main: July 2008 Archives
K. Brian Neel was running a fever the entire time he was performing Vaud Rats on Wednesday night (during the Piccolo Spoleto Festival, the sister event to Spoleto in Charleston, S.C.). I found this out afterward while we talked about his interest in the rich history of vaudeville.
As we talked about the play within the play aspect of his show, he asked me what I thought of the ending (don’t worry, there’s no spoiler here). He asked if it were buoyant and hopeful. I had to be honest. No, it wasn’t. Fatalistic is more like it. He agreed that there might be something to that reading, but that’s not what he normally does. Vaud Rats usually ends on an up note. It must have been the fever, we thought.
Perhaps it was a happy accident. The note of fatalism gave Vaud Rats a level of gravitas that hadn’t been apparent to Neel before, he said. The end of vaudeville was a brutal time for stage performers, most of whom were left out of work and impoverished after the rise of mass entertainments like film and radio.
There’s an alternate theory about the death of vaudeville, Neel said. Performers couldn’t adapt. They couldn’t come up with new material week after week, a pattern that’s standard and expected these days. Neel said that vaudevillians would come up with a shtick and just do it over and over again.