“Touch the girls and the show is over”
by Heather Fisch
(Theatrical impresario and local hero, Heather Fisch wants you to know that her newest live theater show, La Belle Epoque, is an invocation, calling to the ghosts of American Vaudeville. It is such a unique concept, we asked her to describe it in her own words. – Ed.)
At the turn of the 20th century, Great Barrington’s historic Mahaiwe Theater was a vaudeville house, like many others across the U.S. and became a movie palace in the 1930’s after the advent of the motion picture. During the vaudeville days, the Mahaiwe theater had a sign posted just below the stage that read, “Touch the girls and the show is over.”
La Belle Epoque is a depression-era cabaret musical about a young gamine who plays footsie with the devil, gambles away her soul and eventually escapes doom by becoming a showgirl. It’s an ancient story wrapped up in a shiny package of slapstick comedy, fast live gypsy jazz music and sexy lipstick choreography.
I was Inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy, The Little Mermaid and the mystical tarot, so the show offers viewers an array of symbolic thought lines. People are invited to read them into their own subconscious minds or to simply enjoy the story and the visions floating by.
The show features reoccurring characters from my 2011 solo-show Curbstone Follies and is performed by a three-man cast who swap identities, costumes and musical instruments like they were playing cards. In addition, I have roped in a travelling group of chorus girls, The Bay Bridge Burnettes, to perform alongside them in the show. As is thematic of my works, viewers are challenged to access their deepest selves while cradled by the safety net of comedic absurdism.
Creating the full score of original live music is a collaborative effort with the internationally renowned composer and musician Jonathan Talbott plus old-timey guitar virtuoso and absurdist performer Evan (Randall) Levine, produce haunting melodies and euphonic textures that fill the theater with vivid emotion and spark.
Last year’s show, Blue Venice, was a screaming success and we just keep getting better and better as we go. The sky is the limit.
Take the signature ornate over-the-top costumes, they channel the work of Dorothea Tanning, imparting a richness that is sensual, tactile and gritty. With the help of accomplished costumer George Veale, head of Bard College at Simon’s Rock’s costume department, these artists are creating another awe-inspiring visual masterpiece with La Belle Epoque.
This new show also marks the launch of my new production company, The National Theater of Opera Nouveau; This company is designed to help recreate a performing arts culture in this country like the one we had before the advent of the motion picture. La Belle Epoque will give the public a sample of the vision that underlies this new organization.
As you have probably gathered, much of my work can be characterized as a homage to the old vaudevillian style.
I like the realness in vaudeville with its frayed edges. It pre-dates the plastic-y, airbrushed un-reality of today’s typical entertainment.
And in La Belle Epoque you will experience the distance that fantasy allows in order to draw viewers closer to the realness and rawness of human experience.
La Belle Epoque will premiere at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, Mass. on Aug. 10 at 8 PM. Tickets and information are available at www.mahaiwe.org.