I've never seen a show at Vodvil, and now I'll never get to. Vodvil is closing because Curtis Taylor—its impresario and caretaker, and one of Seattle's great artistic polymaths—is moving out and he's taking his theater with him.
Eight years ago, Taylor moved into what had been a storefront Baptist church on 18th street. He built a small proscenium, made a few renovations, and Vodvil was born. Under Taylor's care, the space has been a theater, art gallery, concert hall, scene shop, and pirate radio station (which got busted by an FCC directional antenna in Issaquah). And the name? "I've always been a fan of vaudeville," he said. "But I don't like the way the word looks. It's too nostalgic and cornball."
The theater is in the Gil Baker Building—named for one of Seattle's first African-American news photographers and cameramen—teetering between Capitol Hill and the Central District. Tucked among a storefront church, Gallery 1412, a barbershop, and a hair salon, Vodvil is in the great tradition of intimate arts speakeasies that engage in actual community-building without all the aimless blather you hear in some arts institutions' outreach departments. Nothing brings people together like the feeling of being in on a secret.
Taylor is a student of old theater technique—"I love painted flats, just as a technology"—and working within old-time limitations gives his work an old-time feel. But he isn't a nostalgia fetishist: "I'm predominantly interested in our secret American language, that feeling of anti-authoritarianism. I just happen to find it mostly in these older things." Taylor's work includes See-Saw (a musical "lumberjack dreamplay"), Shades of Parkland (a "murder ballad opera" about the love triangle between a widow, a bride, and a policeman), and cabaret, film, and visual art projects.
Some Vodvil performances were by invitation only, but others attracted positive press. Reviewing Shades of Parkland for this newspaper, Emily Hall wrote that the opera "was more a work of art than a work of theater." Bret Fetzer urged readers to "go to the tiniest proscenium in town and steep yourself in what promises to be a lush and intimate experience."
Vodvil has hosted the Black Cat Orchestra, Printer's Devil, the noise experiments of Climax Golden Twins, and many other artists across disciplines. Vodvil's last evening features the French Project: Erin Jorgenson on marimba, Annette Lefebvre on percussion, Chris Lefebvre on guitars, and guest Charles Smith on auto-harp and accordion. The French Project played a haunting, beautiful set at the On the Boards Northwest New Works festival. If you're lucky, there might be some a cappella opera by singers in Taylor's latest project, a short film of Samuel Barber's chamber opera A Hand of Bridge.
But I won't be there. I'll be 2,000 miles away, sorry I never got to see a performance at Vodvil.