Moisture Festival performer Kamikaze Fireflies
Seattle’s annual Moisture Festival is 16 years old, but most people who haven’t gone yet are still not sure what it is. Neither a music festival or a street fair, the Moisture Festival is a live circus arts and variety show that runs for four weekends each March and April. The shows takes place at Hale's Palladium and are appropriate — and fun — for all ages.
The experience of watching a Moisture Festival variety show evokes days before cell phones and television when traveling performers awed rural audiences with simple, human-powered entertainments. I could imagine the artists backstage after the show, bow ties untied, talking to each other at 1930s cinema pace, “I’m telling you, Charlie, we need to get a new act.”
Every Moisture Festival show has a different lineup of performers comprising some combination of jugglers, aerialists, comedians, bubble-blowers, magicians, mentalists, acrobats, tap dancers, puppets and clowns, all accompanied by a live band. Each artist performs for 3–10 minutes, resulting in a full two-hour show with one intermission.
Just a sampling of featured acts include Alchemy Tap Project, local "zaniac" Alex Zerbe, professional juggler Anni Küpper, trapeze duo Bunion Sisters, aerial performers Dream & PJ, cowgirl tricks and comedy performer Karen Quest, local magician Louie Foxx, the Kung Fu acro-fighting antics of NANDA and many, many more. Performance dates are listed on each act's page so you can book tickets to a show that includes what sounds most intriguing to your crew.
The show is aimed squarely at the under 10 crowd, who are welcome to sit on the floor up front. When bubble magician Tom Noddy announced, “I’m going to make a square bubble,” a child in the audience shouted, “You can’t make a square bubble!” It was one of many kid responses that were so perfectly timed, you’d suspect them of being plants. But the enthusiasm was real. Throughout the show little kids were so literally drawn in that they had to be shooed off the stage more than once.
Whether caught up in the carnival atmosphere or assisted by the Hale’s Ales on tap for grown-ups, parents in the audience enjoyed the show, too, singing along when invited and laughing volubly at the corny jokes.
The toughest audience were the tweens and teens, too jaded to be impressed by puns and sight gags, too insecure to laugh ironically. My 14-year-old described several of the acts as “cringey,” but even she was awed by the physical feats of the trapeze artist. And she promptly checked YouTube after the show to see if diabolists Duo par Deux have a channel. There’s something for everyone in a variety show.
Parents should know
In addition to Hale's Palladium, some Moisture Festival shows take place at the Broadway Performance Hall on Capitol Hill. Regardless of which venue is closer to home, families should attend Hale's Palladium shows. Matinee and evening shows at Hale’s are family-friendly whereas late-night shows on Friday and Saturday in Fremont, and all Broadway Performance Hall shows include cabaret and burlesque and are for the 18 and older crowd only.
Some performance line-ups for the Moisture Festival include clowns, which can be scary for some kids (and adults) but there was nothing even remotely unnerving at the performance we attended. The silent, whimsical Godfrey Daniels, thwarted by a red balloon, was the only clown. With neither makeup nor mask (his face is more like a puppet) he inspired more empathy than fear.
On the day we attended, there were two instances when performers appeared in underwear or limited clothing, but neither was revealing or remotely sexualized. In one instance it was played for humor (forgotten pants); the other was a practical alternative to a leotard for a physically challenging routine. The Moisture Festival really does save the saucy stuff for the 18-and-older shows. (Book a date night if you like.)
Overheard kid quote
Kid, after “smoke” puffs out of a toy salmon: “It stinks!”
Performer: “The smoke or my act?”
If you go...
When: Moisture Festival shows play Wednesday–Sunday, through April 7, 2019; matinee shows are at 3 p.m., evening shows at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $22–$34; kids ages 11 and under pay half-price; buy online
Parking: Street parking is limited, come early or consider public transportation. Metro bus routes 28 and 40 have stops near Hale’s.