Traveling back in time is easier than you think

Dark Arts Circus & Cabaret partners with The Tarlton Theatre for ongoing performances

By Rachel Sankey

Niemo, a Dark Arts performer, dances while wearing wings and flowers in his hair, capturing the moody vibes of the group. John Penokie Photo

Aerial performances, fire and drag queens and kings are just a sampling of what Dark Arts Circus & Cabaret has to offer.

The Northeast Wisconsin collective of performing artists are passionate about all things odd and wild, director Mandie Savage said.

“Our aesthetic is kind of spooky,” she said. “That’s definitely a running theme with everybody. It’s definitely not a campier show, it’s a little darker in nature.”

Another aspect to a Dark Arts performance is burlesque.

“It’s a dance, the presenter will come out, and the idea is that they’re telling you some kind of story, whether it be humorous, satirical or political, and then there’s often some sort of removal of clothing – or the manipulation of clothing – to tell that story,” Savage said. “We’re definitely not afraid to allow a performer to explore their sexuality.”

The theme behind Dark Arts Circus & Cabaret may deter some from seeing a show, but Savage assured it’s an experience for everyone.

“We do our best to make the environment as welcoming as possible,” she said. “You may come in and not be fully sure what to expect, since we’re so multifaceted. Our goal is to always have fun and to have a safe good time; it’s a big thing with us. So we definitely won’t be traumatizing anyone. I like to think of our show as something you would have stumbled upon in 1940s Paris.”

As Dark Arts has grown its community since starting in 2016, its home base in Appleton became too small for all the collective has become capable of.

Enter The Tarlton Theatre.

The vaudevillian landmark centered in downtown Green Bay at 405 W Walnut St. was the perfect fit from the get go, both Savage and proprietor of the theatre, Tarl Knight, said. Though, this wasn’t the pair’s first encounter.

Knight found the Dark Arts group in 2019, and said they had talked about planning a partnership with an entire season of shows.

After the first trial run, which Knight said was a success, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, causing the partnership to be put on pause.

Now that things have relatively returned to normal, both Dark Arts Circus & Cabaret and The Tarlton are ready to pick back up where they left off.

Mandie Savage on stage at one of the Dark Arts Circus & Cabaret’s shows. Performers take part in burlesque, drag, aerial performances and more. Steve Hanzek Photo

“In the 1880s and early part of the 1900s, burlesque variety shows were a popular art form,” Knight said. “The historical aspect of our venue can harken back to that. It’s a little bit of a time machine, where we can transport people through this historic artform in a historic space.”

Savage echoed Knight’s sentiment.

“They have a beautiful stage,” she said. “It’s a great space and is accessible in a lot of different ways. Performers with different mobility needs are able to use the stage, where in different spaces we’ve used that definitely was not the case.”

In addition to the historical atmosphere of The Tarlton, Knight said the mid-size venue allows for a more intimate setting than one would get at a burlesque show in a big city.

“For a lot of these different performances where they’re hanging from the rafters, unspooling themselves from ribbons, flame-breathing and sword swallowing, you get a new perspective,” he said. “It creates a more interactive environment where I think it’s a lot more exciting and thrilling, and also nerve wracking when it’s that intimate.”

Knight said it’s also important for The Tarlton to provide a stable place to such organizations.

“It really gives a sense of stability, and a place where the audience and the community can grow around this artform and kind of performance,” he said. “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs says if you don’t have the very first needs met, then it’s hard to grow and expand. There’s a home now that they can become familiar with. We’re committed to helping and supporting the more fringe and outlying communities in the Fox Cities and in Green Bay that don’t have access to an audience.”

As the Dark Arts Circus & Cabaret’s performance on Saturday, June 11, nears, Savage said there is no better organization to work with than The Tarlton.

“They’re a very DIY, hands-on-the-ground kind of thing,” she said. “That’s kind of how we are; we are our own crew. That ethic is definitely something that ties us together as well. So it’s a good fit. It’s really amazing.”

The Dark Arts Circus & Cabaret will perform at The Tarlton Theatre every other month.

To purchase tickets and find additional details, head to thetarlton.com.


Rachel Sankey is the associate editor of Green Bay City Pages. She can be reached via email at [email protected]

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