Seattle’s own Moisture Festival labels itself a vaudeville variety show. But what exactly does that entail? In all honesty, even after attending the event myself, there is no easy answer. With dozens upon dozens of acts in the festival as a whole, and an outlandish lineup of comedians, acrobats, clowns, and more, each show in the four-week run is a unique collection. The lineup caters to all audiences: there are family-friendly shows in the evenings and more risqué performances later in the night.
The festival’s home, Hale’s Palladium, is a brightly painted structure on the backside of the modern and hip Hale’s Brewery. At its entrance, we were greeted by a man in a gaudy orange astronaut costume and a nametag labeling him Zee. Zee scanned our tickets with a smartphone app—the last piece of modern technology we would see for the duration of this event—and ushered us inside. The Palladium is a much humbler and informal venue than such a name might suggest, with an exposed wood ceiling studded with lights of all kinds stretching over many rows of chairs facing a low stage. An acrobat’s swing is tied up in the rafters, foreshadowing acts to come.
As the crowd clamored in anticipation, Doc Sprinsock and the SANCApators (the house band for SANCA, the Seattle Circus School) began warming up from their position on stage left. With no unifying clothing, the upbeat, jazzy tunes their instruments belted out were more vibrant than polished. Still, the band successfully captured the audience’s attention with classic favorites like “Under the Sea” as well as unfamiliar, but catchy, call-and-responses that introduced us to the show’s theme of audience participation.
The show itself began with an introduction from Michael Paul, our host for the evening. Paul established the evening’s easygoing tone by cracking jokes about Seattle. His comedic stylings returned frequently throughout the night, serving as interludes between the eleven (yes, eleven!) acts.
Moisture Festival performers. Photo by Cornicello Photography.
Among the most impressive acts was a pair of French diabolo jugglers dubbed “Duo par Deux.” They transformed what was previously only recognizable to me as a toy from elementary school PE class into a dazzling, gravity-defying display. The two performers were outfitted in matching ensembles complete with pink bow ties that would not feel out of place in a silent film (or maybe a barbershop quartet). They cavorted joyfully around the stage while flinging the hourglass-like object to jaw-dropping heights. I was initially taken aback by the existence of professional diabolo jugglers, but Duo par Deux’s astonishingly enjoyable spectacle makes a masterpiece out of an odd talent. Their well-oiled synchronicity and undeniable skill made this bizarre display a highlight of the show.
According to Cheryl Angle, development director at the Moisture Festival who was kind enough to speak with me about the event, an aerialist like Mykelle Walton could be making up to $1000 per night at a show in Vegas, yet decided to perform here and give a captivating performance on a bouncing ring contraption she invented herself. This reality makes it all the more valuable—these artists still choose to come to Moisture Fest for the love of performing and community art. They’re paid about $35 per show, plus a hot meal donated by a local restaurant which is devoured in the short break between the 7:30 and 10:00 shows.
Moisture Fest is undoubtedly enjoyable, but its appeal is not so easily articulated. Vaudeville is defined as “comedy without psychological or moral intentions,” and Moisture Fest indeed lives up to that description. The show exists completely independent from time, technology, politics, or any other aspect of modern urban life. Many of the acts seemed like relics from a simpler past. We are in the height of the digital era right now, and electronics draw us further into their screens every day. As we progress in what seems to be a march towards a robotic future, it is important to remember the magic of live entertainment because, at the end of the day, nothing compares to the marvel of living, breathing talent. The existence of such a space for the sole purpose of showcasing these kinds of acts is a beautiful rarity.