Posts Tagged ‘performance’

My Favorite Venue

July 23, 2014

Saturday July 19th, 2014 – Milwaukee, WI

Ahhh…nothing is as thoroughly refreshing as an oasis in the desert. Tonight I was booked for a pair of shows at my all time favorite performance venue which is The Northern Lights Theatre at Potawatomi Casino in Milwaukee. I love everything about the place, and I’d work there anytime.

The stage is enormous, the sound and lights are always perfect, and the hometown audience is primed. I can talk to them like nowhere else, because I grew up in Milwaukee and know exactly what buttons to push. I can use references I can’t use anywhere else, and it is total creative bliss.

Another reason I like working there is the friendly staff. Bob Rech is in charge, and everybody from him on down treats me like a big star. I treat them well too, but I do that everywhere. That’s how I think everyone should be, but it doesn’t always go down that way. I feel totally at home.

Tonight I wasn’t hired to do my “Schlitz Happened!” show about growing up in Milwaukee, so I kept it separate and just did my regular standup comedy show. I have enough material to divide it up, and I have always been one to switch things around depending on the individual audience.

I’m rarely if ever nervous before any show, but tonight I admit there was a knot in my stomach because my sister Tammy and her husband Jake came out to see the early show. I had a difficult time coming up with the last time Tammy saw me, and it has to be more than 25 years. Jake had never seen me perform ever, and I wanted to have a good show just so they’d have a good time.

We went out for dinner before the show, and met up with my cousin Wendy and her childhood friend Mary Jo. Tammy and Wendy had never met, and I was a nervous host there too because I wanted it to go well. The last thing I needed would be any family tension, but there wasn’t a bit.

Wendy is a super sweetheart, and has supported me for years. She and Tammy were fine, and we had a relaxing meal before they went to gamble for a while before the show. Caryn Ruby was the opening act, and she joined us for dinner. I didn’t expect any problems from her, and didn’t have any. All of us got along, and it went exactly how it was supposed to go. I was SO relieved.

The early show audience wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great either. Summer shows are always light, and the 7pm starting time can be a factor too. I was still able to get them going, but I have had much better audiences. Tammy and Jake thought it was great, and so did Wendy. That’s the main concern I had, and I’m always ultra hard on myself and set high standards. I want to please.

Of course the second show was a whole lot better, but that’s how it usually goes. When there’s anybody that need to be impressed, the show rarely delivers – at least in my mind. When it’s just another show with nobody I know in the crowd, that’s when it rocks. Those people were laughers and we all had a blast. When that room is rocking, there isn’t any place like it. I adore that space.

If it were up to me, I would work there 52 weeks a year. I would perform “Schlitz Happened!” and build my legend like Danny Gans did at his theatre in The Mirage in Las Vegas. It doesn’t even have to be in the Northern Lights Theatre, even though I fit perfectly there. A smaller room would be fine, as long as the hot audiences keep showing up. I was born to work there. Literally.

I can't think of a more ideal venue for standup comedy than Northern Lights Theatre at Potawatomi Casino in Milwaukee. It's my favorite stage of all time.

I can’t think of a more ideal venue for standup comedy than Northern Lights Theatre at Potawatomi Casino in Milwaukee. It’s my favorite venue. http://www.paysbig.com

The Queen Of Connections

March 8, 2014

Friday March 7th, 2014 – Libertyville, IL

It’s amazing how connections work. Sometimes people come into our lives from the strangest of places, and end up staying a lot longer than expected. One of the reasons I have loved teaching my comedy classes so much is that it has attracted a steady stream of quality people into my life.

The number of people that I have kept in contact with after having them as students is well into the hundreds, and I value and cherish every last one of them. I don’t always see all of them all of the time, but there are always enough of them coming in and out of my life to keep me occupied.

I’ve been teaching since 1994, and if I had to single out one group that stands out from them all it’s a class I taught last summer at Improv Playhouse in Libertyville, IL. It was a class filled with ‘corporate types’, and they were a Toastmasters group from Lake County, IL. They were friendly enough people at the time, but I had no idea what an impact we would have on each other’s lives.

David Stuart is the owner of Improv Playhouse, and I approached him about teaching classes at his facility because I lived in the area and there was no standup comedy around anywhere since a Zanies location in Vernon Hills, IL had closed. He agreed, and we ended up doing a few classes.

Zanies is the big name in standup in the Chicago area, and I have been teaching there for years. No offense to David, but his facility is not that nor does he claim it to be. He specializes in acting and improv training, and he’s very good at it. My class was just an added bonus to his repertoire.

We’d held a few class sessions, but nothing earth shattering quite honestly. They were just kind of ok, but nothing special. When he told me a group of Toastmasters wanted to take the class as a group I didn’t have any idea what to expect. It was the summer, and any income was appreciated.

Little did I know that we would touch each other’s lives so deeply, and they ended up without a doubt THE best class I ever taught. Period. What made them so great was that they came from an entirely different place than most students that take the class. They were already friends because of their Toastmasters connection, and they were already used to speaking in front of an audience.

They asked me to help them punch up their speeches, and I told them I would do that but I also would not sugarcoat anything. They thought they wanted that, but when I started bringing heat it ended up scaring them. I worked those people harder than I’ve worked anyone, but I knew it was exactly what they needed. It was funny to hear them whine and moan, but they did what I said.

As the class went on, I ended up giving them several more sessions than they ended up paying for. It was my call, and I don’t regret it for a second. They were eager to learn, and I got a chance to practice teaching with people who were hungry and wanted to improve themselves. What else did I have going on in the summer? El-zilcho. The extra sessions we had were very productive.

Finally it came time for their ‘graduation’ show, and they packed the joint at Improv Playhouse for what turned out to be a purely magical evening. They all went up and lit it up in front of their friends, family and fellow Toastmasters, and it was an absolute blast for everyone. I felt like their mother hen, and couldn’t have been prouder of all of them. THAT is why I’ve taught for so long.

The leader of that Toastmasters group was Eric Feinendegen, and now Eric and I have teamed up and are working on corporate speaking angles. He’s helping me with my monthly newsletter, and I’ve been helping him with some speeches he’s been doing. He wants to set up bookings for both of us, and is very familiar with the corporate world. We’re helping each other and it’s a fit.

Another member of that class is Jean MacDonald. Jean prides herself on being one of the most connected people anywhere, and she should. She is up there with anyone I’ve ever seen at being on top of the contact game, and that’s exactly what success in any field is about. She excels at it.

Jean calls herself ‘The Queen of Connections’ and I don’t doubt her for one second. She knows EVERYBODY in Chicago – at least everybody that’s important. She makes it her business to be in contact with anyone that’s doing anything, and her days are spent nurturing her vast network.

Eric and I met up with her a few weeks ago, and she was full of ideas that were very helpful to both of us. She told us to start networking and come up with a newsletter, and that’s exactly what we’ve done. She talked about ‘warm calls’ to lead to business rather than cold calling, and talked about how to get into a field and own it. She also talked about getting multiple bookings at once.

She totally knows her stuff, and I shut my mouth and listened as she spewed nothing but useful information. Then to my surprise, she went on about how much the class meant to her and how it changed her life. I was very flattered to hear that, and I could tell she was sincere. She said it was a highlight of her life to perform at the graduation show, and she’ll always remember the feeling.

Again, that’s exactly what I’m shooting for and I couldn’t be happier to hear she had fun. That whole class was special, and the effort they all put in was remarkable. They got a lot out of it for sure, but they put a lot into it too. From my perspective, it made being their teacher well worth it.

Jean sent me an email and asked to do a follow up coffee meeting at my convenience to check on how progress has been going. Today was the day I could do it, and even though I don’t drink coffee we met up at a place in Libertyville to compare notes. When I got there she was meeting with her web person, and before I sat down three different people walked over and said hello.

I’m telling you, I’ve never seen anyone network like Jean does. It was a treat to watch, and we finally got time to talk. Jean’s passion for what she’s doing just shines, and I could feel it as she explained what she’s looking to do, and how I can be a part of it. She wants to help me connect with corporate sources to both speak and teach speakers, and she wants me to help her as well.

She’s been getting some bookings lately, and wants to polish up her speech and add humor to it. Well, if there’s one thing I can help people with it’s that. Eric and I have been working at that exact same thing, and it’s working tremendously well. There’s no reason I can’t help Jean also.

She also went on to say how this is the hot season for business whereas summer is ice cold for the comedy world. She scolded me – deservedly – about being stuck in ‘comedy mode’. I’m in a new arena now and new rules are in place. I heard all she said, and I’m on board. She’s a winner. I never would have imagined that little class last summer could lead to this, but it has and we’re all better for it. Jean’s website is http://www.networkconnectsucceed.com I think the title says it all.

Jean MacDonald is a speaker, author and trainer. She knows EVERYBODY!

Jean MacDonald is a speaker, author and successful sales trainer. And she knows absolutely EVERYBODY!

Eric Feinendegen and Jean are in Toastmasters, and they took a comedy class I taught at Improv Playhouse in Libertyville, IL last summer.

Eric Feinendegen and Jean are in Toastmasters, and they took a comedy class I taught at Improv Playhouse in Libertyville, IL last summer.

David Stuart owns Improv Playhouse, and it's a wonderful place to learn acting, improv or standup comedy. Tell him I sent you! www.improvplayhouse.com.

David Stuart owns Improv Playhouse in Libertyville, IL. It’s a terrific place to learn improv, acting or standup comedy. Tell him I sent you! http://www.improvplayhouse.com.