BRATTLEBORO -- Winter storm warning: After four years of stirring up crowds in and around the Hardwick area, Vermont Vaudeville has busted loose and is headed our way.
As part of its first statewide tour, this troupe, which combines the old-school, traveling Vaudeville circuit entertainment with new and cutting-edge talents, tricks and techniques, is coming to two local venues this week.
The Northeast Kingdom-based company will perform at the Bellows Falls Middle School auditorium on Friday and The New England Youth Theatre, 100 Flat St., in Brattleboro on Saturday. Both performances are at 7 p.m.
What audiences in those two places will see is, well, a little bit of everything and a lot of entertainment.
"It ranges from physical comedy and clowning to juggling and circus skills and pantomime. There's live music, and there's a gorilla in the show," explained Justin Lander, performer and co-founder of this troupe of intrepid performers.
Vermont Vaudeville got its start four years ago when two couples -- Lander and Rose Friedman, plus Brent and Maia McCoy -- decided to pool their talents to put on a show in the seldom-used Hardwick Townhouse in their hometown.
Lander and Friedman, a husband-and-wife duo, met each other while working at Bread and Puppet Theater in Glover. They connected with Maya McCoy, who was an intern there. Maya and Brent had met each other through Circus Smirkus.
They saw opportunity in the empty, unused Hardwick Townhouse and put together a show.
"It's an interesting blend of old and new. ... We're using an old form that's appropriate to the venues and also reviving this old art form. We do some really old-fashioned stuff, but we also do circus-oriented things that are really cutting-edge. None of the shows are nostalgic."
What they are, above all, is entertaining.
"We really just want people laughing as a crowd," Lander said.
Crowds have been doing that in Hardwick for four years. The first show they did drew 150 people. Audiences have grown since then. Three show there last fall drew 800 people. The word got out -- these guys are fun.
"It's just kind of snowballed. We spent less than $100 on advertising," said Lander.
With the help of funding from the Vermont Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as Vermont Public Radio, the group decided to branch out and do a statewide tour. They've drawn encouraging crowds in Plainfield, Barton, Waitsfield, Middlebury and Bennington. Now they're eager to see how audiences in Bellows Falls and Brattleboro respond.
The two couples will perform roughly a dozen acts, skits and bits that run from three to 12 minutes. They are joined by the rowdy Vermont Vaudeville Gorilla roustabout, Goddard professor Dr. Otto Muller on the piano and multi-instrumentalist Geoffery Goodhue.
In addition, each tour stop features special guest performers. For the Bellows Falls and Brattleboro stops, Vermont Vaudeville welcomes Guinness World Record yo-yo artist John Hibgy. In Brattleboro, Vermont Vaudeville will also be joined by local favorites Gould & Stearns.
While entertaining audiences of all ages -- yes, Vermont Vaudeville is family-friendly -- the troupe hopes to revive not only some of the old venues across the state but also an interest in live, local entertainment.
"I know that our audiences would agree, there's nothing that compares to a live experience," said Lander. "This is a great way to re-acclimate people to live theater, to wean themselves back into live theater."
Down the road, Vermont Vaudeville even hopes to revive enough of these community venues into a "circuit" of sorts -- "to link up a bunch of venues and drop performers in them like marbles," said Lander.
Friday's performance in Bellows Falls is presented by Main Street Arts. Tickets are $12 general, $5 for kids and can be purchased at brattleborotix.com, VermontVaudeville.com or 802-533-2589. For information, call 802-869-2960 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tickets for Saturday's performance in Brattleboro are $15 general, $8 for children and are available at VermontVaudeville.com or 802-533-2589.