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'Encyclopedia' celebrates accidental discoveries

Cate Blouke
Last month, Lord Professor Michael Patrick Slefinger, top, gave a sharp reading of the straight-to-video film 'I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer.' Above, Talleri McRae, right, and Ralph Hardesty perform during a vice presidents-themed show.

On the information superhighway, it's easy for things to get impersonal. Not only does the screen separate us from people, but also the Internet keeps an infinite amount of information highly compartmentalized. And where's the fun in that?

When we Google for gems of wisdom, it gives us what we asked for. There's no chance that while looking up balloons we might learn something about baboons. While hunting down information on tigers, we would never find out about the Tiber. (It's the third-longest river in Italy, you know.)

But the somewhat old-fashioned encyclopedia offers such discoveries. And the ‘Encyclopedia Show Austin' is here to help cultivate a communal appreciation for the fascinating and obscure information found in an encyclopedia. They're doing it in style.

As you enter a dimly lit room, you see an eclectic crowd of professionals, amateurs, artists and students. A poster adorns the podium, warning that you're entering a learning zone. The gallant and debonair hosts, Michael Graupmann and Ralph Hardesty, tip their hats to the days when the sophisticated and erudite sat in wingback chairs, wore dinner jackets and smoked pipes. However, the shallow gestures at pretension end there. The audience relaxes in Coleman camping chairs and sips cold beer out of plastic cups.

Much like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get with the ‘Encyclopedia Show.' Each month features different performers, who all provide their own material, drawing on their individual talents. Not limited to actors, the performers who mount this stage come from all walks of life. Last month's show (on serial killers) featured a slam poet, a stand-up comedian, a playwright, a grad student, a journalist and an author.

The show is all-inclusive, and not just in its participants. It brings together folks of all ages, and it encourages audience feedback and participation. As the show's website boasts, ‘The Encyclopedia Show endeavors to build a new performance community cultivating accidental knowledge and irreverent loving kindness.'

The show harkens back to vaudeville music halls and Victorian parlor games, with a twist of seedy night club. With the guest artists performing alongside a cast of recurring characters, the evening runs the gamut of highbrow and lowbrow humor. Lord Professor Michael Patrick Slefinger, a fabulous faux-academic, regaled us last month with a brilliant reading of the straight-to-DVD release ‘I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer.' Stepdad Ron (Kyle Shultz) and Gypsy Magnolia (Betsy McCann) provided musical numbers on the theme of serial killing.

The show promises to deliver learning through laughter, though it privileges ‘creative expression over scholastic certainty.' Accredited by the ‘Institute of Human Knowledge and Hygiene,' however, the show generally attempts to provide more truth than nonsense. To guarantee sufficient veracity, the hosts are joined by Walter, the resident fact-checker (Gy Odom), who provides a running commentary full of puns and plays on words.

If searching for entertainment, the ‘Encyclopedia Show Austin' will personally deliver — along with plenty of tidbits worthy of Trivial Pursuit. December is the month of the Zodiac, and with a rapper, a writer and a certified genius presenting Friday night, it promises to be a hilarious and informative evening.

‘Encyclopedia Show Austin'

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Where:ND at 501 Studios, 501 Interstate 35 (entry on Fifth and Brushy streets)