. at Barre Opera House in Barre. $23-25. All shows for mature audiences only. Fundraiser, Saturday, July 23, 9 p.m. at the Bakery, 294 North Winooski Avenue, Burlington.

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About The Author

Margot Harrison

Margot Harrison

Margot Harrison is the Associate Editor at Seven Days; she coordinates literary and film coverage. In 2005, she won the John D. Donoghue award for arts criticism from the Vermont Press Association.


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