Dead Man’s Carnival is bringing Vaudeville back to Madison.
Dead Man’s Carnival aims to be a show unlike anything audiences have experienced before.
The unique event is returning to Madison’s Majestic Theater on Dec. 16. The live music and variety event, inspired by turn-of-the-century Vaudeville, features early jazz and blues music and unique talents such as burlesque, magic and freak shows from all over the country. Dead Man’s Carnival is one of the few true Vaudeville experiences available in the country.
The group performs monthly in Milwaukee at the Miramar Theater, but has been making the trip to Madison once or twice a year for nearly five years.
Creative director Professor Pinkerton Xyloma said what started as a collection of street performers in Milwaukee has turned into an organized phenomenon of quirky, offbeat entertainment. Initially lacking a platform for their talent, the group worked together to create their own independent one to share their talents with an audience. The group also continuously recruits performers and rotates them through shows.
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The variety portion of the show includes everything from traditional burlesque to stunts and comedy skits, including magic and human oddities. These are connected by live music from the same Vaudevillian time period for a cohesive show from beginning to end, Xyloma said.
Dead Man’s Carnival also encourages audience participation, blurring the division commonly made by more mainstream shows. The dangerous stunts are left to the professionals, but the comedy skits and magic segments are commonly audience-friendly.
“It’s never the same show twice,” Xyloma said. His own favorite aspect about the show is the “real-time organicness.”
Since the show continuously recruits and rotates new talent through the production and is based on stunts and improvisation, a Dead Man’s Carnival is always one-of-a-kind and constantly evolving. As the creative director, Xyloma has more information than anyone else regarding how the show will go, but is still constantly surprised with each iteration. He said the emphasis on collaboration and improvisation is what he loves and what makes the show so entertaining and worthwhile.
Proudly “enduringly rough around the edges,” Dead Man’s Carnival also works to keep the circus tradition alive and well in the Midwest. Wisconsin has a long legacy, he said. After all, greats like the magician Harry Houdini, the Vaudeville and cabaret star Hildegarde, and the Ringling Brothers began their careers in Wisconsin.
Fast forward a few years and Dead Man’s Carnival continues to contribute a key piece to the ever-fascinating production that is Vaudeville