Wild Party Variety Hour
The Wild Party Variety Hour ran for a decade. Through all its phases, from infancy to retirement, it provided a platform for local talent to debut new work and for us to create an alternate social atmosphere some have described as “the dirtiest fun to be had on a Chicago stage” and others as “Come for the show. Stay for the party.”
Silent Marvin as the host of The Wild Party Variety Hour
Silent Theatre’s love for variety entertainment started with the 2006 tour when in addition to our main stage, we put our funny to the test and began creating small skits. From rehearsing in parking lots in Reno, to performing at the oldest, still-standing Vaudeville house in San Francisco, the Victoria Theater, to the iconic Portage Theater back home in Chicago, we were showing off our strange idea of funny.
a parking lot in Reno
Victoria Theater, SF
and Matthew Massaro
in Vaudeville Intro
But it wasn’t until 2009, when we were running a double feature of Joseph Moncure March’s The Set Up and The Wild Party, that we added a late night show to our madness. At first, our audiences consisted mostly of the cast of the two primetime productions, thus the aptly named Wild Party Variety Hour was born at the Prop Thtr in the Avondale neighborhood.
WPVH, as it became abbreviated, ran weekly, on Saturdays. Prop Thtr graciously allowed us to lock up when we were done (as long as we cleaned up after ourselves) even if that meant seeing the sun come up. There was lots of PBR around. And post show dancing. And social atmosphere ripe for the flirting. It was electric, sweaty, fun, sexy. The show featured two hosts - friends and collaborators Nathan Paul and Marvin Quijada. Individually they were both charming personalities, great movers, but together - their chemistry was fire. They would meet and write the shows based on some loose theme (bikini night comes to mind!), often include ridiculous props and costumes, and feature Silent Theatre talent in support roles. Nathan would be the only host who spoke, complimenting and contrasting Marvin’s silent antics. The headlining act was Lady Jack|Lindsey Marks who also played the character of Queenie in The Wild Party and when she left the stage, she left the heat turnt up.
Nathan Paul, Marvin Quijada and Lady Jack|Lindsey Marks
In 2010, WPVH returned to the Prop on a monthly basis. By now, it had already featured a few performers that would remain in rotation throughout the decade of the Variety Hour’s existence. These regulars included Dean Evans, Alex Knapp, Brad French, Marz Timms, the Harmonious Hunks, and Lady Jack, to name a few. Occasionally, there were guest hosts as well, but the themes that bound the show together were becoming increasingly more and more Silent Marvin centric. Perhaps for the best, because co-host Nathan endeavoured into an adventure in China where he currently resides.
Nathan’s last in-person show also marked a giant shift in WPVH’s location. Silent Theatre had transitioned into having our own DIY space called Hq in Wicker Park where the show became further entrenched into its themed tailoring.
Various flyers from the Hq years
The first Wild PartyVariety Hour at Hq which was also Nathan’s last (even though he would make video cameos throughout the remainder of the run) was jokingly titled The Communist Edition and it packed the house. The party lasted until the wee hours and was washed in red - the audience, too, came dressed up! This was 2012.
The Communist Edition
From that point on, WPVH ran quarterly. This provided the opportunity for more elaborate shows because even though it was a one night only affair, the time, work, and energy that went into the production would parallel a main stage show. By this time, STC ensemble member and Harmonious Hunk Brendan Balfe had stepped into the writer’s position and would often be the de facto co-host as a disembodied god voice. He began writing in recurring characters that would appear from show to show - Silent Marvin’s secretary was portrayed by Liz Krane and arch nemesis Tabernacle Abernathy played by fellow STC member Marcus Fittanto.
Recurring characters and plot lines at WPVH
Behind the scenes there was a solid team that handled production: Chloe Honeyman Bloede focused on lights, Stephanie Schultz handled props, Tonika Todorova booked variety talent, Gillian Hastings helped with whatever was needed (including performing!), Krzysztof Piotrowski created flyers and marketing, taking production photos and video for our archives. Krzysztof’s photos even expanded to include tailored photo booths for the audience which celebrated each show with their participation.
WPVH: Hallowmas Photo Booth
The party portion of the Wild Party was true to its name. Sometimes, it did get a little wild. Sometimes it got a bit weird. The last Hq show was both of those plus a splash of bittersweet. It featured most of the regulars in an extra long Variety Hour.
The last Hq crowd
Our beloved HQ’s building was sold in 2016 and we became nomadic. In 2019, for the ten year anniversary of the run, we took the show on the road: the loft performance space at The Den which felt the closest to Hq in vibe; we paid homage to the first place WPVH called home at the Prop Thtr; and for the first time, in what seemed like the most mainstream location to host us, the Front Bar at Steppenwolf Theater.
It was a decade infused with laughter. It was a care-free time, a debaucherous but safe environment. It was our carved nook of late night underground. And if Wild Party Variety Hour ever came out of retirement to make things weird and funny yet again, we hope to see you there. In the meantime, enjoy the vast collection of bits. Not a substitute for the real thing, but a fix all the same.