Interview with Peter Michael Marino: Show Up, Kids!

Kate Copstick recently caught up with her mate Peter Michael Marino, a New York City native who has worked around the world as a producer, director, developer, writer, teacher, and performer. He was the librettist for the West End musical disaster Desperately Seeking Susan. Having come to terms with that failure he turned it into a cathartic triumph with Desperately Seeking the Exit (you get the connection).

I do have faith that live entertainment will be back, and possibly better, and definitely more appreciated than ever before.

Along with Show Up, Kids! he is now discovering the technology and opportunities of streaming his live shows, as he obviously cannot perform at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year.

Can you answer a couple of questions about the show?

Yes.

How on earth does something work online when it is ALL about the excitement in the room, the interaction with the kids, the audience participation?

Is it really all about the excitement in the actual room? I suppose. But, don’t we also feel excitement when we watch a terrific Netflix show from the comfort of the couch, or read a great novel, or devour a comedy article in the Scotsman? Like any actual live show, it took a great amount of experimentation and collaboration to figure out how to retain the vital, interactive, and theatrical elements of the show. Thanks to our new friend (or enemy) Zoom, my director Michole Biancosino and I figured out how to use the platform so kids could actively participate without their voices taking over the whole show. They hold up handmade signs with their names and cities on them in order to fully participate. At first this was just a practical choice, so I could easily call on kids for story suggestions, but it actually became a wonderfully important and unique element of the show because now kids from all over the world can now literally see and hear other kids from around the world. I think that’s pretty exciting.

Hand on heart, is it as good as "the real thing”?

Yes and no. From a producer's point of view, it's almost better than the real thing because the show is reaching a global audience, which it never would've reached in a 99 seat theatre in one city. It’s also a bit easier to market, other than having to change the times on press releases for various time zones. From the performer's point of view, it's not nearly as good as the real thing because you can't “feel” the audience. You can get a sense of what they are feeling by how they are responding online, but there's something about being in the room together where you can actually feel it. I don't think I'm able to determine if I had a "bad show" as easily with an online audience as I would with a real life audience, but those are few and far between.

How on earth did you take it off the stage, away from all the screaming kids and onto the camera? Talk me through the process.

I was disappointed in myself because it took a whole four weeks to figure out how to adapt a stage show where children run up on stage and move props, costumes, and set pieces, while an iPad is being passed around the audience for them to choose music, into a virtual live show. I think about all of that stuff now and wonder how I didn't get sick from germs in the two years I'd been doing the show live on stage.

Happier times.

So, the challenge was to make the show 100% interactive just like the stage show. And to make the show feel in-the-moment - which is why it is ALWAYS performed live and never recorded. And it was very important to me that the audience felt like they were part of something - not just a show, but a part of the rest of the audience - just like in an actual theatre. We played around with different platforms and Zoom was the winner. We played around with the video and mute buttons and realised that having an off screen monitor was vital. She frantically keeps track of all of the screens and mutes people who are making too much noise or having too much fun. It took us a few shows to realise that I can't see everyone at the same time, so I had to learn to play around with my own screen during the show so that every kid kid could feel like they were a part of the show. The technical discoveries are not nearly as interesting as what I discovered about the show itself in this process. In the theatre, the show was sort of a lesson about how to create a theatre. But the online show is a lesson in how to create a story. I think that lesson is much more important because the story is the root of all theatre. I believe when the show goes back on stage in the real world in 20 years, it will be more about the story.

Do you fear that we will STAY online?

I do not fear that we will stay online. If anything, I feel like millions of artists have learned new skills which will only allow them to share their future art online, but will also enhance their live work with the tech skills they learned in lockdown. And it will also give them more outlets when budget or time or travel does not allow them to do live work. I do have faith that live entertainment will be back, and possibly better, and definitely more appreciated than ever before. What I do fear is not knowing what I am doing in the next hour. I try not to be afraid of things that are in the future that I have absolutely no control over. I'm an optimist. Sorry. Also, wear a mask.

Do you get satisfaction (snigger) doing the online shows? Or just ticket money?

I determined very early on that between doing the live kids' show and doing my live Desperately Seeking the Exit show, that doing a performance virtually is like doing the same show two times in a row in the real world. It's exhausting! You don't have the audience feeding you, so you wind up expending much more energy. Took me a while to realise I didn't have to be as loud. I was only speaking louder because I felt like I wasn't reaching people. I also learned about economy of movement. And I learned a heck of a lot about on-camera technique. I was never able to look directly at a camera before (which is probably why you've never seen me in any movies or television shows or commercials). And I honestly do get satisfaction doing the online shows because like I said, I'm reaching, meeting, and communicating with people around the world who I never would've been able to before. I get to share my story, and I get to take people out of their own heads for an hour. It certainly costs less to mount my online shows (no travel, no venue fees, no flyers or posters, no Mosque meals every day) and more people are able to attend - so yes, the ticket money is a nice bonus. I do the Edinburgh fringe nearly every year, so clearly I'm not in this for the money.

Since you’re here…

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You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
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Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
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Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £600,000 to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
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