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What Happened When A Classically Trained Clown Met a Social Media Star

What Happened When A Classically Trained Clown Met a Social Media Star

By Amy Virginia Buchanan &
Patrick Janelle

Guests at one of our first Camp Cabaret shows in Patrick's former backyard listen to Amelia Robinson of Mil's Trills.
 

Spring Street Social Society was never supposed to happen. It was a one-night variety show that we felt might feel more...legitimate, if it had a name. This was September 2012, in Patrick’s anomaly of a SoHo backyard. Clip lights from Home Depot acted as stage lights and a stark white dropcloth served as a curtain. Singers, drag queens, puppeteers, storytellers, and jugglers took the stage while sixty packed-in guests sipped two-dollar PBR.

 

We had met only two weeks earlier, introduced one balmy evening by our favorite barista at the neighborhood coffee shop we both frequented. Though we were already pursuing creative paths—Patrick as graphic designer at Bon Appétit Magazine and Amy as a downtown theatre artist—we wanted more. We wanted to produce, and we wanted to perform. That night we first met, something clicked. Maybe not knowing it at the time, we sensed a spark in the other, and we spent the rest of the night planning what would become our inaugural Camp Cabaret.

On stage two weeks later, Amy played the ukulele and sang about a not-yet-born daughter named June and how running into ex-boyfriends on the subway would make her “blue.” Patrick performed a Brick Foley-style radio retelling of the modern American classic, Pretty Woman.

 
An early candid of Amy and Patrick—a look of wonder that has yet to fade.
 
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That first show was charming—if a little too long. But something brilliant struck. Without intending to, we had created the blueprint for a new type of communal gathering: a secret, hidden location; the consumption of multiple artistic mediums at one time; an endearing cast of characters coming together to create an energetic and vibrant evening; adventurous participants from all walks of life, united by a common curiosity; and an experience that happens for only a moment in time and then disappears forever.

 
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In 9 months we hosted 5 cabarets. We performed at every single one. Patrick staged a monologue featuring a call boy and the ghost of Tennessee Williams, while Amy leapt through a vaudevillian, lesbian song-and-dance sister act with a partner from clown school. The following spring, when Patrick suggested doing a dinner, he was met with a refusal from Amy. Straight up, hard pass. The performances were what Spring Street was all about, at the time. But Patrick painted an even bigger, more exciting picture of what Spring Street Social Society could be. Preserving the integrity of our performance curation, we'd also begin including other artists and incorporating other art forms including food, drink, styling. Part of the foundation for our working relationship is our ability to make something beautiful come from disagreement. We had already developed a base of push and pull in our cabaret curation, and this took it a step further.

 
Guests, many of whom became members and collaborators, at a Cabaret show.
You never know what may happen at a Spring Street experience, like when The Good to Go Girls started "synchronized swimming" on stage.

Finding a creative soulmate is rare. In that moment, we didn’t know what we were getting into. We just knew that we wanted it to happen.

Admittedly, it made us nervous. We had created this world with a whole foundation of campiness that we felt was important to maintain. It was a precious thing we didn’t want to lose. So we compromised: there would be a dinner, yes, but there would also be curated performances throughout. Ultimately, this would become part of what set us apart.

 
 
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Above: The team that brought our first dining experience, Bowery Banquet, to life.
Below: Bowery Banquet's chef, Camille Becerra, posing with the catch of the day.
 

We brought together a host of new characters for our first dinner party titled Bowery Banquet. A mixologist, a sommelier, stylists, designers, photographers, a pastry chef, and a pasta maker, all in addition to the usual cast of performance artists. It was an incredibly ambitious production, blending the traditional sit-down supper experience with grandiose theatrical elements and unexpected surprises—and it very nearly failed.

During cocktail hour, Amy interrupted the crowd by spontaneously bursting into song. She led guests to the sit-down dinner to the tune of "Runaround Sue." Our friend Eben then joined her in singing original songs. A troupe of girls danced between the tables in coconut bras and drums on their derrières. Our favorite clown friends, Jeff and Buttons, told jokes and turned flips next to guest's heads. Joseph Keckler, an avant-garde opera singer with a three-octave range, performed an operatic tale about a mushroom trip gone wrong—in German.

We had accounted for every consideration we could think of prior to the dinner. Every consideration except the audience, that is. While our Cabaret guests were captivated by the spectacle, the expectation at those events had been strictly to enjoy a performance.

 
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Add in a dinner, and suddenly social conditioning took hold. We had scheduled the performances to occur while guests dined; we forgot to account for the fact that guests would actually talk over the performers. Since this was a new artform, we knew we wanted to create a unique and valuable experience for both our guests and our collaborators. Art, food, experience: we wanted the audience to consume it all equally rather than favoring one medium over the other. The question after that evening was, how?

The answer turned out to be as simple as clearing a course, waiting for a performance to happen, and then placing the next course immediately after. In that way, the experience also began to guide how the guests interacted with each other, which was one of the most fascinating moments of all.

 
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Left: The table setting at Bowery Banquet, featuring the stylings of Jess Weaver, Anna Novak, April Flores, and Julia Bainbridge.
Right: Amy sings with Eben Hoffer between dinner courses.

Spring Street Social Society has become an ever-changing, constantly-evolving force of creativity. Now with a roster of members who attend each gathering, we have shifted from simply curating existing material to commissioning our artists and collaborators to build something entirely unique for our captivated world. A far cry from that first, nearly-failed dinner

 
 
Guests, including Chad Silver and Maisie Wilhelm, applaud the evening's finale.
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Though, everything we do has the opportunity to be a failure. We design and produce an entirely unique experience every three weeks, in different cities, with different collaborators, and no two events are alike. Spring Street is a series of near failures that aren’t really failures because we know whatever we end up with is what was supposed to happen in the first place. And that is how we charge endlessly forward.