The horse that pranced out onto the stage of the Brookswood Seniors Centre was a relative of the Lone Ranger’s horse Silver, so it was aptly named Stainless Steel. The two performers inside the costume played the age-old routine to perfection and no matter how many times you’ve seen it, when the horse sits down on the stool and crosses all four legs, you have to laugh.
I had been invited to the Brookswood Senior’s Centre to enjoy a good old-fashioned vaudeville show performed by Susie Francis and the Versatiles. Susie Francis is a fourth-generation stage performer and her troupe of volunteer performers range in age up into their 90s. Many of them sat in theatres or tents as children and watched the skits and laughed at the corny jokes they are part of now.
My friend Terry is the MC or, as they called him in the old days, the interlocutor. It is his job to introduce the individual acts, keep the audience entertained during costume changes and stall for time if the performers aren’t ready to go on. He is the set up straight man for the other members and his jokes are so bad he gets groans and laughs every time. For instance, he tells us he is in trouble because his girlfriend asked him to take her somewhere expensive, so he took her to the gas station.
Whether it is the dancers performing the Charleston, or the 92-year-old accordionist playing Lady of Spain, the show moves along smoothly. The dog act is followed by the soloist and the jug band comes out after the cooking skit. The huge gorilla interrupts the quartet singing ‘Abba Dabba Dabba said the Monkey to the Chimp,’ and the golf lesson has everyone laughing again.
The old show hasn’t changed in 100 years and the crowd fills the hall for both performances. It is good old-fashioned entertainment and the group is proud of the fact that you can bring your kids and the entire family can enjoy the show. I liked the fact that I didn’t have to drive into Vancouver and drop $200.
The old vaudeville shows used to travel from town to town. Other events called Chautaquas would set up tents on the outskirts of town for a week and provide entertainment and educational performances to the townsfolk. Often, these travelling shows were the only entertainment the isolated communities had and a horse crossing all four legs could take your mind off the drought, the bankers or the hail storms, even if it was only for the evening.
It reminds me of the plays we used to perform in back in high school. One teacher in particular, Mr. Gardiner, used to produce extravagant variety shows with themes from the Gay Nineties, Roaring Twenties or the war years. We could choose to be stage managers, men’s choir members or band performers. We donned makeup, learned songs from Gershwin and Irving Berlin, and felt the rush of being in the spotlight and hearing the applause. It was almost enough to make you want to run away and join the circus.
We only have to look at the entertainment pages of The Times to find community theatre groups, society fundraisers, choirs or bands that perform every week right here at home. Turn off the TV and check them out. At least that’s what McGregor says.