Looking for something simultaneously festive and edgy to do to ring in the New Year, with a variety of entertainment within a walkable radius? Kingston’s Stockade District has the ticket for you. The theme for the 2014/15 Uptown Kingston New Year’s Eve is “Old-Fashioned Cirkus,” promising the glory of the 1890 San Severia Spiegeltent and the weirdness of freak shows and burlesque, plus music and dancing late into the night.
Freak shows, you say? Like in that über-creepy Tod Browning movie that you saw at a pot-perfumed midnight screening at the Elgin Theater so long ago?
While a display of real human deformities on Wednesday night seems unlikely, there’s no question that a vein of creepiness lurks under the “wholesome family entertainment” façade of circuses. There has been a duality to their nature going back to their evolution out of the carnage of chariot races in Roman times. “Circuses are all about sex and death,” an aerialist once told me. “Part of the thrill of watching death-defying stunts lies in the tiny piece of each audience member that is secretly rooting for Death to win.
That’s not even to mention the scariness of clowns. In a 2008 study of hospital décor options at the University of Sheffield in the UK, researchers found that “clowns are universally disliked by children” – and judging by their depiction in pop-culture phenomena like Stephen King’s novel It and the TV series American Horror Story, a lot of adults find them terrifying as well.
Fortunately for coulrophobes, clowns aren’t specifically referenced on the New Year’s Eve entertainment roster in Kingston, despite the depiction of one on the poster for the event. What will audiences get instead? Lots of New Vaudeville-style acts of thrilling dexterity and gymnastic prowess supplied by jugglers and unicyclists, members of the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus – popular regulars at the Spiegeltent at Bard SummerScape – and a couple of fire-twirling acrobatic hula-hoopers known as Miss 360 and Miss Fly Hips. The exact nature of the Freak Show has not been divulged, but the ringleader and Freak Show host Anna Rexia “has corralled some wicked and bazaar [sic] characters from around the world!” Creative costuming will be involved, and attendees are being invited to partake in the fun by dressing up in a circusy spirit. A photo booth will be available for recording your regalia for posterity.
The epicenter of the action is BSP, which will open its cavernous vaudeville-era back theater at 8 p.m. and host the Spiegeltent, where ticketholders (age 21 and up only) can obtain drinks. Besides the circus and burlesque performers, the evening’s live entertainment will include a knockout lineup of eclectic music, including “freak folk/Muppet punk” from Bella’s Bartók, klezmer and Balkan music from Caprice Rouge and Django-style Gypsy jazz from the Heart Strings Hot Club. Late-night electro-swing dancing will be propelled by deejay Dr. Suds. Admission to all the BSP activities costs $25 in advance, $30 at the door (if not already sold out); VIP Gold wristbands providing such extras as booth seating, a coat check and hors d’oeuvres at the Spiegeltent go for $65 in advance only.
There will be entertainment in other venues as well, including Lara Hope & the Ark-Tones performing in a Pop-Up Beer Hall at 43 North Front Street (next to Tech Smiths), sponsored by Boitson’s Restaurant and Keegan Ales. There will be a $5 suggested cover charge at the door. Jazz will begin at 7 p.m. at the Stockade Tavern, accompanying that establishment’s famed Prohibition-era cocktails, and there will be late-night dancing with DJ Ali.
Restaurants and watering holes around the neighborhood will be open late into the night, including a special “Brunck” (Drunk Brunch) until 3 a.m. at Duo Bistro. So even if you decide to pass on the Old-fashioned Cirkus, you can still wander around the Uptown streets, grab a meal and hang out watching buskers until the big midnight Ball Drop at the corner of Wall and North Front Streets.
For more information about the third annual Uptown Kingston New Year’s Eve, visit https://uptownkingstonnye.com, www.bspkingston.com or the BSP Kingston Facebook page. To order advance tickets to the festivities and oddities at BSP, visit https://bit.ly/1BOUNAo. For a map showing free parking locations and shuttle stops, visit http://bspkingston.com/?attachment_id=1103.
Uptown Kingston New Year’s Eve, Wednesday/Thursday, December 31/January 1, 7 p.m.-3 a.m., $65/$30/$25/$5/free, Wall/Front Streets, Kingston; https://uptownkingstonnye.com, www.bspkingston.com, https://bit.ly/1BOUNAo.