At 9:00 on the first Friday of the 2008 Indianapolis Fringe Festival I went to the Theatre on the Square to see “The Birdmann,” Trent Baumann. He is based in Australia and calls himself a “vanguard of vaudeville.” You can watch a video of clips of his work via his MySpace page. (Update 8/27/14 – ‘Sorry, no, those links no longer work. But the Trent Baumann link is still good.)
His show is idiosyncratic. Quirky. Oddly sexy. And, surprisingly, deeply relaxing.
It is composed of carefully and brilliantly assembled bits of seeming randomnesses (how’s that for a word!) including some life wisdom – “Father always said all you really need in life is a passport and a swimsuit” – some adventurous costume changes, some very gentle references to environmental issues and freedom, some juggling, some crab dancing, some paper folding, some knife throwing, and more. It is all accompanied by perfectly chosen music – jazz and other kinds – that is perfectly planned to coordinate with the rest of the show.
This piece is performance art, but it is also…well, not “New Age-y” at all, but healing nonetheless. The artist first grounds the audience in a funny way by “calling the role” from a thick, Indianapolis phone book. Later, he guides us out onto the ocean in an eyes-open meditation.
For most of the show he wears on his tall, skinny body a tight, black suit with a white shirt and a narrow, black tie, and teal-tipped black dress shoes. There is a touch of black eyeliner around his eyes. His black hair is slicked up and back into a cross between Elvis’s ducktail, a punk rocker’s Mohawk, and the curl on Frisch’s Big Boy (thank you, Adrienne Reiswerg, for identifying that last element!)
I was entranced by his soothing voice (and yes, an Australian accent can be soothing as well as seductive.) I felt rewarded whenever I saw his all-too-rare smile.
The Birdmann says at the beginning that he hopes we will be saying, “Thanks for nothing” at the end. For me, the emphasis is on the “thanks.”
Note: The Birdmann will only be at the Indy Fringe through Thursday, August 28, 2008. After that, he goes to a big, collective vaudeville show at Coney Island in New York. I don’t usually say “Don’t miss this show” because everyone’s art needs are different, but this IS a special show, and if it appeals to you at all, be sure you don’t assume that you will be able to catch it during the second weekend of the Fringe. You won’t.
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com