by Bremner Duthie
The Rogue Festival hits Fresno again from February 28 – March 9, and you can expect a lot of coverage before & during Rogue from KRL this year–maybe even some videos this time! Here is another article about one of this year’s festival performers. You can learn more on the Festival website! You can find all our other Rogue articles in our A & E section.
My Rogue Festival show – The Chaser – at the Starline Theatre – was inspired by a story about the last night of Vaudeville and a quote from the infamous Sophie Tucker. Sophie was one of the most famous performers of the first half of the 20th Century; she was called, ‘The Last of the Red Hot Mamas’. Vaudeville was the most popular entertainment in North America for decades, but when film and radio came along, Vaudeville began to decline. The last Vaudeville theatre shifted to playing movies on the 16th of November 1932. That was the end of Vaudeville and the end of a livelihood for thousands of performers.
When the Palace Theatre in NYC burned down around this time, Sophie Tucker was on stage. She was saved, but later she said that as the fire burned around her, she had decided to stay up there, finish her act and burn with the theatre. She said to herself — ‘This is it. If you gotta go, this is the way to go. I’m going down with Vaudeville!’
In The Chaser, my character is Murgatroyd Ducarre, the last forlorn song-and-dance-man. He is the last performer on the last evening at that last, final Vaudeville theatre. That last act is called ‘The Chaser’ – it comes from the Vaudeville tradition of putting an old, has been actor as the last performer of the night to ‘chase’ the audience from their seats.
It’s the end! Technology, profit, money, industry, social change – all conspire to kill an industry. “The heart of American Show Business’ is about to stop. 12,000 people are about to lose their jobs. So Murgatroyd will be the last act, ending a 50-year tradition of joyous, anarchic entertainment history. And suddenly, he decides, (or seems to), to change his act. He wants to end like a true Vaudevillian. He will entertain the audience with a concert of the cheeriest songs about dyin’ ever penned, and as a finale, he will end it all on stage. But on a Vaudeville stage, dying is not as easy as he thinks and the end, if it comes, will come with a song, laughter, a pratfall and a blessing of glitter and sequins.
Why did I write this show? I’m obsessed with the music of this era. The birth of Jazz is just a few years previous. New Orleans jazz is still alive and a young Louis Armstrong is becoming a star. The time of big band and swing jazz is just coming in and the Blues are just finding a larger audience. It’s an amazing time in American Musical History. I’ve been singing the Cabaret songs of the European composers for many years, but I wanted to start playing around with my own musical heritage!
And finally, I wanted to write a show about how technology and industry changes our lives, and we feel we have no control. I wanted to do a show about someone who decides to go out in style. He refuses to be ‘downsized’ and ‘outsourced’ and he thumbs his nose at the management with laughter and jokes. He wants to finish surrounded by the music and the history and the show business where he spent his whole life. And, at the very end of the show, I wanted the audience to suddenly wonder whether or not the whole thing was really ‘his Act’ – the ultimate, defiant vaudeville performance. Learn more on my website.
Performance dates, times and places for The Chaser:
at the Starline
Friday March 1 7:00 p.m.
Saturday March 2 10:00 p.m.
Sunday March 3 5:30 p.m.
Saturday March 9 2:30 p.m.
Saturday March 9 8:30 p.m.