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Moisture Festival 2006: A look back at its roots
By Amanda Schuster
Posted: March 2006

What does modern society look to for entertainment? Friends coming together for food, drink, and a good time. Costumed girls gracefully dancing across the stage. A rock and roll band playing for an enthusiastic audience. Acrobats flying through the air doing stunts. A stand-up comedian taking the stage and telling us jokes.

Entertainment comes to us in many forms today – television, circuses, theater, film, dance, music, meeting our friends for a night out. However, it is rare that a single event in a single venue incorporates more than one or two types of entertainment at once.

Yet, that is exactly what the Moisture Festival does. Not just one, not just two, but all of the forms of entertainment appear in the same show. True to the comedy/varieté from which it stems, the Moisture Festival offers endless entertainment while the audience enjoys food, drink and good company. And, although it is a variety show, it is much, much more than a few acts simply strung together.

Varieté has its roots in the Music Halls of 17th century England, when the rise of industrialization resulted in more time to devote to relaxation and entertainment. During the 15th and 16th centuries, people had always enjoyed fairs and festivals on holidays. Like today, these festivals often included performers exhibiting their various talents, and proved a popular form of entertainment. When puritanical Reformation values put a stop to formal theater in the 17th century, people began to look for ways around the restrictions. The solution? Informal theater – a medley of acts centered around music and including everything from bar songs to magic tricks to acrobatics and more. Thus, Music Halls were born.

Music Halls rapidly grew immensely popular. They were a form of cheap entertainment in a venue where people could eat, drink, and interact with the performers and each other. Shows would often run from two in the afternoon until two in the morning, giving people the opportunity to come and go as they pleased. Not only were Music Halls a desirable form of entertainment in a life dominated by working long hours, but they were also accessible to the working-class public who could not normally afford such luxury as a night out. Because it was affordable, workers would flock to the Music Halls as soon as work got out, then eat, drink and socialize until it was time to go home to bed. The phenomenon spread throughout Europe, taking the name varieté in Germany and Vaudeville when it reached America. Subtle aspects of the show changed from place to place, but the essence remained the same. Music Halls appealed to the masses, and that appeal still holds true today.

An interview with Ron Bailey, one of the original producers of the Moisture Festival, lends some insight into the values and philosophies behind the production. For Bailey, one of the most important things about the show is bringing people together for a good time. It is important to him, and to everyone involved in the show, that the audience realizes they can relax, interact with the performers and each other, and voice their reactions. In short, they can breach all the etiquette that applies to the typical theater audience. Bailey says that the audience is usually unsure at first of their role in the show, but that the MC and performers provoke the audience to respond, and the atmosphere soon becomes one of revelry and pleasure.

The importance Bailey places on interaction does not stop with the audience. He stresses that cooperation between the performers is another element that greatly influences the quality of the show. There is a fantastic energy created when performers enter into friendly competition, and the inspiration they give each other truly comes out in their performance.

Since its inception, varieté has taken many forms and has appealed to people throughout the ages. The Moisture Festival continues this tradition, offering an assortment of acts sure to appeal to the fun-loving person that resides in us all. So come prepared to relax, eat, drink and, most importantly, laugh.

“I love seeing people laugh together,” says Bailey. “It’s one of the healthiest things for a community to do.” And, truly, laughter and togetherness is what varieté is all about.





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