Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Rape and Pillage of a Childhood Memory

Our first camping trip with Jack was quite a success. While I'd like to spend some time sharing stories of Jack's many firsts that happened on this trip - including his first two teeth - I have something that I need to get off of my chest. It is only marginally related to babies, momhood, and the stuff this blog is usually about.

I need to talk about the rape and pillage of one of my fond childhood memories: the Tommy Bartlett Ski, Sky and Stage Show in the Wisconsin Dells. Since the 1950s, this show of waterskiing stunts, acrobatic marvels, and quality comedy has entertained families along the shores of Lake Delton. The Tommy Bartlett show was always a must-see in the Dells. My mom took me to see it when I was in middle school, and I was amazed. I thought we'd share the experience with Jack this weekend while we camped in the Dells.

It was awful. We left after 20 minutes.

We suspected something was amiss when we got into the parking lot, just moments before the show started, and it was only about a quarter full. For a Saturday evening show on a night with amazing weather, that had to be a bad sign. Things went from bad to worse when we noticed that some of walkways had been adorned with these ridiculously cheesy illustrations of the characters of "Camp Bartlett," including, I shit you not, "DJ Flaven," and a 70s game show host character named Wink. The premise of the waterski portion of the show was a "ski off" between rival camps, as narrated by DJ Flava and Wink, and acted out by an equally contrived and ridiculous band of stereotypes: the nerd, the jock, the cool camp counselor.  The dialogue was over-the-top cheesy and the skits were worthy of middle-school improv.  And don't get me started on the clown.  Why was there a clown at Camp Bartlett?  Nothing made any sense.  

The bad acting would have been forgivable if the waterskiing was amazing.  It was not.  What used to be a show of incredible waterski stunts by renowned skiiers was now thirty minutes of agony put on by college kids who may or may not have skiied before this summer.  I've never waterskiied in my life, but I'm relatively certain that with a few days of training I could do at least as good as the performers at Bartlett's.  For example, the "stunt" in the photo below involved four skiiers, although one fell almost immediately.  (Also, do notice the sea of empty seats in the front.  Why are the best seats in the house completely devoid of people?)

Falls like that were not at all rare.  They were the norm for this show.  A show is truly bad when you begin to feel bad for the actors involved.  This one went beyond that:  it was actually really uncomfortable to watch.   I'm guessing that most people, unlike me, read the reviews before deciding on tickets, as there were plenty of empty seats in every direction.  That's pretty incredible when you consider that tickets to the show are free with your stay at a number of local hotels.

The ski ramps proclaimed this the "Greatest Show on H2O."  I'm pretty sure there have been better shows on the H2O at the attraction's restrooms.

The show's pedigree can only take it so far.  I'm sad to see Tommy Bartlett's legacy on Lake Delton has come to this, but I don't see how the show at this quality level can last.  The show holds some beautiful frontage property on Lake Delton.  Maybe it is time for change so that a more profitable venture can come in and do something there worth seeing.


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