Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Day 233 - The Cinnamon Challenge

I have never attempted the cinnamon challenge. In fact, I have never had any desire to attempt this viral internet challenge, which entails eating a heaping tablespoon of cinnamon without water in less than 60 seconds. My knowledge of the burning sensation and the absorbent, drying effects that accompany high quantities of cinnamon were enough to deter me from attempting the challenge alone. That perspective was only reinforced when I encountered reports of the challenge causing severe medical problems for some as a result of the caustic nature of inhaled cinnamon powder. Prior to my “I have never...” year, taking on the cinnamon challenge simply wasn’t a risk I wanted to take, and I was quite confident that would remain the case even as I started my journey.

That stated, today’s “I have never...” blog entry makes it apparent something changed that perspective. My encounter with the cinnamon challenge actually began several months ago when a co-worker of mine, Keeth, encouraged me to make the cinnamon challenge a part of my “I have never...” year. Sticking to my underlying goal of taking on new experiences that have a meaningful impact or help me learn and grow, I told him I was trying to avoid stunts of that nature didn’t really fit my objectives for the year. Continuing, I told him I that meant the cinnamon challenge wasn’t likely to make my list of new experiences. As far as I was concerned that decision was set in stone; until Keeth said one final remark. “Yeah, I get it. I hear it’s really tough to do anyway. It’s not likely you would make it... but it would be funny to watch!”

Although it certainly wasn’t his intent, Keeth’s passing remark gave me the push needed to convince me to take on the cinnamon challenge. My stubbornness getting the best of me, his comment about the unlikely nature of my success stirred in me a desire to prove him wrong. I didn’t disagree with his assessment given the very limited number of people that have been able to complete the challenge, but I wasn’t about to be written off without trying. As a result, I reluctantly added attempting the cinnamon challenge to my “I have never...” list, figuring it would make its appearance some point during the winter months of my year of new experiences.

At first, I never anticipated my first attempt at the cinnamon challenge would coincide with New Year’s Eve; however the holiday’s coinciding with a Tasty Tuesday in my journey and a flurry of plans for the night required me to come up with a quick and easy “I have never...” event for today. As a result, I set aside time to attempt the cinnamon challenge this evening before Rachael and I prepared to hit the town for a night of fun and celebration. With a little preparation, that plan resulted in me sitting at my dining room table with a stopwatch, a small plate, a spoon, and a container of ground cinnamon before I fully had time to process the ridiculous feat I was about to undertake. Despite the risks, the discomfort, and the mess that would undoubtedly come from the experience, I was about to take on the cinnamon challenge.

 Realizing the longer I delayed the more likely it was I would build myself into a nervous mess, I promptly loaded up my table spoon with cinnamon and lifted the heap of brown powder to my face. I paused briefly to think through my strategy, which entailed attempting to hold my breath as long as possible, breath only through my nose as needed, and roll the cinnamon side to side to saturate the dry powder with saliva as quickly as possible. With that, I stood up and moved away from the dining room table in preparation to start the challenge. My spoon of cinnamon at the ready, I took one last deep breath, opened my mouth, and plunged the cinnamon into my mouth.

Here it goes...
The sensations of burning and dryness immediately made their presence known as the cinnamon came into contact with my mouth. Coating every surface it came in contact with, the cinnamon sapped every bit of moisture around it, which induced an involuntary desire to cough. Doing my best to maintain control, I suppressed the action and began moving the cinnamon around in my mouth. In an effort to manage the pain from the burning, I quickly reminded myself of the agony that came with eating a ghost pepper. In comparison, the burning sensation caused by the cinnamon was incredibly mild, which helped me force through the discomfort and continue my progress toward downing the spice.

To my surprise, I was making good progress at mixing the cinnamon into a paste, but the continued discovery of dry pockets of the powder caused me to continue rolling the cinnamon around my mouth. Eventually, that led me to begin contemplating my ability to swallow the mixture and end the challenge; however, my desire to ensure there was no risk of me breathing remaining bits of powder caused me to hesitate. After a few final rolls of the cinnamon in my mouth, I was satisfied it was ready to swallow, which caused me to take one big gulp.

As the burning mix of cinnamon and saliva crept down my throat, I raised my hand in assumed victory. In what felt like only a matter of seconds, I had taken down a spoon full of cinnamon with little ill effect. Excited by the outcome, I took a quick look at the nearby clock to check the duration of my effort and confirm my success. To my dismay, my cautious approach resulted in me taking 70 seconds to complete the task. Despite the fact I had worked past the burning, the gag-inducing dryness, and the remarkable adhesiveness of the cinnamon, I missed my target by 10 seconds. I had failed to complete the cinnamon challenge.

Defeated, I moved to my living room and took a seat on the couch. In a state of disbelief, I looked through the video of the effort in hopes I had miscalculated the time, but the video only served to support my earlier conclusion. I quickly worked back through the series of events during the challenge that led to my results, pinpoint where I could have gone faster or done better, but I stopped myself in that effort after only a few moments. Although I didn’t make the 60 second goal, I thought about the fact that I managed to tackle a task most people can’t handle for more than a few seconds before coughing out a cloud of cinnamon. I had the resolve and control to work through the discomfort and the pain to take down a spoonful of cinnamon without any assistance, which is more than can be said by most that have tried. Sure, I failed to meet one part of the challenge, but I didn’t go down in a ball of flames. I wasn’t defeated. I had emerged no worse for wear, and considering the risks, I chalk that up as a victory of its own nature.

After my first attempt at the cinnamon challenge, I’m quite confident I could successfully complete the task if I gave it another try. That stated, I doubt it is likely I will take on the task again in the future. Letting my stubbornness and pride convince me to take on such a foolish task once is enough for me, especially when the risks are taken into consideration. With that, I can say after experiencing the cinnamon challenge firsthand no one should ever try to complete this stunt. The rewards simply aren’t worth the risks, and there are much better ways of having a few laughs with friends and loved ones. Perhaps a twist on an old adage passed on by mothers around the world best sums it up. “If the internet jumped off a bridge, would you do it?” The logical answer to that question is, “no” which is probably something I should have considered before I decided to tackle today’s new experience.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Day 232 - The University of Wisconsin Geology Museum

I have never been to the University of Wisconsin Geology Museum. This small, relatively unknown feature of the local University of Wisconsin Madison has been a bit of a curiosity for me since I first became aware of it several years ago; however, it was never top of mind when I found myself with a little free time to spare. As a result, I never made the trip to the Geology Museum leading up to my “I have never...”journey. Considering that was the case, I decided I would add the UW Geology Museum to my list of places to experience sometime during my year of new experiences. 

Weeks Hall
As I approached the exit to the Geology Museum, I grabbed the door frame and stopped myself for a brief moment. Turning back to the first aisle of the museum, I took one last look at the brilliant display of colors that welcomed me when I first arrived. “That’s so incredible,” I said as I kicked my feet back into motion and made my way toward the stairwell and headed down to my car. Pulling away from the building I thought about the overall experience and about what I could take away from the day’s event. On any other morning I likely would have been at home getting ready for work and tinkering with my computer as I prepared for the day, but today I went to an unfamiliar location and experienced new and amazing things. I learned and discovered, and I walked away with a mind full of amazing memories about my first experience at the University of Wisconsin Geology Museum. While it’s not an experience I would range among the incredible, it was certainly a much better way to spend my morning than my typical routine. That in and of itself says a lot, and it provides a pretty good reminder why breaking routines is a usually a good idea.

Realizing such a visit would be a good event for a cold winter day I delayed the visit as long as I could, waiting for the perfect opportunity to make itself known. Although that opportunity took some time to appear, an unusual stretch of quiet in the happenings in and around Madison during the period between Christmas and New Year’s Eve left me scurrying to find new experiences to fill my calendar. As a result, I turned to some of the lower priority experiences on my “I have never...” list, which spurred me to investigate a potential visit to the UW Geology Museum during this period. Luckily, I determined today would be one of the only days the Geology Museum during the week between the holidays. As a result, I set aside time to make my first visit to the Geology Museum before work this morning to finally make good on my intentions to visit this off beat feature of the city I call home.

In the lobby
In an effort to arriving to the Geology Museum with plenty of time to explore, I left my house as the sun broke over the eastern horizon this morning. Greeted by unusually cold temperatures for this time of year, I hurried my way to my car and made the short trip to the other side of downtown as quickly as possible. My haste caused me to arrive at the museum with several minutes to spare before its scheduled opening time. As a result, I promptly parked my car and made my way toward the entrance. As I stood before a locked glass door, the air bit at every part of my exposed skin, making the initial phase of the experience almost unbearable. Resolved to make the experience finally happen, I did my best to keep myself warm as the minutes slowly crept toward 8:30.

As the clock rolled to the scheduled opening time, I grinned in anticipation of the warmth waiting inside the building. Anticipating someone would arrive and open the doors any moment, I stood close to the glass, peering into the building’s interior where I could. Noticing the door was the ground level of a stairwell, I did my best to look for signs of movement toward the top of the stairs. Several minutes passed with no movement on the other side of the door, which caused me to move into a state of mild panic. Cold creeping into my bones, I quickly removed my glove to check the museum’s operating hours on my phone. After everything confirmed the museum was schedule to open as normal today, I gave the door in front of me one last tug. The thudding sound of a deadbolt on metal carried through the air around me as the door abruptly came to a halt less than an inch from its resting position. Confused I took a step back and looked at my clock once more. There was no question, the museum was supposed to be open, but by all outward appearances, that wasn’t the case.

Ordinary at first sight, but lined with beauty

Crazy stuff

The conflict between the information I had just looked up on my phone and the reality directly in front of me stirred some confusion in me. Taking one last look through the museum door window, I noticed a door on the opposite side of the stairwell. Acknowledging the door provided an alternative entrance to the museum stairwell I took several steps back and began looking down the length of the building in front of me. No more than ten yards to my right, a bank of doors leading into the heart of the building sat, which spurred me to action. Without hesitation I moved to the closest of the four doors and swung it open. After passing through a second set of doors, I immediately turned to my left to find the stairwell entrance. With a light pull, the door cracked open, leading me into a stairwell with a Geology Museum guiding me up to the building’s second level. Hopeful, I climbed the stairs and grabbed the handle of a door labeled “Geology Museum.” The door offered no resistance as I pulled it toward me and stepped into the Geology Museum lobby. Realizing how easy it had been to actually enter the building, I stopped briefly and looked back at the door leading the stairwell. Shaking my head, I broke the silence with the only remark that crossed my mind in the moment, “Seriously? ...Duh, Caleb.”

The black light display

Happy my “I have never...” plans weren’t ruined, I promptly walked into the Geology Museum and took a look around me. The sight of the most diverse and beautiful range of rare minerals and crystals I have ever seen stopped me dead in my tracks. On my left, a long glass case displayed beautiful symmetric natural forms doused in purples, blues, greens, and pinks. Behind me, displays of meteorites worth more than their weight in gold lined shelves and display mounts designated for larger pieces. Toward the back of the room, a chamber of vibrant, rare crystalline forms beckoned. The sight was beautiful beyond recognition, and it was immediately more than I ever expected.

Old stuff

In awe at the beauty surrounding me, I began slowly pacing the first leg of the space. As I walked, I took my time to analyze the more magnificent stones and geodes resting behind the glass panels. After grazing my hand across a 1,600 pound piece of copper I moved on, wrapping my way through a black light room displaying the fluorescence and luminescence of rare earth minerals. As the display moved through various wavelengths of black light, I stood dumfounded by the neon colors pouring from the display. The experience was strange and beautiful. Frankly, it was unlike anything I had seen before, which left me in the familiar state of wonder that has accompanied plenty of the last seven months of new experiences.

Creepy stuff

Eventually convincing myself to continue through the next stretch of the museum, I moved past displays of some of the oldest rocks on earth and a bounty of fossils dating from the earliest periods of life on earth. Walking further through the aisles of displays, the crowded shelves of geological forms advanced millions of years through evolution until the transitional forms of dinosaurs and terrifying creatures for lesser known eras began to emerge from swaths of stone. As I rounded one of the last corners in the museum, I was startled by towering skeletal forms of massive dinosaurs, a wooly mammoth, and prehistoric predators long since extinct. My proximity to the fossils was the closet I had ever been to the stone remains of such creatures, which stopped me in my place for several minutes.

Examining the surface of the fossilized bones standing only a few feet in front of me, I took time to ensure I directed my eyes over every point of significance on the remains of the creatures. The moment was as impressive as it was amazing to me, which caused me to lose track of time completely. Eventually, snapping out of my state of curiosity, I took a quick look at the clock on my phone and realized I needed to leave if I was to fit in a full workday during reasonable hours. Reluctantly, I took one last look at the scattered fossils in the room around me before rushing through the last segment of the museum. It wasn’t the way I hoped the experience would end, but it was obligation called me on me to do.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Day 231 - The Basilica of Saint Josaphat

I have never been to the Basilica of Saint Josaphat. In fact, I wasn’t aware of this Catholic place of pilgrimage in Milwaukee, Wisconsin until very recently. That stated, when I first set eyes on photos of structure’s grandiose domed exterior and vibrant sanctuary I promptly added the location as one of the places to visit during my “I have never...” year. As a part of my ongoing sub-goal to experience all of the major faiths during the course of my journey, I figured a trip to the basilica would fit nicely into my effort to gain a deeper understanding of Catholicism. As a result, Rachael and I made plans to spend the night in Milwaukee after yesterday’s Christmas party, and rose early to find our way to the Basilica of Saint Josaphat this morning.

Awe struck...

Amid a blustery wind and a driving sleet, Rachael and I took our time to make the drive to the Basilica this morning. Although the trip took longer than expected, my first glimpse of the Basilica of Saint Josaphat made it abundantly clear I had made a wise choice by including a visit to the building as a part of my “I have never...” journey. Despite the dreary conditions, the beauty of the basilica’s massive copper dome and ornate details had a commanding, brilliant presence against the backdrop of the city. The basilica’s size was far greater than I anticipated, and the degree of craftsmanship omnipresent in the building’s design immediately drew me in. Eager to get out of the weather and experience the basilica’s interior, Rachael and I quickly found our way to the building’s entrance and passed into the exterior chambers of the sanctuary.

At the entrance

Once inside, Rachael and I took some time to warm our hands and look and the ring of artwork that covered the upper walls of the interior. Beyond a set of doors to our front, smells of incense and the sounds of an ongoing church service filled the air. In response, I peered through small glass windows at the center of the large sanctuary doors. Inside a mass of people lined innumerable rows of pews resting beneath towering stone pillars and baroque platforms and arched ceilings. The scope and rich, diverse colors of the sanctuary struck me with a feeling of amazement as I craned my neck to take in more of the building. “We can go in if you want,” Rachael said in response to my obvious curiosity. Although I was a bit hesitant to the idea at first, I eventually decided the best way to gain the fullest experience would be to sit through part of the service. As a result, Rachael and I waited for a good opportunity to find our way into the basilica’s main chamber, and quietly slid in among the crowd of church goers.

The interior

Looking up at the dome

Once inside, Rachael and I sat through the final phases of the service, which left the basilica ringing with the sounds of singing voices and prayers. Unlike my previous experiences with many Catholic Church services, the experience felt bright and welcoming to me, which was a nice change from the usual heavy, dated feeling that has accompanied most of the Catholic services I have encountered in my life. The people in attendance were airy and joyful, and their smiles were met with the grace of the clergy that occupied several places in the room. There was a feeling of peace that came with the experience, which was unfamiliar but welcomed nonetheless.

The altar

Following the church service, Rachael and I stayed seated until the majority of the sanctuary had emptied in hopes we could get some time to experience the building in a quiet, vacant state. Some minutes after the service ended, a woman near the front of the building announced a brief history of the basilica would be given near her location, which prompted Rachael and I to move toward the first few rows of pews and take a seat. To my surprise, several dozen people followed suit until the three rows of seating around us were filled to capacity. Seemingly used to the number of people gathering near her, the woman leading the discussion of the basilica’s history delved into her explanation of the complex once everyone was settled. Explaining the building’s previous life as a post office in Chicago and describing the complex phases of the basilica’s life, the woman walked us through the main features of the building, its legacy among Polish immigrants, and the remarkable history of its path toward recognition as a basilica. Once her speech was complete, the woman invited us to spend some time in the building exploring its accessible areas and taking in its beauty.

Looking back...

A little history

Happy to oblige, Rachael and I rose from our positions on the pew and began to walk slowly through the massive sanctuary chamber. Around us beautiful pieces of religious art and symbolism lined the church walls, winding their way toward the towering dome peaking over 200 feet above. Enveloped by beauty, I took my time absorbing as much of the building’s details, taking note of the themes that carried throughout. My path ultimately led me to the basilica’s lower chamber, where a history of the building was scattered across the walls leading to a shrine to the Virgin Mary. Rachael and I took a few minutes to look over the space before doubling back and finding our way to the exterior exit. Although I could have spent much longer taking in the space, the realization we had been at the basilica for more than two hours made it clear it was time to start the journey home.

Pulling away from the Basilica, I took my time looking over the exterior of the building once more, doing my best to retain the image in my mind. While I knew the experience wasn’t one of the most moving or most memorable in my “I have never...” journey to date, I wanted to remember my first impressions of the Basilica of Saint Josaphat’s dominating, yet wonderful presence. The building’s beauty alone was enough to make the trip, but the overall experience provided a much more complete look into the basilica’s history and meaning. With that knowledge I was able to gain deeper respect for the monument and its purpose in the Catholic faith, which is just the kind of insight I was hoping to gain from another day in my 365 day journey.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Day 230 - Ice Skating

I have never been ice skating. Considering I grew up on a body of water in central Wisconsin, that fact is surprising even to me. However, growing up in a small town with little retail outlets made finding ice skates a challenge, and the only real outlet we had to try the sport was on the ice of the nearby river or on the inconsistently maintained ice rink on the borders of the public school property. As a result, my opportunities to ice skate growing up were fleeting, and on the rare occasion they would come along I would always express my disinterest in trying the sport. After a very close friend of mine died falling through the ice of the Fox River when I was child, I developed a sort of aversion to ice sports in general. Even in circumstances where I knew the events would take place on rinks frozen all the way through, I didn’t have any interest in partaking. To me, it was better to stay safe and warm, even if it meant missing out on a new experience.

As I grew older, I realized this perspective was one that I likely needed to change. After all, my new hometown of Madison boasts some of the most beautiful and unique ice skating locations I have ever seen, from Tenney Park Pond to the rooftop ice rink on the Madison Children’s Museum. Despite this point of view, with each passing winter I consistently failed to follow through with my intentions. Even after moving within two blocks of Tenney Park several years ago, I never took the time to finally learn how to ice skate. As a result, I moved into my “I have never...” year with this long standing objective still on my “to do” list of life experiences. In turn, I resolved to make learning how to ice skate a part of my “I have never...” journey. One way or another, I was going to take to the ice this winter.

The Hart Park rink

In the midst of my new experiences winter came quickly this year, which inspired me to start the process of pinpointing the perfect opportunity to try ice skating for the first time. Although I thought this was an event that would likely occur at one of the many ice skating locations in and around Madison, about a month ago Rachael made me aware the location hosting her extended family Christmas had an indoor ice skating rink. Realizing the location would provide me a safe way to experience ice skating for the first time on a day that it would otherwise prove challenging to squeeze in an “I have never...” experience, I quickly committed to the idea. With that, I had decisively pinpointed the first time I would attempt to ice skate after more than 30 years of life. The feeling was strange, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to finally take to the ice on a pair of skates.

Lace 'em up!

When Rachael and I arrived at the location of the party, Hart Park in Wauwautosa, Wisconsin, we wasted little time finding our way to the ice rink. Although we originally thought the facility offered ice skate rentals, we were quick to find this was not the case. Fortunately, Rachael’s sister, Sarah, happened to have a pair of men’s ice skates that fit me perfectly and was willing to let me use them. Relieved I avoided a potential event-ending scenario, I happily took Sarah up on her offer and set to work lacing the skates to my feet. Although the feel of the skates was a bit odd at first, the stiff sides and lifted support of the boots reminded me of the rollerblades I had in my youth. As a result, I was quick to acclimate to the skates in the safety of the seating area just off the rink. All that was left to do was to step onto the ice and learn how to put the skates to use.

After waiting a bit for Rachael’s brother-in-law, Zeke, to prep his skates, he met me near the door to the rink and gave me a few last minute pointers. Reminding me to focus on balance and to make small swiping movements with my feet to move forward, Zeke took a step through the ice rink door and turned back toward me. “Just step on out,” he said waving me in. His direction seemed simple enough, but the very real possibility of my slipping and falling upon setting my skates on the ice caused me to hesitate a moment. With a deep breath, I took one last look at the rink and placed my hands on the inside of the doorframe. “I guess it’s now or never, huh?” I said looking back up at Zeke. “Yeah, I would say so,” he replied with a chuckle. With that, I slowly lifted my right foot and guided it through the door where it met the ice. Feeling a greater degree of grip than I expected, I promptly followed suit with my left foot and let go of the doorframe.

The first step

With both my feet planted on the rink I felt my body coast forward across the ice, causing me to brace myself for the worst-case scenario. With a bit of a wobble and a smile, I slowly lifted my body upright to find my balance. To my surprise, the effort was relatively easy, which gave me hope my first experience ice skating would be a success. Of course, that meant I needed to do more than simply stand in place on the ice. As a result, I looked up to Zeke for a little more direction on putting my body into motion. My body language was enough to tell Zeke I needed some assistance. “Alright, now just start moving your feet out like you are rollerblading,” Zeke said demonstrating the motion. Following suit, I began to slowly fan my feet from side to side across the ice, which caused me to inch forward into the stream of skaters circling around the rink. Realizing I needed to continue moving to avoid becoming an obstruction for the other skaters around me, I continued moving my feet in short strokes and Zeke coasted along side me. With that, I was ice skating for the first time in my life, which caused an immediate feeling of joy I will likely never forget.

Getting some pointers

...and some encouragement


Over the next 30 minutes, I slowly became accustomed to the feelings and motions of ice skating as Rachael’s brother, Dan, and his wife, Audra, joined us on the ice. With a little more direction from Zeke, I quickly learned how to turn and stop on the skates, which greatly increased my comfort on the ice. With time, I found myself becoming more stable on the skates and increasing my speed as we moved in sweeping circles across the rink. Although the extended effort caused noticeable aches in my leg muscles and shins, the fun I was having made the effects easy to ignore. Sharing plenty of laughs and dabbling in a bit of the ridiculous, Zeke, Dan, Audra, and I whirred around the ice for some time, all but ensuring my first experience ice skating would be one to remember.

Getting better


Picking up steam

By the time my first experience ice skating was drawing to an end, I found myself much more comfortable on the skates than I ever would have expected. Eventually, I was working around the rink at a relatively high speed and was making sharp turns with a moderate degree of control. My comfort and confidence on the ice encouraged those in our party to start challenging me to new techniques on the ice. Standing on the sidelines of the rink, Rachael and Sarah called out stunts including backward skating, skating in a perfect circle with another skater, and standing on one foot while in the ice. In response, Dan and I did our best to follow through with each action, which proved generally successful. During the course of the challenges I tumbled in my only fall to the ice of the day, but I figured out the basic movements of each trick with a little bit of effort. The results only added to the day’s experience and made me realize I had been missing a lot of fun by waiting this long to ice skate. I was so much more entertaining than I expected it would be, and as an added benefit, it was one heck of a workout.

Such grace...

Taking a tumble.

Some awesome people... and me, of course.

My time ice skating was a long time coming, but I couldn’t think of a better first experience than the one I had today. I had the opportunity to learn how to skate from a group of awesome people that were equally interested in making the most of the experience, and they were more than willing to act a little ridiculous to add to the day’s fun. After spending some time on the ice today, I can go beyond saying it is likely I will skate again and instead state that I can’t wait to get on the ice again. While I figured the experience would be a good one, I never anticipated it would be so much fun. It took me more than 30 years, but I was finally able to discover the joy of ice skating; all thanks to the goofy idea of a trying a year of new experiences.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Day 229 - Attending a Vaudeville Show

I have never seen a vaudeville show. While I have seen a fair share of obscure performers in my time, attending a show devoted entirely to live music, dance, comedy, tricks, and stunts has never been an experience I have gained. This is partly because vaudeville shows haven’t been very common since their decline in popularity during the mid-1900s, but saying claiming that is the only reason I have never experienced vaudeville would be dishonest. Frankly, the few opportunities I have had to see vaudeville in my life haven’t stood out as that appealing to me in the past. Although I understood it to be a different form of live entertainment with its own set of unique appeals, I figured my time and money was better spent on the time-tested, familiar forms of distraction that speckle our modern lives. As a result, I passed on previous opportunities to seen my first vaudeville show, figuring I wasn’t missing much by doing so.

The night of the show...
Despite this perspective, attending a vaudeville show was something that kept coming up in conversation as my “I have never...” year progressed. To my surprise, several people I encountered throughout the first half of my journey insisted attending a vaudeville show was an experience worth having during the course of my new experiences. As a result, I eventually tacked the idea to my growing list of “I have never...” ideas, figuring it might find its way into my year at some point. Although I didn’t necessarily think it would be a standout event among my new experiences, it was an experience to gain nonetheless. As a result, I decided I would put the idea in my back pocket in case the opportunity came my way.

As I worked through planning out the winter months of my “I have never...” year some months later that decision proved to be a beneficial one. Struck by the absence of events, classes, and opportunities to gain new experience following the Christmas holiday, I found myself struggling to find an “I have never...” event for Friday, December 27th. Every source of information and calendar of events I encountered seem void of any valuable experiences on that day, which resulted in me turning to my “backup” ideas for “I have never...” events, including attending a vaudeville show. As a result, I started plugging away at my computer one line at a time until I did a quick search for “Madison vaudeville.” To my surprise, a vaudeville show out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the Dead Man’s Carnival, was scheduled to appear at Madison’s Majestic Theatre the evening of December 27th. Intrigued by the luck of the occurrence, I figured I shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. In turn, I picked up two tickets to the show and marked my calendar for my first ever experience with vaudeville.

Kicking things off
As a result of the flurry of activity surrounding the holidays, this evening and my first experience with vaudeville came quickly. After wrapping up my workday, Rachael and I headed to the show unaware of what to fully expect. After arriving at the theatre, we grabbed a drink and took up a position with some friends near the stage, where we chatted until the lights fell. As the show began, a troop of musicians took the stage donned in old fashioned clothing and hair styles reminiscent of a bygone era where vaudeville reigned in the entertainment world. Following a brief introduction from the band’s lead singer, the band worked into some well-performed, albeit rugged, songs carrying somewhat crude overtones. With a touch of humor and an abundance of talent, the group strung together upbeat songs with their guitars, pianos, horns, and reed instruments that made it difficult to be unengaged. Based on my first impressions of the performance, it was appearing vaudeville was right up my alley.

Gypsy Geoff
The band worked through a few songs before introducing the first act of the evening, a juggler by the name of Gypsy Geoff. Against a backdrop of music pouring from the live band, Geoff juggled varieties of fruits in quantities almost too high to count as he moved. Then, he tracked into a hat juggling routine that created a dizzying whirl of hats flying through the air and finding their place on Geoff’s hands, feet, and head. The sight was definitely something to behold in and of itself, but Geoff’s enthusiasm as he worked provided an added sense of excitement to the affair.

Once finished, Geoff left the stage as the next act, a young magician, took the stage and worked through a series of classic magic tricks. Although the performance left some apparent markers as to how each trick was being performed, seeing the classic silver ring trick and a variety of card tricks was a good way to transition into the coming acts. As the show progressed toward intermission, a stuntman took the stage to perform a hidden spike trick, a balloon artist acted out a scene with constantly changing balloon shapes, and an acrobat displayed his talents with aerial tricks involving whips and fire sticks. Each performer offered unique talents and performed tricks that many people would avoid outright; however, as the show progressed it became clear the performers were struggling through aspects of their performances. A mistake during the hidden spike stunt almost resulted in an audience participant getting stabbed, a lack of accuracy with the whips resulted in some tricks that didn’t work, and a lack of preparation led to some challenges getting the fire sticks ready for use. By the time the performance hit intermission, the gaps in the performance had a clear effect on audience interest, which left me questioning how much entertainment value would come in the second half of the show.




At the conclusion of the intermission, the band welcomed the crowd back with a few more songs before introducing each of the performers for a second round of tricks and stunts. The resulting performance was a hodgepodge of acts that mirrored many of the performances earlier in the show, with a few added touches to add a little more flare to the performance. This effort included the magician performed a few more magic tricks, the stuntman performing a trick that results in a live tarantula in his mouth, and the balloon artist offering a sort of “second chapter” to her earlier performance. As the show drew to a conclusion, the acrobat took to the stage for some tricks involving suspended handstands and jumps, which concluded in an awkward moment where he left the stage and the band played quietly as if expecting him to return. It was an odd moment for everyone in attendance, and, to me, it only served to put more distance between the audience and the performers.

The human flag

A tarantula coming out of a man's mouth.

Ok, this was impressive

After several minutes of music with no direction, the lead singer of the band decided to strip down to a silver speedo as he sang, which seemed more like a desperate time filler than a planned aspect of the performance. Feeling somewhat disconnected from the continuing performance, I watched on as Gypsy Geoff took the stage one last time to perform some balancing acts with various objects before the show drew to a conclusion. As the performers took their final bow, Rachael and I talked about the performance with our friends.

Taking a bow

Although we were impressed by some of the feats we witnessed during the course of the evening, an obvious air of indifference hung over our remarks. That occurrence led me to conclude my first vaudeville show was probably something worth experiencing, but the performance we saw left me somewhat disappointed. Between the implied lack of organization between segments of the show and the obvious difficulties some of the performers had during their acts, the overall event simply wasn’t what I had hoped to experience. Sure, it was entertaining to a degree, but I just felt the show could have been a much greater experience. While I give a lot of credit to the performers for their commitment to each of their unique crafts, it just seemed like there was something missing at tonight’s show. Maybe it was an off night, or maybe I set my expectations too high on this one. Whatever the case, I walked away with another new experience tonight, even if it was an experience that left something to be desired.