Vaudeville is reborn,
just as it loses its Times Square home.

On February 29th, 2004, the Palace of Variety went dark, entrepreneurial Vaudeville - edgy and raw, wickedly funny, shocking at times, bawdy, a little dangerous - disappeared once more from Times Square. The Bindlestiff Family Cirkus moved on, and the community it has fostered will be in search of a new place to present this most American form of variety stage entertainment.

This milestone presents an opportunity to examine a number of forces in current and historical American society. It's a story about an art form you probably thought was dead and buried: about the changing economics and face of historic city centers: about the final expiration of a Times Square legacy. It's also a story about a nutty little circus that has served as a venue for performers of an ancient art form to sharpen their skills and bring them to the public.

The Historic Palace of Variety on 42nd St., between 6th and 7th Ave
Stephanie Monseu, Entrepreneur, Performer
The Bindlestiff Family Cirkus is something of a misnomer: it is not particularly family oriented, nor is it produced by a circus family, but it is a community nevertheless. Founded by performers Stephanie Monseu and Keith Nelson, the BFC currently provides a seven-days-a-week platform for variety and circus artists of all types. In addition to the flagship production this winter, High Heels and Red Noses, they produce workshops, showcases and open mike opportunities for aspiring variety arts performers to take the stage. Monseu and Nelson serve as a nexus in the world of circus and variety, identifying and nurturing performers as they hone their acts.
The one time home of the Cirkus, at the Palace of Variety on 42nd St. between 6th and 7th avenues, is a few steps away from the the magic kingdom west of Broadway. Surrounded by some of the most expensive urban redevelopment in America, this small cluster of buildings had become a hive of creativity that reaches beyond the seedy late-twentieth-century nadir to a more illustrious era in Times Square’s past.

This neighborhood was the center of Vaudeville, an entrepreneurial art form that gave rise to popular culture in America. The use of the building is made possible though the auspices of chashama, an arts organization founded by Anita Durst, of New York's Durst family real estate empire.

Ringling Brothers-trained clown Matthew Morgan gets his make-up ready prior to the show
The Palace provides a venue for Bindlestiff veterans and others to develop their own original works. Nearby are other one-story commercial buildings of no particular architectural distinction that chashama has made available to visual and performing arts presenters. This fairy tale of artists benefiting from real estate limbo could not last forever. The wrecking ball arrived in March as this vestige of by-gone Times Square was demolished to make way for a Bank of America Building.
It's an important story because it gives an opportunity to examine the trade-offs made when an industry becomes homogenized: because it illustrates the entrepreneurial spirit: because it shows a re-emerging link with the past. It's also a fun story: a real life running away to join the circus.

Some Links:

The photos above are from a shoot last Saturday, 2/14. To see more from this shoot click Here.

A Review of the Cirkus in Timeout Magazine:

Another review of the show:

A schedule of events for the end of February:

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