Carny With a Cause

Arts enthusiast Christine DiTolvo brings her vaudevillian benefit to Capitol Hill for a second round.



If you think Seattle’s all-too-brief summers foster a downright carnival atmosphere, you might be right. Capitol Hill artist Christine DiTolvo aims to bolster that atmosphere this month with a host of eye-catching oddities at her second annual Carnival Reverie circus and fund-raiser. It should be quite a spectacle, complete with all the requisites for inspired vaudeville piety: jugglers, jazz, burlesque, clowns, midway games, performance art, semipro wrestling. You name it.

“I’ve always wanted to put on a vaudevillian/cabaret/circus event of sorts,” DiTolvo says, recalling how the idea for the first Reverie took shape in early 2003. Favorite Capitol Hill coffeehouse Coffee Messiah had been robbed, and DiTolvo, one of the venue’s regularly featured artists, was inspired to organize a fund-raiser to help out. She scoured Seattle’s various arts collectives in search of worthy carnies; assembled a legion of rallied-up artists, performers and pranksters; and raised nearly $3,500 to ease Messiah’s fiscal woes. Proceeds from this year’s Reverie, though, will go to Hometown Gravy, a Capitol Hill-based nonprofit organization. Gravy’s founder, the Reverend Bubba Levi Greenacres, has designs on opening a community arts school in 2005, and hopes to offer artists of all ages a diverse, multimedia curriculum. “Public funding for arts education is at an all-time low, and we’d like to fill that gap,” Greenacres says.

DiTolvo distinguishes her event from its multitude of carny counterparts. Some of these, like the Flying Karamazov Brothers, have been touring the region for decades, while others, like the trippy Teatro ZinZanni, can cost more than $100 a ticket. But Reverie’s accessibility sets it apart. DiTolvo and cohorts echo the chi of true American vaudeville: an art for the masses. Before movies, radio and TV, this was the one form of entertainment anyone could afford.

Not to liken Reverie to an amateur night. The ringmistress has secured old pros from the Monktail Creative Music Concern, the Seattle Fire Department- approved Ignis Devoco Industrial Fire Circus and the vaudeville music outfit The Bad Things. If you’re not too squeamish, you’ll marvel at Pure, a performance troupe whose members suspend themselves in the air with the use of their own body piercings. “They’re a total freak show,” DiTolvo laughs. “Even the most stoic bouncer will cringe when he witnesses what they can do. It’s fantastic.”


Originally published in Seattle magazine, June 2004

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