Originally created 02/11/00

Vaudeville goes high-tech



The three performers who comprise Lazer Vaudeville have taken the traditional idea of what vaudeville is and turned it on its ear.

And all they did was plug it in.

A show that combines the traditional vaudeville arts of juggling, comedy, magic and music with high-tech presentation, Lazer Vaudeville was founded by Carter Brown.

"Coming from a big circus background, Carter had seen lights and music used, but in a very general sort of way," said Cindy Marvell, a six-year Lazer Vaudeville veteran. "He decided that he wanted to do something that would bring that technology and the art of vaudeville together in a more controlled manner."

Mr. Brown, Ms. Marvell and recent addition Jeffrey Daymont tour with a show that features a glow-in-the-dark cowboy demonstrating rope tricks, musical interludes illustrated by laser-generated designs, a spectral wizard's illusions and Alfonzo the dragon.

The dragon is a favorite, Ms. Marvell said. "He is a 7-foot, fire-breathing dragon, and it's going to be hard to beat that."

Although they lack Alfonzo's stature and built-in marshmallow-roasting ability, each of the performers brings unique skills and performance histories to the show.

Mr. Brown, a graduate of the Ringling Bros. Clown College in Sarasota, Fla., traveled with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus as a performer and with the Carden International Circus as a performer, lighting and sound designer and choreographer. Although skilled in a number of juggling arts, his specialty is juggling bicycle rims.

Ms. Marvell began juggling as a child. After graduating from the Antic Arts College at the State University of New York-Purchase, she became the first woman to win the International Jugglers Association Championship. Ms. Marvell also toured with the Pickle family circus and has appeared on Sesame Street.

Mr. Daymont specializes in the relatively obscure art of cigar box manipulation. Before throwing in his lot with Lazer Vaudeville, his innovative act landed him gigs as varied as Hollywood's Universal Studios and NBC's daytime drama Days of Our Lives.

Taking performance cues from the vaudeville shows popular at the turn of the century, the troupe presents its acts in a variety-show format, leaving the audience to guess what comes next.

"The audience can expect the unexpected, and the audience can expect to be wowed and amused," Ms. Marvell said. "Sometimes they can expect to be brought onto the stage."

At one point in the program, the troupe challenges someone from the audience to escape from a straitjacket, with unexpected results.

Since its inception, Lazer Vaudeville has continued to evolve and attract a wider audience. This has included developing an educational outreach program that teaches school-age children about the history of vaudeville as well as the physics of the lasers the trio uses.

"Usually when we do that it's in a performance-type setting -- it's not really like traditional teaching," Ms. Marvell said. "But, of course, when you're a juggler, you're automatically a teacher. People are always asking, `How do you do that?"'

This summer, the troupe plans to play some dates in China and is working on some new acts.

"One thing we've talked about for a long time is including staff twirling," Ms. Marvell said. "The idea would be to have a staff that lights up from the inside and have mirrors on the ends to reflect the lasers we use."

Ms. Marvell said this would fit into the group's make-everything-old-new-again ethos, particularly when performing in older theaters.

"We really love the idea of putting some of these old, highly skilled acts into a show and being able to bring vaudeville back to the vaudeville houses where it once flourished."

On stage

What:Lazer Vaudeville

When:7 p.m. Saturday

Where:The Etherredge Center, University of South Carolina Aiken

Admission:$10 adults, $8 children and students

Call:(803) 641-3305

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626.