The Portland Umbrella Festival harkens back to a simpler time, when variety shows brought us clowns, acrobats, and unique sights and sounds. (Alberta Rose Theatre)
By Jamie Hale
April 01, 2014
If variety is the spice of life, consider the Portland Umbrella Festival seasoned very well. From acrobatics to physical comedy to eclectic musical acts, the Northeast Portland event looks to breathe new life into the long lost art of variety shows.
"There's something about old time performances that takes real talent to entertain people," said Adam East, talent buyer at the Alberta Rose Theatre, which is hosting the festival. "It's very organic. It's enjoyed by many people who are into vintage culture, though it's ageless, really, in its appeal."
The festival harkens back to a simpler time, when bands of eccentric performers wandered the country, propping up tents and putting on shows for audiences big and small. In our a world where we can find instantaneous entertainment without leaving bed, it's easy to forget about the so-called "variety arts" of yore.
Organizers of The Umbrella Festival now have their eyes on a Portland revival of the circus and vaudevillian shows. For its third year, the festival is a four-day showcase of performers from around the region. East said this year they're hoping to move beyond the subculture and draw a broader audience.
"I think that the underground people who are already involved have found out about it, and have responded positively to it, and it really requires getting out of those communities and getting out in the mainstream," East said. He pointed to the popularity of Cirque du Soleil, which is in town now, as evidence of mainstream interest in the circus and variety arts. "We have some incredible things to offer to people who are entertained by that kind of experience."
The festival starts this Thursday and runs all weekend. Each night features a different group of performers, grouped together by theme. Thursday is "Circus and Swing," showcasing circus acts and swing dancers; Friday is "Clowns and Comedy," with the ever-popular Leapin' Louie; Saturday has two shows, a "Family Matinee" featuring young performers and a "Sexy Cabaret" featuring more suggestive acts; and Sunday caps off the festival with the "Grand Finale," a night of music and burlesque, headlined by Vagabond Opera, a "Bohemian absurdist cabaret."
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