How to explain the Moisture Festival to the uninitiated? Heck, how to explain it to those who have seen it every year?
Even the organizers of this four-week, not-for-profit cluster bomb of entertainment — often in the very broadest sense — don't seem to know what this thing is. Is it neo-vaudeville? Yes! Is it a cutting-edge circus? Yes! Is it performance art? Yes! Is it burlesque? Only after 10:30 p.m. Is it family-friendly? Yes — no, the emcee just said the "s word" for the fifth time...
Confused yet? Here's what the Moisture Festival really is: the offspring of the unholy union of a Pacific Northwest hippie fest and Cabaret.
Back in the 1990s, veterans of the Oregon Country Fair (sort of like Burning Man, but with only one drug) took themselves to Berlin, and Seattle was the happy recipient of the resulting annual variety show. It doesn't quite jive, marrying a field of dreadlocked U of O students intent on getting high, being environmentally friendly, and grooving on The Bubble Guy with Berlin's scary/sensual red light district fräuleins and "notorious German clowns." But that's what diehard fans of the Moisture Festival love: this incongruity occasionally produces moments of transcendent artistry.
Given the choice between Oregon's pot and Germany's beer, the Moisture Festival chose alcohol as the drug to push — and push it they did during this year's opening weekend, held at ACT March 11-14. "Remember, the more you drink, the funnier it is," winked the usher, who was clad in a glittery Cirque de Soleil get up. I can't personally attest to the truth of his assertion, as my shot of choice was Seattle's trademark mind-bender, espresso. Judging from the ever-drunker antics of the audience, the free flowing liquor may have heightened the impatience that the truly oddball acts engendered.
"That's funny. Yeah, that's funny," the girl next to me snarled repeatedly to her hapless date, as the much-touted Godfrey Daniels, a huge Muppet-headed clown-thing, played with a red balloon for many agonizingly slow minutes. You got the impression that if you didn't applaud such clearly beloved yet freakish acts, you would be stoned — and not in the way a few of the performers clearly were.
Jittery or plastered, there were clear standouts for the Moisture Festival's opening weekend audience this year.
Vashon Island's Lelavision opened with a marvelously bizarre yet hypnotic instrumental piece melded with movement on a spinning double helix. Duo Rose from Chicago performed a flawless and sensual trapeze act. Portland's Kazüm got into the festival spirit with a cheersquad meets Cupid routine. Canada's The Checkerboard Guy hilariously dragged members of the audience into a tastefully off-color bit chock full of mild anatomical jokes.
The evening was supervised by a Joe Don Baker lookalike in a zoot suit, who repeatedly assured the kid-filled audience that it was a family show. Meanwhile, juggler Frank Olivier offered the tools of his trade to a woman in the front row and urged, "Yeah, kiss them, kiss my balls," and guitarist Baby Gramps announced, "This is a song about the Oregon Country Fair!" then sang an ode to the scrotum.
An all-ages show, indeed.
By comparison, the Moisture Festival's R-rated Libertease Burlesque show seemed almost restrained. Sure, there were nearly-bare breasts aplenty. Sure, there were so many double entendres that even theatrical terms such as "stage hands" started to seem like dirty puns. And yes, performers got it on with a washing machine, a pair of toilets, and exercise balls. It was filthy and fun, with the added bonus of learning new ways to describe the female anatomy, thanks to a willing ASL interpreter.
Unlike the main Moisture Festival acts, the late night Libertease had a uniting theme, which made for a solid show. You knew what you were in for when you bought the ticket: a grownup show that was erotic, humorous and charmingly juvenile. There was no actual nudity; pasties and G-strings were de rigueur.
Like a traveling circus of yore, the 2010 Moisture Festival will visit not one or two, but five locations this year, including two new venues, Georgetown Ballroom and Open Space for Art and Community on Vashon Island. The festival closes April 4. Visit the festival's Web site for information, tickets and disclaimers.