For 38 years, Esther’s Follies has been doing an important job for the city of Austin by blending old school Vaudeville shenanigans with political satire. Now they’re excited about training a new generation in the beloved art form that gave us Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and The Three Stooges with School of Comedy summer camps.
38 Years of Vaudeville
On April 1, 1977, Esther’s Follies presented its first show. Every week since, they’ve been playing to the crowd with sketch, improv, stand up comedy, musical numbers and magic shows, all the while poking fun at politics and society.
Named after famed actress and synchronized swimmer Esther Williams, the Follies carries on the vaunted tradition of Vaudeville entertainment. Vaudeville was most popular from the late 1880’s into the early 20th Century. The advent of motion picture and eventually television caused it to evolve. Today the genre is comprised of a variety of sketches and performances along with other forms of entertainment.
Teaching a New Generation
After last year’s successful round of summer camps, Esther’s Follies has decided to do it again. This year they’re hosting five weeks of School of Comedy Camp for Kids:
- Funny 101: June 22-26th, 9 AM-5 PM (ages 8-12)
- Funny 102: July 6-10th, 9 AM-5 PM (ages 8-12)
- Funny 103: July 20-24th, 9 AM-5 PM (ages 12-16)
- Funny 104: August 3-7th, 9 AM-5 PM (ages 12-16)
- Funny 105: August 17-21st, 9 AM-5 PM (ages 8-12)
The summer camps teach kids everything about putting on a Vaudeville show. Instructors Ellana Kelter, Shaun Branigan, Ted Meridith, Doug Ewart-Barnett and Nathalie Holmes will teach kids how to do short form improv, write comedy sketches, perform stand up, do prop and costume design and even perform a bit of magic thanks to Cy Albertson. We’re not talking about small slight of hand illusions either. Rumor has it, Cy has a large trick in the works for the kids.
I spoke to Ellana Kelter and Shaun Branigan and they’re excited about this year’s camps. Branigan, a 17 year veteran at Esther’s Follies, said, “One of my favorite memories from last year was seeing a kid get their first laugh from a sketch.” Kelter added on, “And you have 45 parents in the audience and the kid has to hold for the laugh and their face screams, ‘YEAH!'” Parents get to see just how much their child learned at the end of camp week during a show on stage, in front of the famed open windows.
Historic Building for a Historic Show
38 years of shows isn’t the only thing historic about this venue. Esther’s Follies is nestled in the old Cactus Theater. You’re going to love this bit from the Historical Marker Project website:
“In the 1930’s and 40’s, the Cactus Theater was owned by legendary vaudeville performer Richard “Skinny” Pryor, and featured cowboy and Spanish language movies. His son, Cactus Pryor, would sell patrons their tickets, pop the popcorn, and run the projector, all the while spouting stories and jokes, perfect training ground for his future as Austin journalist, TV-radio personality, and Texas’ favorite political humorist. Cactus finished every radio broadcast with his favorite sign-off phrase, a series of nonsense words, “thermostrockermortimer.”
Vaudeville has been the heart of Esther’s Follies for decades. With their summer camps, that same passion will grow in the hearts of future Lucille Balls, Marx Brothers and Esther Williamses for decades to come. If your kid is a ham, sign them up. If they’re creative in any way, sign them up. They have laughs to share.
Additional summer camp information including class descriptions and teacher bios can be found on Esther’s Follies’ website.
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