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Creating a spectacle


November 30, 2009

Sir Pinkerton

What do you get when you mix the age-old art of vaudeville, a slide of cheeky subversiveness and the passions of street performers ranging from juggling to fire manipulators and burlesque? In Milwaukee, itís a recipe for a fun night of entertainment with Dead Manís Carnival, a modern-day vaudeville troupe headed by "Gypsy Geoff" Marsh.

"When I first arrived in Milwaukee, I was looking to do solo shows," says Marsh, a performer-of-many-trades with the troupe that came to the city from California, and that has literally performed around the world. "One of the first things I did was sneak into Summerfest to perform Ö eventually they caught on to that."

He ultimately met up with a core of four other performers who go professionally by their "nomes de vaudeville" ó Sir Pinkerton, Lady Ambrosia, Zero the Clown and Kronk KaPow! ó to form the basis of the troupe. Theyíre regularly joined by other performers, both local and travelling, such as Erik Bang!!!

"Weíre always looking for new performers to join us," says Gypsy Geoff. "Dead Manís Carnival provides entertainment that you just canít see on television. You have to experience it live."

Lady Ambrosia

Attending a performance ó think a circus for the decidedly over 21 crowd ó is rarely a passive experience. Many members of the audience arrive in costume to get in on the act as well.

"The costumes we see are just crazy," says Gypsy Geoff. "A lot of mad scientists, zombies, even Easter bunnies."

Since forming three years ago, Dead Manís Carnival has primarily played the bar scene, and geographically throughout southeastern Wisconsin.

"We do shows with about 26 to 30 individual performers involved about every other month," says Gypsy Geoff. "Weíre gaining a lot of momentum in terms of people finding out about us right now."

But he quickly points out that the troupe has not forgotten its roots.

"Vaudeville started in about 1890 and while it never really died, it went a little dormant for quite a long time," he says. "Now, thereís at least five top troupes traveling the United States and at least 12 in Europe. Itís something that people are really rediscovering and enjoying. Whatís really neat for us is that some of the performing spaces here in Milwaukee that weíre now performing in ó the Oriental, the Miramar ó hosted vaudeville shows decades ago."

While heís certainly talking about the audience, itís clear that the many performers also are embracing the art with a new interest and a sense of fun.

"We donít want to be famous," he says. "We want to be infamous."

Dead Manís Carnival will be performing a New Yearís Eve show at the Miramar Theatre on Oakland Avenue in Milwaukee. For more information, log on to





Gypsy Geoff


Kronk KaPow!



This story ran in the November 2009 issue of: