Those of you who weren't around before 1932 might not know too much about vaudeville. No, it's not a shantytown in Iowa where French people are kept to prevent them from mixing with the Amish. The term "vaudeville" does, however, originate from the French phrase voix de villes, meaning "voice of the town," and was used to refer to Parisian street theater as early as 1792. When saloon owners in America's wild West discovered that exotic terminology attracted more patrons, they began applying the word to the bawdy variety shows offered in their establishments. It wasn't until the mid-1800s, when Tony Pastor opened the first vaudeville theater in New York, that the art form was refined into the clean, classy sort of comedy, song and dance one could enjoy with the whole family, and it quickly became the most popular form of entertainment nationwide.
Flame-eaters and other delights at City Circus Cabaret
The City Museum (701 North Fifteenth Street) hosts its own version of a vaudeville show at 9 p.m. every Friday through January. Those familiar with the sprawling funhouse's hourly Everydaycircus will cream-pie yourselves in ecstasy when you witness the City Circus Cabaret, a mixture of vaudevillian variety and over-the-top circus lunacy. The show features juggling, acrobatics, music, geek acts, physical comedy and much more for the entire family, all in one big goofy package. Don't miss this little chunk of entertainment history revived and remade in the City Museum's own bizarro image. Admission to the City Circus Cabaret is $7.50 in addition to the museum's $5.00 evening cover charge. For more information, call 314-645-4445. -- John Goddard
If you don't look closely at the flickering red neon sign across from Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, it's easy to mistake it for another beer pitch on the fritz. But look closely -- "Slaughter" flickers into "laughter," in what is South African artist Kendell Geers' commentary on the subliminal essence of human communication, written and spoken.
As part of the museum's inaugural exhibition, A Fiction of Authenticity: Contemporary Africa Abroad, Geers will be in town this Thursday, speaking alongside exhibit curator Shannon Fitzgerald and Nigerian artist Odili Donald Odita as part of the free Dialogue & Discussion Series (cash bar opens at 6 p.m., lecture starts at 7 p.m.; 314-535-4660; 3750 Washington Avenue; www.contemporarystl.org). -- Ben Westhoff
Donkey cart-mounted rocket launchers. That was a good one, Iraqi insurgents! But now you'll have to answer to the U.S. of A.'s improvised agricultural, construction and lawn-and-turf equipment weaponry.
The 2003 St. Louis All-Equipment Expo at America's Center (701 Convention Plaza, free admission) is the place to learn about the cutting edge (pun intended) in mowers, haulers and heavy machinery of all kinds, for commercial and retail use. The event (Friday, December 12 through Sunday, December 14) may also yield ideas for self-destructing skid-steer loaders, armored lawn tractors and heat-seeking manure launchers.
A new collection of short cartoons, The Animation Show, arrives at the Tivoli this week, promising animation fans a slew of new goodies by old favorites. Producers Mike "King of the Hill" Judge and Don "Rejected" Hertzfeldt, who plan to assemble and release a new collection every year, have gathered fourteen shorts from eight countries for the inaugural film. The highlights include a forgotten 1957 outer-space-themed short by famed Disney animator Ward Kimball (creator of Jiminy Cricket), along with never-before-seen stuff by Judge. Hertzfeldt's own Bitter Films, which specializes in turning innocent stick figures into victims of gory tragedy, offers three new disturbing 'toons (Friday, December 12 through Thursday, December 18, 6350 Delmar Boulevard, $6-$8, 314-995-6270, www.animationshow.com). -- Byron Kerman