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Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

It’s rude, irreverent, and possibly the funniest thing in Victoria: Atomic Vaudeville is back

A cross between South Park and the Muppet Show, with real people

By Jimmy Thomson
October 20, 2022
Arts
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

It’s rude, irreverent, and possibly the funniest thing in Victoria: Atomic Vaudeville is back

A cross between South Park and the Muppet Show, with real people

By Jimmy Thomson
Oct 20, 2022
An Atomic Vaudeville rehearsal in Britt Small's apartment. Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily
An Atomic Vaudeville rehearsal in Britt Small's apartment. Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily
Arts
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

It’s rude, irreverent, and possibly the funniest thing in Victoria: Atomic Vaudeville is back

A cross between South Park and the Muppet Show, with real people

By Jimmy Thomson
October 20, 2022
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It’s rude, irreverent, and possibly the funniest thing in Victoria: Atomic Vaudeville is back
An Atomic Vaudeville rehearsal in Britt Small's apartment. Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily

“Jesus fuck!” is the first thing I hear as I reach the top of the long staircase into Britt Small’s Chinatown apartment. It’s rehearsal time, and R.J. Peters is staring in shock at an imaginary vagina that seems to be hovering about eight feet off the ground. 

It’s as good an introduction as any to the process behind Atomic Vaudeville. The theatre company has been staging multiple variety shows every year for 18 years, pandemic notwithstanding.

Small, the show’s director, coaches the cast on tiny variations in timing and gestures from a seat just to the side of the stage (her living room), and each iteration lands just a little bit better. From one take to the next, the actors are telling a more complete, funnier story, with just a little extra eye contact, a bigger gesture, or the right pause between international translations of “pussy.”

Small's cat prowls the rehearsal space. Photo: Jimmy Thomson / Capital Daily

As Peters reaches, entranced, for the imaginary floating genitalia, Small (a professional clown and movement teacher) cuts in with a note: “Can that reach almost be, like, from the child within?” she asks. “Almost like, ‘Mommy, pick me up?’”


Somehow the actor seems to know exactly what that means, and incorporates it seamlessly into his next take. The audience—the other actors—laugh uproariously at the effect of the tweak, as Peters approaches the imaginary target again, this time more meekly. 

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Again and again, they use that laughter to gauge where jokes need work, and what improvised lines to have lead writer Taylor Lewis incorporate into the ever-changing script, which is projected onto a hanging bedsheet for all to see.

A throwaway, ominous “duh duh duhhhh” intoned by an actor becomes part of the script—except, instead of all three descending notes being assigned to one actor, Small suggests that everyone onstage just jump in on whichever “duh” they want, and hope for the best. 

“That’s gonna be a shitshow,” she muses, and sits back to watch the result. She’s right. They stick with it anyway.

Writer Taylor Lewis works on script edits. Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily

After co-founder Jacob Richmond departed the company in 2020, Pedro Siqueira and Kathleen Greenfield joined Atomic Vaudeville’s leadership team, which shares the responsibilities of administration, outreach, and production. Siqueira—one of the six recent CCPA grads—jumps in and out of the performance, while Greenfield, also a cast member, makes additions to the script from the back of the room. 

All that hard work, again and again, results in shows that can be funny to the point of causing physical pain, while taking shots at closely held beliefs across the political spectrum; Jordan Peterson will be the butt of one joke and phony male feminists the target of the next. Small says that equal-opportunity offensiveness—and aversion to being preachy—is borrowed from South Park.

“They always seem to shoot really great targets,” Small explains. “They’re not going to do the cheap jokes, but then they do the really cheap jokes, like lots of farting. There’s going to be lots of farting in this show as well.” 

Several members of the cast are graduates from the Canadian College of Performing Arts. Photo: Jimmy Thomson / Capital Daily

Through two years of pandemic shutdowns, the company set about creating a short film—the Batshits—that will be screening at Friday’s performance. But after struggling through online performances and side projects, Small is eager to see audiences in real life again. “Anything that reminds us of our shared humanity is great,” she says.

Suddenly, in a change of pace that’s familiar to anyone who’s attended an Atomic Vaudeville show before, the troupe begins rehearsing a dance number. The same people who had just been leaning against the brick walls, working their lines, jump up and put on a routine that is dazzlingly tight, given that rehearsals have been under way only for about a week. The actors, it turns out, are multi-talented. 

A dance rehearsal in the living room. Photo: Jimmy Thomson / Capital Daily

Six of them graduated together in 2020 from Victoria's Canadian College of Performing Arts (CCPA), where Peters, who has been with Atomic Vaudeville for six years, is the production manager. That closeness with the programs that are sending eager new graduates into an environment without an abundance of creative outlets and opportunities has been central to Atomic Vaudeville’s mission since the beginning, when it was something of a make-work project for Victoria’s theatre community.

Pedro Siqueira and Britt Small. Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily
Kathleen Greenfield. Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily

“There's a real need, from the performers, to have something like this,” Small explains, “because they get to create, they get to write, they get to choreograph, they get to direct, conceive, design—so I think it's really satisfying just from an artistic point of view as well. And it’s fun! It makes us feel good to be working.”

The environment feels fun; it’s collaborative and supportive, even while the actors push themselves and one another to be funnier, clearer, sharper. 

Actors rehearse in Small's apartment. Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily

“It’s like the Muppet Show, but with real people,” Small says. A trope of the Muppet Show—that there was always a new show to rush out, featuring the muppets themselves—is coming to bear in Small’s apartment, five times a week. In this case, the Victoria Event Centre stands in for the grand old Muppet Theatre, and the hecklers calling out wisecracks from the balcony will, hopefully, sit this one out. 

Atomic Vaudeville's new show, Pandemonium: Fear Freedom, opens Oct. 27. Tickets can be purchased through their website.

Article Author's Profile Picture
Jimmy Thomson
Managing Editor
[email protected]

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