From left: Laura Hendrickson, Nicole Bischoss and Sasha Shakovacs rehearse for the Graduate Drama production, Hallowe'en Vaudevilles. From left: Laura Hendrickson, Nicole Bischoss and Sasha Shakovacs rehearse for the Graduate Drama production, Hallowe'en Vaudevilles. Alex Nursall

Do the ghosts of theatre past haunt us still? Paul Babiak and Justin Blum of the Graduate Centre for the Study of Drama hope to investigate this query through a little theatrical experimentation. On the weekend of All Hallows' eve, the Centre will resurrect the vaudeville—a genre of variety entertainment that reached its peak at the turn of the twentieth century.

“The phrase I always use when talking about this kind of staging is: adapt, evoke, and betray,” says Blum, director of The Ripper Quartet. Blum's set recreates scenes of shocking violence from a number of period melodramas, including La Tosca and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Scripts can be adapted, gas-lights can be evoked, but since there is no way to recreate a nineteenth century audience, the show involves some degree of infidelity, or betrayal. "Part of what I'm trying to do is measure the degree of that betrayal," says Blum.

Blum’s bloody scenes will interweave with the slapstick and comedic violence of Babiak’s acts, which include boxing sisters and dialect clowns. Babiak, Slapstick Trilogy co-ordinator, is also keen on audience reactions. “There’s a certain combination of willingness and unwillingness in our laughing response. We do find it intuitively reprehensible when someone laughs at an inappropriate or immoral time. Finding out the switches that trip those different aspects of our response will be one of the side effects of this experiment.”

The performance will also feature a recreation of the disembodied head illusion, performed by magician extraordinaire, Joe Culpepper. Though the show's various forms of entertainment might seem unusual to a contemporary audience, it was the norm for the show's original crowds.

“[In those days] you went in and out as you pleased in search of refreshments, and came back for the entertainment you preferred,” says Babiak. While modern spectators are not likely to pop out for a beer in the middle of the show, they will undoubtedly have fun, and their reactions will be invaluable to the study of drama itself.

“Hallowe’en Vaudvilles” plays at Studio Theatre (4 Glen Morris St.) 8:00pm October 30-31 and 2:00pm November 1. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the door or by calling 416-978-7986.

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