Impresarios like to think their productions produce a lot of bang for the buck. Ben Gorodetsky promises a lot of dirt instead. And maybe even some skin. Oh, and sometimes a bit of gore.
As host and curator of Dirt Buffet Cabaret, Gorodetsky has assembled a veritable tour de force of the outrageous, courtesy of such curiosities as a naked tap dancer, a weightlifting poet, topless performance artists simulating zero-gravity and an avant-garde pianist in a cat costume. Holding court monthly on a Thursday night at Mile Zero Dance’s Spazio Performativo space in Little Italy since 2015, Dirt Buffet Cabaret is like vaudeville on acid. With six acts per show following only one rule (no sets longer than 10 minutes), the unpredictability of the attractions is enough to render Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates mantra into a benign understatement.
“I wanted to bring together my love of diverse artists,” says Gorodetsky, who’s also associate director of Rapid Fire Theatre. “My favourite thing is having a crowd not sure of how to react to something. And that happens best when there’s a bunch of different styles of acts or genres and disciplines on the bill.”
Getting the right mix of talent involves Gorodetsky juggling lineups every month, balancing theatre, music, dance and other arts fields, with gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity. The combination and the novelty of applicants seem to work. During this perilous economic time, which has seen most arts groups scramble for audiences, Dirt Buffet Cabaret continuously packs them in. One show in January was standing-room-only with at least 70 patrons.While he doesn’t deny that the frequent nudity offers an incentive for some folks, Gorodetsky prefers to think of the cabaret as a place for performers to venture into edgier territory.
“I’m not producing an X-rated show or anything,” he said. “I think what I’ve created is a permissive space where people are free to experiment beyond their comfort zones as artists, so they get to try stuff that is scarier and grittier. And sometimes it involves whipping your genitals out and sometimes it involves being really vulnerable and personal.”
Gorodetsky admits some audience members can get intense reactions, such as the time one video act presented a montage of religious imagery, fast food and self-mutilation which had some audience members walking out. But he recalls some real gems, especially a local comedian named Mohamed Ali who abandoned his jocular material to don boxing gloves and trunks like his famous namesake to bang on a piano and emotionally reflect his experiences as a black living in Canada.
“It knocked the wind out of every person in the room,” said Gorodetsky.
As long as audiences keep coming back for more, Gorodetsky believes Dirt Buffet Cabaret will have a long shelf life. “It has a strong function as a performance laboratory in the city and I don’t see it stopping anytime soon.”