On the bootleg movie market, a search for Donkey Show fetches seedy video of an all-male revue and, more luridly, women performing sex acts with Mexican mules. Filmmaker Jim Henniquin, however, plans to bring new respectability to this movie moniker with his debut effort, a cinematic look at Kansas City’s bestiality-free variety series of the same name.
Promoter Bill Sundahl unveiled Donkey Show more than a year ago, on a Thursday night at the Brick. The showcase drew about 60 spectators, who witnessed short sets from unscreened musicians, magicians and comedians. Some of these acts tanked, prompting Sundahl, the event’s MC, to stroll up to the stage and make a slashing gesture across his throat.
“It has to be pretty bad for me to do that,” he says. “I figure people can sit through ten minutes of anything.”
Established bands were wary of the format at first. Straightforward rock groups didn’t want belly dancers and fire-breathers upstaging them. So the Donkey Show, like a touring circus, put its stock in the scene’s freaks. This Saturday night’s lineup includes an escape artist, an R&B singer and a slide-show narrator, none of whom could normally swipe a prime weekend slot from DJs or standard three-band bills.
“It’s such a unique presentation, with so many eccentric acts,” Henniquin says. He filmed footage at the six previous installments, but his feature-length documentary will focus mainly on Saturday’s show, including interviews with the featured attractions.
“The Donkey Show has opened up a new avenue for nontraditional acts,” says Erin McGrane, whose cabaret group Alacartoona — in which she’s known as Ruby Falls — was the house band at Donkey Show V.
“The Donkey Show is a perfect place for me to showcase my comic characters,” adds Emily Lauren, also known as Sugar Puppy. During her slapstick-intensive strip routines, she executes stunts such as getting her breasts to rotate in opposite directions.
Lauren, making her second appearance on a Donkey Show roster, says she’ll be ready for Henniquin’s rolling cameras.
“I am wearing my best pasties and will be donning at least two more layers of glitter and greasepaint than I ordinarily would for any other occasion,” she promises.
Even audience members sport outlandish attire at Donkey Shows, thanks to discounted admission prices for those who match their threads with the night’s theme. Saturday’s sartorial suggestion is, to quote the tag line from House Party 2, “pajama jammy jam.”
Still, Sundahl’s favorite Donkey Show moments boil down to pure performance: a troupe proficient in martial arts engaging in gorgeously choreographed stick fights, the Malachy Papers leading a spirited jam session. During such spectacles, Sundahl says, “Nobody stands around talking. Their eyes stay glued on the action.”
Usually, only the most star-struck fans devote such attention to the artists. At Donkey Shows, however, people don’t necessarily come to support any particular act.
“They might not know any of the bands, but they want to see the variety,” Sundahl says. “We’re turning people on to things that they never see.”