Down the Rabbit Hole with the Carnivalesque Road Show"


Words by Alex Doll, Photos by Todd Gardner



The golden era of the carnival set the standard for progressive and inclusive movements within modern society long before they took root within the rest of civilization.  Transcending the boundaries between race, religion, politics, gender, sexuality and conformist behaviors, the sideshow dictated the new norm.  A voyeuristic culture craving escape would consistently find themselves awash in the lights of the midway.  In small towns across the nation, audiences begging to be let in on the joke were then had, and paid to be taken again; shouting, "This game is rigged!" while handing over another nickel to try their hand a second and third time.  It's the con the patrons are in on that makes them feel part of the larger scheme- the whirling world of the carnival sideshow, taking them for the ultimate ride.



On a lazy Sunday evening in May, men and women slowly file inside the State Theatre in Falls Church, Virginia.   Some timid, others nervous and excited, make their way to their seats, all curiously taking in the open stage and the curtained midway that surrounds them.  As they anxiously await for the entertainment to commence, they recall their own experiences with the carnival as children- their favorite rides, the trickiest games, the most amazing anomalies.  Excitement grows as performers enter the theater space, tearing down fabric barriers and welcoming patrons to "Step right up!".  Adults transform into carefree adolescents without even the subtle influence of intoxicants- the magic of the midway is mesmerizing enough as they try their hands at the various games of chance.  After a brief interlude, the performers scatter and the lights dim.  The crowd once again takes their seats and the carnival preacher takes the stage.    



Carnivalesque is a veritable trip "down the rabbit hole" and lives up to its literary roots, presenting the dichotomy of comedy and chaos; realism and theater.  Spectators become co-conspirators as the plot thickens and the dynamic waxes and wanes.  At no point is the audience off the hook- beyond simple captivation, they participate willingly, enthusiastically cheering, offering raucous laughter and riveted silence; at one single point, even transforming en masse into a herd of pachyderms.      



As the dizzying revelry begins to dissipate, the audience departs in a trance like state.  The curtains, once again securing the midway; the stage, somewhat littered with various props, merely an echo of what occurred.  Few productions can claim to present and accomplish what Carnivalesque has achieved; a wistful nostalgia brought about through the powers of theatrical resurrection of a less technologically distracted age. What transpired was an utterly unique foray into a lost era, given new life through allegory and alliteration, puns and prose, and the character and charisma of the diversely talented cast.  There was a notable vacuum for the typical apathy present in modern show arenas and a palpable yearning on the part of the audience to reel them in one last time, to allow them to dream again.  As the dust settles, and the carnival pulls up stakes, the troupe hits the road for the last few performances before the curtains close on the annual production.  Regardless of whether or not they return again a year from now, the impact of their performance will remain with their audience indefinitely, a pervasive reminder that, for at least one night, we were all "mad" together in the Wonderland that is Carnivalesque.


The Carnivalesque Roadshow is produced and presented by Gilded Lily Burlesque & Carny Preacher Productions. Tickets and  other information about the show can be found by visiting



















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