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The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Vaudeville alive and kicking at Dead Man’s Carnival

Dead Man's Carnival's acts range from the expected to the outrageous. Photo courtesy of Geoff Marsh.

Many people have treasured memories of going to a circus or the carnival when they were children. The event tends to provide a combination of mystery, excitement, and even terror (normally provided by the circus’ clowns) that is hard to find in adult life.

However, thanks to Dead Man’s Carnival, one no longer needs flashbacks to get these unique thrills.

The Milwaukee-based group, which combines elements of circuses, carnivals, and vaudeville, is performing on April 30 at 8 p.m. at the Turner Hall Ballroom. The concert is in honor of their upcoming album release, which mainly features their house band, Sir Pinkerton and The Magnificents.

Group member “Gypsy Geoff” Marsh, who serves as the booking agent for Dead Man’s Carnival, said the show will be loaded with a variety of different acts, including magicians, acrobats, burlesque dancers, death-defying stunts, and a LED glow show, just to name a few.

It’s this vast variety of unique performances, acts and stunts that makes Dead Man’s Carnival an experience one must see to believe.

“There’s nothing really to compare it to,” Marsh said. “It’s a one-of-a-kind experience you need to see with your eyes.”

Marsh said the group originated four years ago when he and his friend and fellow performer Erik Bang teamed up with co-founders DJ Ash and Gene Gallistel to create a live performance based around circus-like acts, talents and stunts.

The show was originally called Karnal: Ville, but, according to Marsh, that name became “too hard for the average Muggle to spell,” so they changed the name of the group to Dead Man’s Carnival.

“We almost called ourselves Bananarama,” Marsh said. “But there was already another band named that.”

In addition, the group gathered a house band, led by Sir Pinkerton, which plays original compositions that pay homage to the ragtime, boogie woogie and jazz styles often linked to old school vaudeville shows. With its unique acts and music, the group was ready to bring its brand of vaudeville-style entertainment to the stage.

“We wanted to create a local showcase for all of our talents,” Marsh said, “which would eventually lead to a fan following.”

The fan following, however, is not just your typical group of passive fans. In fact, some of Dead Man’s Carnival’s largest fans, who have developed acts as well, have actually been brought on stage and incorporated into the show as regular performers. As a result, the group has managed to get a massive variety of acts that work with their vaudeville circus theme.

Even if audiences don’t have an act to bring to the stage, the concert involves a great deal of audience participation and interaction. The band’s official website, in fact, notes that costumes are encouraged, as well as potentially rewarded with prizes.

In addition, many of the various acts on stage require audience assistance, which Marsh said adds a whole new and unexpected element to the show.

“Sometimes it is the audience member that makes the show,” Marsh said. “It becomes more personal. It’s not just them seeing the show, but becoming a part of it.”

The different audience members participating also guarantee that every single Dead Man’s Carnival show will be unique.

With so many different performers and elements, one might think that the show would be overstuffed and filled with distractions. However, Dead Man’s Carnival manages to avoid these problems with a stage style called continuous vaudeville, which Marsh noted works perfectly “for anyone with a short attention span.”

The style originated in the 1890s with vaudeville acts, which ranged from three to five minutes long and were accompanied by live music. After one performer was finished with his particular stunt or act, the next performer would come on right on stage and begin performing, creating an energetic yet organized variety show.

“The average band can rely on catchy songs, but this is live entertainment,” Marsh said. “You’re constantly working to get appreciation from your audience and giving every act all your energy, and it shows.”

Another important aspect of the show is the acts themselves. While it is one thing to have a particular talent, it is another idea altogether to hone that talent into a five to ten minute perfected and thought-out act.

“Some entertainers are born with talent,” Marsh stated. “Others work every day thinking of their trade and diligently practicing their craft to the finest details.”

As a result, the show isn’t just a variety of tricks and street performances. Instead, it is acts, performances and routines honed for their audience’s entertainment.

The show’s emphasis on visual energy in performance might suggest problems in translation when that show tries to record an audio album, as Dead Man’s Carnival is doing. However, Marsh said they had no trouble converting their stage energy for the recording process.

“We wanted to make an album for the great music that accompanies our talent,” Marsh said. “The band itself is a show; you don’t need to have circus acts accompanying the amazing music they’re putting out.”

In many cases, the capabilities of a recording studio actually helped enhance the memorable comedic songs that will be appearing on the CD.

“It is a lot more capable of catching the small subtleties that you couldn’t hear over the guy talking to you at the bar,” Marsh said.

With catchy music and thrilling performances, Dead Man’s Carnival is guaranteed to keep its audience, as well as the vaudeville genre itself, alive and well.

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