Thursday, June 29, 2017

Nothing But Nonsense

Hello everyone, Steve Copeland here. We have been incredibly blessed for the past week or so by the beautiful weather in Baraboo. Every day has been temperate and completely different from some of the weather we are used to in late June.
Audiences have been comfortable in the tent and Hippodrome building, and therefore much more inclined to enjoy themselves at our shows. I’ll try and remember these days when we get into the brain melting, armpit swamp inducing heat of late July and August.

This week I’d like to talk about Nothing But Nonsense, our musical comedy show. I’ve been putting off writing this post for awhile because I’m afraid once I start I won’t be able to stop. There’s a lot I can say on the topic (most of it unapologetically self congratulatory), but I’ll try and keep it streamlined, on topic, and somewhat humble.

Ryan and I have been dreaming of having our own show for many years now, and so when Scott and Dave asked us to bring our own show to Circus World in 2016 to fill the void left by the departure of Tristan Crist’s magic show, we jumped on the opportunity.

Ryan and I were thrilled about the fact that we could perform the show as ourselves, and not as clowns, even though it means getting in and out of make up multiple times during the working day. We really wanted to put our sense of humor, and what we think is funny in front of audience without the hurdle of their preconceived notions and/or initial disdain of clowns.
Ryan and I are also huge fans of Broadway musicals, so in addition to ridiculous jokes and slapstick, we wanted to bring musicianship, singing, and dancing to the show as well.

On the topic of music, a few years ago we were unbelievably fortunate to be introduced to an amazing composer by the name of Larry Lees. 
Four years ago Larry wrote a Steve & Ryan theme song for us, sung by the man who introduced the three of us, ringmaster Kevin Venardos. You can hear it here:

When our contract for the 2016 summer season at Circus World was signed, we immediately sought out Larry to write original songs for our show.
Ryan worked on a couple of songs by himself (he even completely wrote and composed our college fight song, “Like Us On Facebook”), and Larry handled the rest.
We’ve been so lucky to have Larry since besides his immeasurable talent, he has a very similar sense of humor and way of thinking to ours.
For this year’s show, writing the music was very much a collaboration, because Ryan and I would have joke writing sessions to come up with possible lyrics for Larry to choose from.
The entire process this year was very hands on because Larry would send us sections of a song as he progressed, instead of sending us a finished project that he could tweak if needed.
That way if a lyric wasn’t working for us, we could suggest an alternate joke or lyric instead of simply saying, “We don’t like that.”

The music is a very big part of Nothing But Nonsense this year. Last year the show was almost a variety show, with very little rhyme or reason, but this year there is a storyline that carries on throughout the entire performance. (Because if the untimely demise of Ringling Bros. taught us anything, it is that story lines always make a show better!)
The three songs this year range from an opening number heavily influenced by (read: stolen from) Spike Jones, a 50’s doo wop ballad, and an uplifting gospel finale. 

Now on to the script!
When Ryan and I were in the final months of the Circo Hermanos Vazquez tour in 2015, Ryan and I used our downtime in the dressing room to both write our own versions of Nothing But Nonsense. I was surprised how easily writing verbal comedy came to me, but I suppose keeping a journal for twelve years helped a lot.
When we were finished Ryan and I read our scripts to one another. Mine was more focused on jokes and story elements, and Ryan’s was mostly possible sight gags.
We put the two together and created the rough outline of 2016’s Nothing But Nonsense show.

Last year when Ryan and I were performing at the Circus Spectacular at the Utah State Fair, we had three shows every day for eleven days, with two or three hour breaks between each performance. We used that time to write this year’s version of Nothing But Nonsense, and the fact that we wrote it as a collaboration made it even easier and more fun.

But there’s more to Nothing But Nonsense than music and words. If you know Steve & Ryan, then you 
know there are a buttload of props too!

It's all gotta come from somewhere!

Starting in January of this year Ryan and I began building the props for the new version of our show. We are eternally grateful to the Kelly Miller Circus for allowing us to use their Winter Quarters to work on Nothing But Nonsense. Special thanks to Danny Carey, Tetto and Oscar Perez, and Scott Moss at Culpepper & Merriweather for their help in constructing some of the props, especially anything involving welding!

This year we had far fewer props to build than we did last year, but we were still working hard all the way up to opening day on May 19th!

One of the wonderful things about working at Circus World is the freedom we have. It is the perfect place to workshop this show as we continue to make it bigger and better every year.
That includes the ability to make changes from day to day as we cut out things that were funny on paper and not so much in performance, add in improvisations that got a big laugh, and constantly change the way we do things so the show doesn’t get stale for us or the customers who come back multiple times.

Like I said earlier, Nothing But Nonsense is very different this year than it was last year, and just until about two weeks ago we were not very happy with the way things were going. The show was very hit or miss with audiences, and we were both fairly disheartened about it.
Luckily we changed a few key things, and the show finally started to click for us and get much more consistent positive reactions.

Performing Nothing But Nonsense truly is the highlight of our day, and we are eternally grateful to Scott and Dave for giving us a venue and a sandbox to play and create in, to the people that contributed start up money to us last year as a part of our fundraising campaign, and to the audience members who continue to donate money to us on a daily basis so we can make the show even bigger and better next year.
We cannot wait to see what the future holds for this show; in the meantime, we’ll have a heck of a lot of fun doing it.

I’m sorry this post jumped around all over the place; I didn’t cover nearly as much as I wanted to, but I was starting to bore myself, so I stopped.
If there is anything you’d like to hear about regarding to Nothing But Nonsense, please let me know in the comments. I have some funny stories about the show that I plan to share in a future post.
Likewise, if there is anything else you’d like to hear about, please let me know. Until next week, take care!


AJ Hintz said...

"We really wanted to put our sense of humor, and what we think is funny in front of audience without the hurdle of their preconceived notions and/or initial disdain of clowns."

Total success, and in fact, knowing the Circus World clowns are actually "Steve and Ryan" has really, really, reaaaaaaally broadened our appreciation of clowns as a whole!

Your youth, sense of humor, and modern edge totally eclipse the presumption of clowns as weird old people with ratty puppets. (Your puppet is my favorite, so...totally not what I mean.)

We were huge fans last summer, stalked you on fb all winter, and planned our CW visit entirely around not missing the NBN show at 1pm. We were fortunate to be able to stay for the big performance as well, and our son loved you as clowns.

You guys have something really special going here, and we will recommend it any chance we get.

Our son is shy and a little bit SPD, so I couldn't convince him to meet you or get a photo, but we were front and center on Wednesday. He had the fashionable, yet delicious ring pop and the Transformers tshirt. It made his day that you tried to interact w him. :)

Good luck this summer and we hope to see you again next year...

Patti Whitebird said...

I am a huge fan of Broadway musicals too! Working some Broadway songs in to your act would be great! I would be singing along loudly! Well, ok, I won't do that but I would love to hear some Broadway inspired things!

Ramon said...

Was browsing the web this evening, quiet nite. I decided to check on some blogs I had read in a while. Went to facebook and found out that your blog was back in business. I really thought you had given it up! Congratulations on your wedding! Wish you both an eternity of happiness.

Time flies! Over a year and a half since you last posted. Have enjoyed your posts since June 19 and look forward to reading more about your adventures!