The Hinterlands Ensemble performing "God Bless Ameowica."
The Hinterlands Ensemble (a Knight Arts grantee) is known for their mastery of multiple media, including radio, shadow puppetry and other original collaborative theater pieces. With the premiere of "The Circuit," a variety show piece that has been in development since the Hinterlands’ residency in the summer of 2012, they can now officially add the grand tradition of vaudeville to their repertoire.
The show was emceed by Hinterlands core member Richard Newman.
The piece combined dance, slapstick humor and musical numbers, all in a sophisticated combination of references to the origins of the genre and extensions of that form to a modern audience. Such updates included a “sister act” that evolved from ukuleles and sailor suits to electric ukuleles and feminist punk anthems, Charleston-style dance numbers that played out across eras to feature techno and Jit dancing (Haleem Rasul/Stringz of Detroit Hardcore performs in the video above), and a “Whack-A-Kitty” recreation that required audience members to pull out their smartphones for the source material (as emcee Richard Newman pointed out, “This is about the point in the show where you’d be checking your phones anyway.”).
The "St. Clair Sisters" (Eliza Bielby (far left) and Torri Ashford), before and after.
Jon Brumit performed a sound piece with "his orchestra" — audience members recruited at random to play instruments, including a symphony of plastic bags.
The show was wildly well-received and had the audience in stitches from start to finish, including the quieter moments during which Newman reflected on the nature of vaudeville as it translates as “the voice of the city,” and what it could mean to hear all the voices of Detroit rise together — and the mixed emotions tied to the sense of having missed out on all of the greats of vaudeville. Though if Thursday and Friday’s performances are any indicator, vaudeville is anything but a dead art, and the voice of the city — or at least of The Hinterlands — is coming through loud and clear.
The crowd at Trinosophes before the show.