October 11, 2017

Moisture Festival Performer Spotlight: Duo Madrona

By Steve Wacker

For me, one of the best things about Moisture Festival coming around every spring is the laughter. There’s nothing quite like busting a gut at the many antics of so many gifted varieté performers, wiping away tears of laughter while trying to catch one’s breath, and seeing everyone around you in the same condition.

But there’s also the thrill of seeing aerial artistry performed with impeccable skill, and appreciating the physical gifts of such performers. Duo Madrona, the fixed trapeze duo of Ben Wendel and Rachel Nehmer, is one such awe-inspiring act. Duo Madrona has been a Moisture Festival favorite for more than 10 years, ever since their Festival debut in 2006. I recently spoke with Ben about how he and Rachel became trapeze artists and why the Festival is one of their favorite venues.
Although Rachel became interested in the performing arts as a teenager, her aspirations were oriented toward a career in musical theater. But the French Woods Performing Arts Camp she attended in upstate New York also had a circus program, where she learned about the flying trapeze, juggling, unicycles, and the like. As Ben said, “Rachel went to this camp to be a Broadway performer, but immediately became involved in the circus program. And she never looked back.”
First, however, there was college, where Rachel and Ben met as biology students. They were lab partners, and they planned to pursue careers in neurobiology. But Rachel received a trapeze as a gift from a former teacher – a gift from the sky, as Ben put it – and she said “I’m going to get back into this.”

“We were best friends, and Rachel asked me if I wanted to learn trapeze things. I took to it like a fish to water. She was doing solo work, and she was teaching me solo work, but we had a lot of chemistry, and we started to learn partnering. We were pretty much self-taught, learning things on the fly. And we just kept improving.”
After college they moved to Seattle, where their pursuit of trapeze artistry turned into something more than just a pastime. They became involved with the School of Acrobatics and New Circus Arts (SANCA) and soon realized that perhaps their true calling was a life in the circus. Rachel started performing with Cathy Sutherland (see my previous blog post about Cathy) and the Aerialistas. Ben and Rachel decided to retire from science and almost before they knew it were debuting at the Festival. “And then all of a sudden we were at Moisture Festival! I barely remember how we got from point A to point B,” Ben told me.

“Those early Festival performances in the 2005-06 timeframe were major opportunities for us, defining who we were as performers and helping us create our material. Each iteration at the Festival was kind of a step for us,” says Ben. “One thing that was helpful was hanging out and performing with people like Hacki Ginda and Tom Noddy – amazing performers. Although we were still scientists at that time, we immediately felt very comfortable with the world of varieté. We were performing night after night with fantastic support and amazing audiences. As performers, you must perform in front of real, live, applauding audiences to become better.”
Tom Noddy also told Ben and Rachel about performing opportunities in Germany, which was news to them. They learned how to put together a tour and get their career on a roll. Since then, in addition to the US, they’ve performed in Germany as well as Austria, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands.
Ben and I also spoke about the special magic of Moisture Festival, about people uniting for a common cause – mirth and enjoyment – and what it’s like to create and feel that human buzz. But he noted that there’s also the reality of being an acrobat and dealing with injuries.
“I remember we were so fired up for our Festival debut – we ramped up what we were doing and acquired new skills. It was also our debut for our peers outside of the Festival community. I was warming up a day or two before, and I sprained my ankle so bad that we had to cancel our first show because I couldn’t walk. After 3 or 4 days I was able to limp, and we did the rest of our performances while I was heavily taped up. We learned something important during our first Festival performances: Circus is synonymous with grit.”

In addition to their appearances with Moisture Festival and their performances in Europe, Duo Madrona appears regularly with Teatro Zinzanni, which has recently moved from Seattle to Redmond. In fact, most of their performing career has been with Zinzanni.
I asked Ben about the challenges of physical performance. “I never think about can’t – it’s more about how do I get better? How do I maintain? I’ve never been a ‘I can’t do this’ type of person. Rachel and I are intent and focused on NOW – our art only exists when we do it. We’re very cognizant of our age and our body skills, but the real challenge is to keep your passion, your curiosity, your compulsion to perform.”

Duo Madrona recently completed a stretch of 51 shows in 17 days, which is difficult for me to comprehend (let’s just say I’m a few years older than Ben and Rachel ;>). Ben advised that they weren’t trying to maintain that kind of pace, but he was also thoughtful about it. “As we get older we get smarter about maintaining our bodies. There’s the importance of sleep and diet. Also, we can rely on our stage presence and ability as performers more than our ability as athletes, although there is an athletic component to it.”

Duo Madrona also teaches, but not on a regular basis because they do so much touring. In addition, Rachel is currently the aerial lead for the professional program at SANCA. “We also do lessons – private coaching – and workshops. There are a lot of studios and schools in Seattle, and we’ve sort of built community all around. We both enjoy teaching.”

I enjoyed hearing about Duo Madrona’s somewhat serendipitous switch from neurobiology to the circus, but my conversation with Ben was fascinating on many levels. If you’re curious to learn more, check out the Duo Madrona page on Facebook or see them at Teatro Zinzanni. I’m really looking forward to seeing them perform at Moisture Festival 2018 – the 15th anniversary year. See you there!

Seattle's Moisture Festival of Comedy/Varietè, founded in 2004, is the largest and longest running comedy/varietè festival in the world. Learn more at http://www.moisturefestival.org/.
Thanks to Kirby Lindsay for background information.

July 19, 2017

Moisture Festival Volunteers: The Hammerheads



By Steve Wacker
Big thanks to Ron W. Bailey for editorial contributions

Last year I wrote a post about the good folks at Hale’s Ales, who operate the primary venue for all the silliness, sassiness, sauciness, and cheek that is the Moisture Festival we’ve all come to anticipate each spring. As the primary venue, Hale’s Palladium is pretty danged important – but hopefully most readers of this blog appreciate the fact that the legions of MF volunteers are just as important, and that the Festival couldn’t maintain the merriment without them.
This post is about a special group of volunteers, the Moisture Festival Hammerheads, whose motto is 

“We work to make art work.” It’s a motto to be proud of, I think. The Hammerheads like to use their hands, and they enjoy working together.

Typically, when certain MF things need to be done, the Hammerheads get together and figure out a plan to achieve the tasks at hand. Such tasks might include building a stage, building props, securing beams for aerial rigging, creating dressing rooms, hanging sound baffles, upgrading the sound system, upgrading the lighting system, hanging curtains, creating a kitchen with all its appliances – there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes, as you might imagine. The Hammerheads are as flexible as they are talented – the tasks present themselves and they get to work.

In a recent phone conversation, Hammerhead Mike Bailey (no relation to Festival Artistic Director and co-founder Ron W. Bailey) related an interesting story that I thought was worth sharing.

It may not be obvious to MF attendees, but the brightly painted west-facing entry doors to the Palladium (see the following photo) were actually cutouts within much larger doors – as in 13 feet high larger. These larger doors exist so that semi-trucks can drive right into the warehouse – after all, Hales IS a working brewery.

This last winter the building was the victim of a hit-and-run, probably by a truck. “The façade of the Palladium was crunched,” as Mike put it. In addition to the damage, the wettest winter in Seattle history had also affected the doors. An assessment of the damage determined that the doors needed something between repair and replacement, in addition to a fair amount of tweaking and adjusting – because, as previously noted, these are big doors. Those of us who struggle to make sure the backyard screen door is hanging straight can appreciate that hanging doors of this size isn’t a simple task

Opening night of the Festival was approaching, and the main venue was in need of some carpentry TLC. So who you gonna call? The Hammerheads, of course. 
The Hammerheads are always up for a challenge – they know how to get things done. They not only managed to fix the damaged façade, they also redesigned and repainted it to make the entryway fully functional again. And they completed the job a couple of weeks before opening night. The new façade is shown in the following photo.

Another improvement this year was a merchandise trailer – perhaps you noticed it. “The Festival is trying to think through the right way to do merchandise – it would be great to be able to generate a bit more of a revenue stream,” said Mike. Someone donated a small utility trailer to the Festival, which the Hammerheads transformed into a kind of caravan wagon, perfect for selling merchandise. Special thanks to Hammerhead Steve Clark for the use of his shop during the project. It made its debut at this year’s Festival, outside the new doors and facing the box office.

The Hammerheads are often recognized at the festival, but their work is mostly accomplished out of the spotlight. Ron W. Bailey noted that there’s been a core group of Hammerhead volunteers involved since 2004, the Festival’s first year. “When a few of them show up together, stories are swapped, often over a few beers. Many of them come from careers that don’t involve construction at all, including men and women of many different ages and many walks of life. But they truly enjoy being hands-on and they very much appreciate the camaraderie.”

“Working with this group has led to some of my proudest moments regarding Moisture Festival,” says Bailey. “We hit the nail on the head knowing that people who work together laugh stronger and longer.” After a pun like that, what else is there to say?

Seattle's Moisture Festival of Comedy/Varietè, founded in 2004, is the largest and longest running comedy/varietè festival in the world. Learn more at http://www.moisturefestival.org/.

Thanks to Kirby Lindsay for background information. 

April 18, 2017

Moisture Festival Spotlight: Aerial Coordinator

Notes from a conversation with the Moisture Festival’s Cathy Sutherland

By Steve Wacker

I’ve been attending Moisture Festival shows for a few years now, and I never really thought much about the combination of art forms: varietè, aerial performance, and burlesque. That is, I hadn’t thought about them until I had the opportunity to speak with the Festival’s diva deviante of dance and gymnastics, its coordinator of all things aerial – Ms. Cathy Sutherland, without whom the Festival wouldn’t be as multifaceted as it is.

Photo Courtesy of Cathy Sutherland
We all appreciate the shared-laughter aspect of Moisture Festival shows, but there’s definitely something to be said for how the giggles, gags, and jokes are complemented by aerial artistry. I know that I’ve been gob-smacked more than once when, while trying to catch my breath after laughing so hard that I thought I’d pass out, I saw an aerial performance that left me awestruck and speechless. This is the dimension that Sutherland brings, with her passion for physical movement and her appreciative eye for talent. She was the person who recognized the possibilities of burlesque, and the potential synergy and audience appeal of combining burlesque with aerial artistry and varietè.

Sutherland has quite a resumé, with a strong emphasis on life experience. In her mid-20s she dropped her gymnastic scholarship at the University of Washington and turned down a dance scholarship to go to Europe and make her living as a performer/musician (saxophone and vocal harmonies) on the streets of Paris and elsewhere. She and MF cofounder Ron Bailey established the Royal Famille de Caniveaux, and their relationship evolved from the professional to the personal, which ultimately became a marriage partnership and family. Their daughter Caela is a gifted singer and entertainer in her own right – her first CD release is slated for the spring of this year.

Aerialistas 2010 (Credit: Mark Gardiner)
After they returned to the States, Sutherland says that originally the concept of MF was pretty much Bailey’s thing. “RB – I call him RB – was kind of wanting to do this. At first, it was something that he started, and I was really involved with my gymnastics team. He and I had done a lot of stuff together, been to Europe and done all that, playing in the streets, you know.”

Sutherland feels very fortunate for the opportunities she has had in gymnastics and dance, and the chance to work with some great dancers and choreographers, such as Pat Graney. But Sutherland is one of those people who can’t stand going to gyms for exercise, and when an invitation to join an aerialist troupe came along she jumped on it.

“I had been invited by Lara Paxton of the Aerialistas to become an understudy in this new all-girl aerial gang. That sounded like fun, and I was looking for something to do. Before I knew it I was performing with them and having a blast. Then Moisture Festival started letting me do our aerial acts there. This was a six-person troupe, which was really nice to see. We would go to Lara’s house and make these great fairy costumes, with big fairy wings.” Sutherland speaks highly of Paxton’s creativity, and is grateful for the opportunity to work with her.

Aviatrix 2011 (Credit: John Cornicello) 
“Then burlesque started happening, and there was a need to do burlesque. We even created a burlesque aerial number, which we did at Moisture Festival. We did our first burlesque there, at Hale’s Palladium, but we realized we needed to find our own venue, that the comedy/varietè needed to be on its own – so people who wanted family-oriented entertainment didn’t get it mixed up with burlesque. We tried different venues and performed at some really nice ones, such as ACT Theatre, and over time we started incorporating burlesque into aerial.”

Bell Hops 2015
(Credit: David Rose)
Eventually they ended up finding the Broadway Performance Hall venue (MF’s primary burlesque venue today). “We really wanted to differentiate our burlesque from other burlesque in town – we wanted it to have a Moisture Festival feel, with skill acts and aerial acts and humor, like the original music hall idea. We wanted to see those other acts. And there’s so much humor in burlesque – like our aviatrix act, in which we were all formation flyers dressed up like Amelia Earhart, for example. We had a lot of fun incorporating burlesque into aerial.”

Sutherland is not very philosophical about Moisture Festival’s ability to foster a sense of community. “That’s not me. I think that RB is more the person who brings the community together – he’s the visionary about such things. I just like things physical. I like doing physical, fun, scary things. I like to laugh, and being up high – I’m so lucky. And we’re also lucky to be part of such a great community, with organizations such as SANCA (the School of Acrobatics and New Circus Arts) and Emerald City Trapeze, and Teatro Zinzanni bringing great aerial acts in from places like France and Canada.”

Aviatrix 2014 (Credit: David Rose)
From left: Carri Anderson, Esther Edelman, Martha Enson, Cathy Sutherland
Sutherland believes that MF audiences appreciate the fact that the Festival is genuine, that it’s not a hustle. “There’s a feeling that the audience is proud of us. Like when we were doing the aviatrix act, there were women in the audience who appreciated that we were older women – in our forties and fifties – doing a very cool act, and they were totally behind us. That’s something that’s engendered in that room, and to me a lot of that spirit is something that RB creates.”

Sutherland’s positive spirit shines throughout her work, and it shone throughout our conversation. She shared some fascinating details of the Festival’s history, and I know that this spring I’m going to have a deeper appreciation for the aerialist and burlesque performers. See you there!



Seattle's Moisture Festival of Comedy/Varietè, founded in 2004, is the largest and longest running comedy/varietè festival in the world. Learn more at www.moisturefestival.org/.

Thanks to Kirby Lindsay for background information. 

February 13, 2017

2017 Moisture Festival Benefit Show - Room Circus


Dedicated to giving back to the community that gives so much to us, Moisture Festival hosts a benefit show every year in which a portion of the ticket sales is directly donated to a local non-profit organization. In 2017 we are thrilled to announce our benefit show on Sunday, March 19th at 7:30 pm will be raising money for Seattle's Room Circus Medical Clowning. Partnering with Seattle Children's Hospital, their goal is to expand the program within Seattle Children's Hospital and to other area hospitals with pediatric services.

Using a playful, interactive approach, medical clowns use music, physical comedy, improvisation and circus arts to help transform the health care environment. Stress relief, distraction, reduction of anxiety and pain and empowerment of patients are just a few of the measurable benefits. In addition, medical clowning helps build trust between physicians and patients, especially when a patient is feeling frightened or in pain, and has been shown to have positive clinical outcomes. Room Circus clowns reach through the barriers, pull out laughter, and create a circle of trust that encompasses everyone in the room - providers, families, patients and staff.




There are a myriad of ways that you can contribute to organizations like Room Circus, dedicated to creating a more joyful world in our own backyard, whether it is through donation, participation, or simply coming to the show on Sunday, March 19th. If you visit their website you can read firsthand accounts of medical "clown rounds" and the difference that laughter can make in child's healing and recovery. 

Deaf Spotlight

Moisture Festival was born out of a passion for the comedy varietè arts and a desire to preserve the tight-knit community that can foster new talent and support lifelong artists. Its mission is to enrich the community by presenting an affordable annual festival showcasing the art of live comedy/varietè performance. Keeping with its mission statement, the festival strives to keep ticket prices low (as well as working with organizations like Teen Tix to provide heavily discounted tickets for youth audience members) as well as opening up lectures and workshops to the public at varying price points. (Our FREE lecture series continues in 2017 with Matthew Stull of The Bobs on Monday, March 27th at 7:30 pm.) Creating an accessible performance arts festival spanning four weeks and multiple venues presents a challenge but one way that we hope to overcome barriers is by partnering with Deaf Spotlight to provide four ASL interpreted shows throughout the festival.


Since 2011, Moisture Festival has been working with our friends at Deaf Spotlight, a renowned non-profit arts organization dedicated to the art, culture, and creativity of the Deaf community in the areas of cinema, performance arts and visual arts. Their mission is to inspire, encourage, and showcase creative works of, by, and for Deaf people in the Pacific Northwest through events that celebrate Deaf culture and American Sign Language. Big thanks to Deaf Spotlight Executive Director Patty Liang and Board Member Vicki Moseley who have been working with Paula Togawa, a long time Moisture Festival volunteer and driving force behind the logistics of arranging interpreters for a handful of shows each season. Thank you to Paula, Patty and Vicki for contributing to a more accessible Moisture Festival and coordinating all of our amazing interpreters!

We’re pleased to announce that Moisture Festival will present four ASL interpreted shows this year:
Friday, March 24th: 7:30 pm (Varietè @ Hale's Palladium)
Friday, March 31st: 7:30 pm (Libertease Cabaret @ BPH)
Saturday, April 1st: 7:30 pm (Varietè @ Hale's Palladium)
Sunday, April 2nd: 3:00 pm (Varietè Matinee @ Hale's Palladium)
[Edit: March 31, April 2 dates pending. Check in for more updates as we approach the festival.]

Tickets for the both varietè and burlesque shows can be purchased through Stranger Tickets. When you arrive at the Palladium for the show please let the Box Office know you will be sitting in the ASL section and a host will show you to your seats. Burlesque shows are 18+ only please. We highly recommend purchasing tickets in advance as these shows tend to sell out.

February 9, 2017

The Bobs: The Most Influential Acapella Group You've Never Heard Of


Moisture Festival's FREE lecture series will continue in 2017 with Matthew Stull of The Bobs and his talk "The Most Influential Acapella Group You've Never Heard Of" on Monday, March 27th at Hale's Palladium. The Bobs 35 year collaborative career is coming to an end as these tireless performers turn to new chapters in their lives. Matthew will be following The Bobs LAST EVER Moisture Festival performance (and final performance on the West Coast) with a Monday night lecture chronicling the unexpected journey from singing telegrams to Emmy® Awards performances. This is a free lecture, open to the public, and all proceeds at the door will go to Moisture Festival.

In 1981, Matthew Stull and Gunnar Madsen (newly unemployed in the Great San Fransisco Singing Telegram Depression) put out a wanted ad for a bass singer. Richard Greene answered the call and six months later they found themselves at an open mic in a Cuban restaurant.The rest, as they say, is history.

Please join us in celebrating and sharing the stories of these longstanding varieté performers in the age of flash in the pan novelty. Long time friends of Moisture Festival, The Bobs have delighted our audiences year after year with their creativity and technical ingenuity. Described by the Seattle Times as “a musical equivalent of a Gary Larson drawing,” using just their voices and body percussion to fill a room with an orchestra of harmonious sound The Bobs have left an indelible mark on the Moisture Festival line-up. 


Date: Monday, March 27th
Time: 7:30 pm

Location: Hale's Palladium 
Cost: FREE

Reserve your free tickets!




January 31, 2017

70 Years Young!



Moisture Festival Artistic Director and head of the lovingly nicknamed 'Von Tramp Family' Ron W. Bailey is celebrating a milestone this year, 45 years of making music in Seattle. Making his way to Seattle from Norman, OK with his band Rose & The Dirt Boys in the early 70's, Ron was a mainstay in the Seattle music scene well before becoming one of the founding minds behind Moisture Festival.

Celebration is a family affair for the Baileys which is why Ron is coinciding his 70th birthday party with the release party for his daughter Caela's Bailey's first studio album 'Gospel of a Gutter Queen.' Caela brings her father's words and music to life in collaboration with 50 of Seattle's finest musicians and members of bands such as Industrial Revelation, Fly Moon Royalty, The Dusty 45's, The Gorgetown Orbits, Mother of Pearl, Wiscon, and more.

The evening of March 3rd will begin with a set from Ron W. Bailey and The Tangents. A local legend with over 40 years of writing and performing in Seattle, Ron is a founding father of the Royal Famille DuCaniveaux and has spent 13 years at the helm as Artistic Director of Moisture Festival. In addition to his role as producer, Ron has been a driving force behind the creative direction of the festival. In addition to being our fearless leader (someone has got to jump first!) as well as being our outstanding liaison with the press, it is Ron's discerning eye that's helped to shape the media materials and marketing to suit the vision of Moisture Festival.

The night will continue on with the bewitching Caela Bailey accompanied by many of the folks who played on the album and incorporating a cast of Seattle artists she has collaborated with over the years. Expect the unexpected with this family! The show takes place in Seattle's Central District at the historic Washington Hall. Cabaret, vaudeville, burlesque and more combine to create a night you will not soon forget!

Bar proceeds will be donated to the Moisture Festival! (helping to keep art weird in Seattle)

Date: Friday, March 3rd
Time: 8 pm
Location: Washington Hall
53 14th Ave Seattle, WA 98122
Cost: $20 ($22.23 with fees)

PURCHASE TICKETS HERE