Playing pit guitar in a big production???

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by Clifford-D, Oct 18, 2008.

  1. Clifford-D

    Clifford-D Member

    Messages:
    17,112
    Joined:
    Jan 8, 2007
    Location:
    Close to the burn zone
    Just curious about people that have played in big productions
    like Broadway shows or similar.

    I would be interested in how the business works
    level and types of abilities needed to sell youself.

    Pros
    cons

    thanks
     
  2. DaveZee

    DaveZee Member

    Messages:
    2
    Joined:
    Oct 18, 2008
    Location:
    on tour
    Hi Clifford,
    I'm in a large production currently with Cirque du Soleil and it's a great gig.I've done broadway shows and other major gigs in the past and every production is unique with it's artistic and professional dynamics whether a jazz festival or a movie soundtrack or a broadway type show.It's challenging and exciting to be a part of a big show because the overall energy is a real buzz.Different freedoms and constraints come with the territory.It's all good.Hope that gives you some insight.Dave
     
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2008
  3. spencerbk

    spencerbk Member

    Messages:
    531
    Joined:
    Jul 28, 2004
    Location:
    New York, NY
    I've done some things in the off-off Broadway scene here in NYC, a totally different experience from the "big productions" I'm sure. Some things that have come in handy to me that I bet are in common with the big shows:

    *Getting the gigs was 100% based on friends' recommendations. After a few times in the pit I got to be musical director for a show (actually on Broadway, but 43 blocks below 42nd street) and I brought in my friends from other projects. So it pays to be out there and meeting different people.

    *Be versatile. In one show I had to do jazz for the entrance music, "space-age" sound effects, a bluegrass-esque hoedown, and more traditional showtune/ballad type stuff. jack of all trades, master of none is a strength here.

    *When given flexibility, write bonehead simple parts. First off, the focus is the show, second - if you're working off cues you should be able to change speed or skip a part without your arrangement falling apart

    *Not that I can sight-read piano music, but at least being able to pick out root movement in bass clef has helped a ton
     
  4. Clifford-D

    Clifford-D Member

    Messages:
    17,112
    Joined:
    Jan 8, 2007
    Location:
    Close to the burn zone
    Hey Dave

    Do you have a variety of guitars that you're jumping back and forth on?
    what are your gear needs?
    How demanding is the reading
    and are the contortionists a distraction?

    What's a good story from the trenches?
     
  5. Clifford-D

    Clifford-D Member

    Messages:
    17,112
    Joined:
    Jan 8, 2007
    Location:
    Close to the burn zone
    tell me a story, a unique gig story.
     
  6. Clifford-D

    Clifford-D Member

    Messages:
    17,112
    Joined:
    Jan 8, 2007
    Location:
    Close to the burn zone
    What about playing cruise ships, or the hell of playing cruise ships?
     
  7. KRosser

    KRosser Member

    Messages:
    14,154
    Joined:
    Oct 15, 2004
    Location:
    Pasadena, CA
    I'm currently doing a musical theater production of Frank Zappa's "Joe's Garage" in Hollywood and going on the road with it next year in the US and Europe

    I do a fair amount of theater productions, it's one of my favorite lines of work actually

    I'll take a crack at those questions...

    For Joe's Garage I have a G&L ASAT, Les Paul and electric sitar...some of the changes are very fast but that's part of the 'chops' - you rehearse that just like the actors rehearse moves.

    Plus, on this show there's a second guitar chair and one of his primary functions is to cover the transitions that are too fast for me to make.

    Doubling is not uncommon on theatrical productions. I've done many shows where I've had to do acoustic and electric and I did "Pippin" for a while which required me to double on tenor banjo and electric guitar

    For "Joe's Garage" -

    G&L ASAT III w/trem, '56 Reissue Goldtop Les Paul, Jerry Jones electric sitar -> Dice Works Muff Diver -> Keeley compressor -> Menatone Fish Factory -> Visual Volume -> Eventide Modfactor -> Eventide Timefactor -> Tone King Comet 40B

    Typically, I go through a few different setups on the first rehearsals and try to find what works best for the show and this one was no exception

    I got the Eventides the day before rehearsals started and worked them right in 'on the job' - they've been a Godsend for me...

    The reading tends to be pretty demanding because there's no room for error - often dancers or singers have to hit certain marks exactly with certain musical cues or there's certain details written into the score that are important for the narrative of the show.

    The reading on the Zappa show is particularly nasty in parts, but I've been off-book since the dress rehearsals. With these kinds of things, the sooner I can get off-book the happier I am.

    On "Joe's Garage" we don't have contortionists but we have dancers and yes, they're a huge distraction ;)

    Why do you think I worked so hard to get off-book?

    So far, my favorite story from "Joe's Garage" involves Warren Cuccurullo, who played just about all the non-FZ guitar on the original recording coming to the show opening night, sitting next to Dweezil Zappa, and watching him stand up in the audience and play 'air guitar' to my solos - much to what looked like Dweezil's embarrassment...
     
  8. Clifford-D

    Clifford-D Member

    Messages:
    17,112
    Joined:
    Jan 8, 2007
    Location:
    Close to the burn zone
    That's a good story.

    G&L ASAT Special, my fave. plays like butter.
     
  9. derekd

    derekd Supporting Member

    Messages:
    34,718
    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2007
    Location:
    In a van down by the river
    I have played lots of cantatas and other choral performances. Orchestral charts, hour plus long. Most important thing I learned with those sorts of things is, if you miss a chord or note, don't stop counting, because you might not find your place for several minutes if you stop.
     
  10. DaveZee

    DaveZee Member

    Messages:
    2
    Joined:
    Oct 18, 2008
    Location:
    on tour
    I have an Ibanez Satriani guitar and cort as a second guitar for whammy,though both guitars are whammy equipped it's more a matter of tone consistency so the front of house guys can tweek in the exact treatment of both guitars at different spots in the show.I also use cordoba electric accoustic nylon.The electric gear is all in line and it's all line 6 rack controlled.Vox wha wha pedal,seperate tuners for electric and acoustic guitars so that I can always be on top of tuning silently.Seperate volume pedals as well.The line six floorboard takes care of the electric and an Ernie Ball for the nylon.There is plenty of switch time on this gig.The big challenge is mostly catching cues that might be different each time depending on how things go on stage.
    The reading is demanding but helpful at first but then becomes a hindrance later and it's much better to be "off book" so I can concentrate on accuracy,phrasing, and feel.The main thing is to hone in on the exact vibe that's already in the score before I got there and give it my own particular "mojo" without sacrificing the identity of what the composer intended.As far as distractions go,I can't afford to be distracted,I need focus the whole time.There's plenty of room for distraction outside in the world and I prefer it that way.Hope that tells you more.
     
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2008
  11. spencerbk

    spencerbk Member

    Messages:
    531
    Joined:
    Jul 28, 2004
    Location:
    New York, NY
    As part of my big debut as a musical director we used one of the ballads from my CD to underscore a monologue. It's a composition that I'm really proud of but somehow on the record it came out good but didn't quite reach it's full potential.

    In rehearsal the director had an inspiration to have the other actors slow dance to the piece (even though it switches from 5/4 to 4/4!) and by adding the visual element, changing the instrumentation, and having the music play off the energy of the monologue the song totally came alive and surpassed my original ambitions. I still have goosebumps when I play the song today and remember what it was like to be part of that show.
     
  12. gennation

    gennation Member

    Messages:
    6,717
    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2006
    Location:
    Grand Rapids, MI
    Since this summer I've been working in a full blown (9 piece band, 10 piece dance/acting crew) burlesque show.

    I don't think selling yourself has anything to do with it. I think being able to cover a lot of different styles of music does though.

    The actors/dancers are the one's who put together their own skits along with a couple of writers. Because of this each show is different, because each show contains different skits. Just this month we have two Halloween style shows that have two different set lists (because we want as many of the same people to come to each show without any redundancy).

    As a matter of fact I done about 6-7 shows with the group now and we haven't played the same list of songs yet. We rehearse two nights a week and are usually rehearsing arrangements for three shows at once!

    Add on top of that...we also perform shows as an original band, that's a whole different setlist, AND we perform a set or two of dixieland music, that's ANOTHER list of music. You can imagine the "book" for this band is enormous.

    So you can go from playing trapeze music to Danzig, to Abba, to latin for a hoola-hoop number, to Klezmer music, to numbers with multiple time changes and tempo changes, classical music, and much more....all in the first act!

    So, if your name is called to handle melody, harmony, comp'ing, solo'ing or whatever, or you need to sing in a different language, you need to be verse in the music and if you aren't you'll need to find it really quick.

    The more versed you are, the more authentic and professional the whole show comes off looking.

    The amount of music we/I are learning and the number of shows we are doing is the reason I haven't been hanging on this board as much. It's been VERY time consuming!

    I've been using nothing but my Les Paul and Ibanez Artcore and a Line 6 amp (again, versatility at the push of a button) to cover the gig. Plus we are on stage with the show, not in a pit, so too many guitar changes during skits and scenes is too distracting to everyone.

    Just to mention...I found this group on craigslist.org.
     
  13. 1kidc

    1kidc Member

    Messages:
    985
    Joined:
    Mar 17, 2004
    Location:
    Peoples Republic of Boulder
    I've done a fair bit of pit stuff - not touring. Mostly B-way road shows that have come to Colorado. Hairspray, Lion King, Little Shop, Tommy, JC Superstar etc. And I've done a couple of off-broadway shows in NYC.

    As stated earlier, versatillity is the real key. You need to wear a lot of hats, cover a lot of styles, have good sounds, good gear, and not take up a lot of space (pit real estate is often at a premium). You have to have a great handle on volume at all times and be able to switch instruments quickly and quietly. Also, if you are onstage and seen by the audience make sure your guitar stands are black. A lot of lighting effects can be messed up by chrome stands. This can even go to the point of devising a cover for your pedal board. In a total theater blackout no one (especially the director and lighting designer) want to see your delay leds blinking on, off, on off etc...

    Gear wise I usually play a strat, a Larrivee acoustic 6 with a b-band pickup, Taylor 12 and a tenor banjo set up like the top 4 strings of guitar (ala tommy tedesco). Other stuff I usually borrow or rent if needed like a Classical, Uke or Dobro. Usually I don't bring a jazz box unless the show is decidedly big band swing oriented. A deluxe reverb is as big an amp as you will need. Your MD, Soundman, and other pit mates will love you for that.

    Always bring a book, bottled water, some tylenol and a granola bar or some nuts. They ALWAYS come in handy...

    Musically, it almost always requires sight reading changes, rhythm figures and single lines. You also need to watch the MD/Conductor LIKE A HAWK. All those years in jr high and highschool concert band REALLY help here because tempos often change radically or at the whim of the actor onstage. You have to be in the game all the time. Guitarists - like drummers - have to also have the abillity to "read between the lines" in the charts. This is often due to the arranger not really having a grip on what the guitar player should (or could) be doing. Sometimes the directions on the chart are pretty vague - other times super explicit. You never really know until the first rehearsal what you are getting into. But for me, that's kinda the fun of it. I usually play the show pretty conservatively until I have a pretty good handle on it. Then you can add a few of your own things to the part which USUALLY gets a smile from the conductor and the road dogs who have heard the same thing 300 times in a row.

    The other (and maybe most important) quality is to be a happy camper w/ good people skills. This could be said for any business but when you are cramped up with 15 other musicians for weeks at a time in a black hole beneath the stage it really matters. Have at least 2 all black outfits and clean them regularly. And try to network as much as possible w/ the contractor, the MD, the other road musicians and the local folks as well. Just like any other band, one gig well done begets another..

    Lastly, I'll re-itterate, Keep your volume reasonable and try to mix yourself. And when the chart says "Rock Guitar Solo!" hit that tubescreamer and go for the throat (and the pentatonic). No one, not even theater people, want a wimpy (or too intelligent) guitar solo!
     
  14. 1kidc

    1kidc Member

    Messages:
    985
    Joined:
    Mar 17, 2004
    Location:
    Peoples Republic of Boulder
    Just got a call to do Hedwig & the angry inch. We're onstage the whole time. Gonna have to borrow a Marshall stack! So much for my advice about never needing more than a deluxe reverb....
     
  15. gennation

    gennation Member

    Messages:
    6,717
    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2006
    Location:
    Grand Rapids, MI
    Oh man, that would be a great gig!

    Along the same lines, here's some photo's of our last burlesque show...On the 18th we played a full production burlesque show to a 400+ sell out show theater.
    Fun stuff, needless to say, it's like a 2.5 hour lap dance and every guitarist in the crowd wants my job :p

    The show is done as skits and performances. It's burlesque not full nudity, more tease than strip (g-strings and tassels, guys and girls too), but without showing any of the real striptease photos:

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    Of course Sarah Palin:
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
     
  16. Bryan T

    Bryan T Guitar Owner Silver Supporting Member

    Messages:
    16,903
    Joined:
    Aug 22, 2002
    This is something that I've wanted to do, but I've never been sure how to land these gigs. It always seems like it is a 'who you know' type of situation, but I guess I don't really know the right folks.
     
  17. gennation

    gennation Member

    Messages:
    6,717
    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2006
    Location:
    Grand Rapids, MI
    I found them on craigslist.

    (now heading to John's links)
     
  18. gennation

    gennation Member

    Messages:
    6,717
    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2006
    Location:
    Grand Rapids, MI
    Awesome. Looks familiar. We only do the burlesque one to two times a month and play as an original band other nights through the month. Each burlesque show is a different theme, and a different set of music...same level of commitment constantly.

    With Halloween this month we played the 18th and the 23rd, with mostly different sets of music/skits. Right now for Nov we been hired for a 550+ seat (theater I think) the night before Thanksgiving, usually the best "going out night" of the year I sure you know.

    Very cool stuff you have going on. I'll pass your site onto some of the other member of the band/cast. We are always curious to find others doing similar things.
     
  19. 1kidc

    1kidc Member

    Messages:
    985
    Joined:
    Mar 17, 2004
    Location:
    Peoples Republic of Boulder
    Looks fun Mike!

    Is that Sarah Palin w/ the gun?

    How often do you guys do this gig?
     
  20. gennation

    gennation Member

    Messages:
    6,717
    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2006
    Location:
    Grand Rapids, MI
    Checking it out now. Very cool. I like the "fun" lyrical side that these types of performances bring out. When I first started we had a local transvestite who would come up and sing a couple of tunes. She(?) was incredible but wanted more money than we were going to pay somebody for a couple of numbers a night. Your band sounds great on these cuts too. Recording is something we haven't got around to yet :( But we are planning on get to it this winter.
     

Share This Page