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Originally published Friday, November 16, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Hey, kids — let's put on a show!

Sit back. The house lights have dimmed. Watch MC Kevin Joyce — genial, impassioned, occasionally zany — introduce a very eclectic...

Seattle Times staff reporter

On TV

"Big Night Out," 8 p.m. Friday, Seattle Channel. Streamed anytime at www.seattlechannel.org

Sit back. The house lights have dimmed. Watch MC Kevin Joyce — genial, impassioned, occasionally zany — introduce a very eclectic show.

Mississippi Delta blues played by guitarist Del Rey.

Biting humor from comedian Rod Long.

Ethereal music by Seattle Harmonic Voices followed by the wacky Juggling Jollies.

Joyce, in his dark, new suit, standing under the white neon lights inside the Columbia City Theater, is our human conduit to this local cable-TV program called "Big Night Out."

The one-hour variety show, airing on the Seattle Channel, hearkens back to early 20th-century American and European entertainment. Something familiar to anyone weaned on those TV variety shows of yesteryear: Perry Como. Ed Sullivan. Lawrence Welk.

Except "Big Night Out" is more avant-garde (a performance piece using shadow puppets) and wide-ranging (musicians playing traditional Iranian music). But it appeals to sensibilities both young and old (one performer dresses like a bumblebee; another, a princess).

The back story: The very versatile Joyce — co-founder and artistic director of the UMO theatrical ensemble; singer/songwriter with his own CD; and a principal performer and past director of Teatro ZinZanni — pitched the idea of a TV variety show to Seattle Channel's general manager Gary Gibson back in 2006.

The local cable channel was gearing up to launch an ambitious (and thus far, impressive) 12 hours of weekly arts programming.

And Joyce has long lauded the value of the arts.

"The arts and performance are seen in our culture as frill, a distraction, extracurricular," Joyce says. But it's important that society experiences things — things that can soothe or even provoke, he says.

"I'm an advocate for beauty, for the novelty of sensual and emotional, imaginal experiences that the arts, and particularly live performances provide." And for the unconventional theater performer the arts, in his view, means all kinds of things: juggling, stepping, even swallowing a broken beer bottle down one's throat (this last feat courtesy of magician Joe Pipia last month).

Joyce had played a range of host-type characters before on stage, for special events, even in a broadcast-TV pilot that he created but never aired.

"I love connecting with people," he says. But he's always wanted to host a TV show where he could wear many hats: interlocutor, curator and designer. (Joyce is the producer of the show.)

With a venue such as the Columbia City Theater, which used to be an old cabaret theater on Rainier Avenue, it made even greater sense to carve out a vaudeville/cabaret/variety program.

The performers are all local — students, amateurs as well as professionals — cultivated from Joyce's own network of performers or recommendations from friends.

"There's an incredible wealth of talent here," says Joyce, estimating he's had between 50 and 60 different acts since the show debuted eight months ago.

It's good theater. It's good TV. And for Joyce it's meaningful work.

"Saving the world one funky variety act at a time."

Florangela Davila: 206-464-2916 or fdavila@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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