This Saturday, for the first time ever, the Strathmore’s new venue AMP will be featuring sideshow and variety when Atomic Doll Productions brings the New York Variety All Stars to town! We got a chance recently to chat with Alex Doll of Atomic Doll Productions and Adam Cardone of the All Stars about their show and their connections to the variety, rock and sideshow worlds!
Lucrezia: If you will, go ahead and introduce yourself to our readers – name, tagline if you have one and when and why did you get into variety/sideshow?
Alex: My name is Alex Doll, aka the Carnival Plaything. I first launched into the world of sideshow over 12 years ago with a stint in journalism and documentation of the biz which evolved into performance and production
With Shocked and Amazed, yeah?
Alex: Shocked and Amazed didn’t come until later – originally I was a freelance journalist, looking to write a book on sideshow and the history of American carnivals. I linked up with James Taylor of Shocked and Amazed halfway through that process and have been with him ever since. And no, the book never got off the ground – I entered into this with a very narrow focus and once embedded in the world of sideshow, my focus broadened and became … well, unfocused in an awesome way. There was just so much amazing to take in!
Adam: Cardone. I’ve been doing shows for, like 30 years – Magic/Escape/Ventriloquism. I also toured in a band fo a long time. We still play but no touring.
Adam: Yep, but we just go by Toilet Boys now. We got rid of the Miss Guy line in ’97 – too many words! I also did The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black for 6 years. Magic has been my day job for a long time.
Holy Crap!!! Going to SqueezeBox way back when (where these bands often played) is what made me wanna do drag in the first place. I wish that “drag rock” scene was more prevalent now than some of the Drag Race influenced vapidity that’s going on now!
Adam: Ha! I was a gogo boy at SqueezeBox.
Then I’m sure I stuffed a fiver in your g-string.
Alex: … things I can’t unsee …
Oh hey Alex!
Alex: Haha, OH HEY!
Um, so … you two have performed together as well?
Alex: We haven’t performed together, but I have produced several shows that Adam has been in – one for Ripley’s Believe It Or Not and he was also featured in the sold out Shocked and Amazed show series at Artisphere, not to mention his absolutely killer Spookshow he brought to the venue last October.
Adam: She busts her ass and that’s why I like working with her. Most variety show people I meet are lazy loafs, PHP – pot head productions. I do this full time and I have no trust fund and no time for BS.
Alex: *swoon* As far as sideshow family goes, Cardone is like the weirdo brother I never wanted, and yeah he works his ass off like crazy. I dig working with people who have a great work ethic and treat this industry like both an art and a business. It really translates well to the audiences which is, in part, why we have such great responses and why our shows are labeled as more high profile/high caliber productions.
Yeah – the Strathmore – that’s normally a highbrow music venue. How did this gig come about?
Alex: Well, ok, point of clarification – AMP, the venue that New York Variety Allstars is performing at on October 10th is owned by or, as they put it “powered by” Strathmore. It’s a relatively newer venue in the Pike and Rose district in Rockville – super swank, all around. I was actually referred by Sarah Farmer who works at the space and had previously worked at Artisphere. Good vibes all around there – she reached out via Artisphere’s former program director, Josh Stolzfus and that’s how that all came together. This will be their first novelty/variety/sideshow production EVER. So, much like when we started out at Artisphere, we are setting the precedent here – trailblazing, while hopefully lighting nothing on fire.
Adam: We are ambassadors of variety.
Speaking of fire, what can we expect at the New York Variety All Stars show?
Adam: Stuff people never see – strong man, ventriloquism, real escape acts, large scale magic …
Alex: … and unfortunately no fire due to venue restrictions but they have a lot packed in there. You will be both shocked and amazed at what they bring to the table!
Ooh large scale magic! Like what? Disappearing act?
What’s going to disappear?
Adam: A girl … and reappear in my bedroom! LOL!
Do you have a theme to your work?
Adam: The only theme I have is no B-list material and I don’t like a lot of magic because the skill level is low and it’s a parody of magic. I also don’t like clever. Clever kills art.
Alex: I would add too that I was not a huge fan of modern magicians and after meeting Adam, I really redefined my standards for what magic could be on a stage. He is total rock and roll, through and through, without trying.
And Alex, a theme to your work?
Alex: For performance, my themes vary but I like to try and pull in the alt./punk nods when I can and in addition to that, use my knowledge of the history of sideshow to hearken back to some more classic themes/elements. Production wise I will quote Cardone on this – no B-list material. I only go high profile, high caliber. I am working hard to distinguish my productions in a very specific way and that means blending highly talented local performers with those from all over the world. Injecting new blood into the scene and re-energizing audience while also honoring this genre with people who do the art form justice – that is INCREDIBLY important to me. I am totally humbled by the opportunities we have been given to showcase our art form on such great stages and incredible spaces and audiences of all types and ages walking away with that weird sense of wonder ony sideshow can provide? Awesome!
Yeah, you’ve gotten some really high profile gigs!
Alex: It’s a lot of networking, a lot of hard work, and a lot of incredible talent who support what I do and what we bring to the table. Having James Taylor of Shocked and Amazed on board for the show series was crucial – his faith in what we were capable of has been a blessing throughout!
I do want to say the local community support really makes these shows possible and as this is our first stint at the new venue we would love to see all your smiling faces in attendance, cheering us on. It’s really going to be a determining factor for whether or not Variety can succeed in more venues and spaces like this – so come on out!
So as we chat online in this jaded age of internet access to everything why do you think variety is so popular? (I would say making a comeback but I think it’s been back for quite some time now).
Adam: Variety is popular because everyone and their grandma wants to do it. Lots of burly q people want to do it because they think it’ll make them more money. In the professional world it has always been there as entertainment for private and corporate functions.
Alex: It’s complex and interesting because the “why” is ever changing. People never tire of being amazed but the attention span of the modern audience is split and strained by constant distraction. Even during shows, you see people at The Kennedy Center, who have paid upwards of a hundred bucks or more to attend an event and they are whipping out their phones and texting throughout. The type of entertainment we bring, especially in these shows, involves a lot of audience participation – the audience is constantly engaged and involved and that really creates an experience you can’t get on YouTube (or YouPorn, if you’d rather. That’s the magic of variety and sideshow – it’s ageless and has literally been around since man. The first ignition of fire – that was f-ing magic! Any time you are marveling at something seemingly impossible, that’s what we bring to the table.
Adam: Magic predates it all. Cavemen were doing it.
Alex: And that will never die out.
Shocked and Amazed: New York Variety All Stars plays Saturday, October 10, 2015 at 8:00 PM at Strathmore’s AMP – 11810 Grand Park Avenue, in North Bethesda, MD at 8:00 PM. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online for $18 – $25.