Thursday, July 24, 2014

Myrtle Beach's Palace Theater 7/23/14

     Welcome to the Palace Theatre in Myrtle Beach South Carolina.  There are three stories here - The company that calls this home, the theater itself and the show being staged this season.  

     This is the home of Spirit Shows, a production company that currently has 32 different shows staged at various venues around the world.  This is one of two theaters they own, the other being in Branson Missouri.  

     The shows that Spirit provides are each a complete entity.  They have their own cast, creative directors, sets, costumes, orchestration, background vocals, dance teams, support staff to set up, maintain, break down and transport sets, advertising materials and many other peripheral things that need tended to if you own a theater and want to hire a show.  

     Owner David King tried for decades to break into show business management.  He finally hit on the right combination in 1996 with a hit musical called "Spirit of the Dance."  David hasn't looked back - he has had shows run in 30 countries to over a million customers.  David is a hands on manager who regularly visits the productions all over the world.  

     This theatre, which opened in October of 1995, sits about a mile off the ocean in a complex called "Broadway on the Beach."  It actually contains two auditorium - the main one seats 3,000, and there is a second smaller one that wasn't open during my visit.  

     A couple of people  of note in this organization that happen to be out of town as of this writing:  Jay Lodge is the CEO and produces these shows. He is involved in every production from casting to special effects to set design.  Lisa Lodge is the artistic director who helps things move from vision to reality.  And Emma Rogers, based out of the United Kingdom, is the choreographer of tonight's show as well as numerous others.

Dave Webb

     Meet Dave Webb, stage manager.  Dave has a degree from the Royal London College of Furniture.  Once a show has been created, a cast arranged and a venue chosen, Dave puts together all of the physical things it takes to make the show happen.  

     In nearby Conway SC the theatre owns a 20,000 square foot warehouse used to build sets and props.  Here is the most recent stage Dave has built.

     Dave also has to get stage hands hired and trained so that props can be moved on and off the stage during a performance.  I spoke with several people who remarked on his talent to envision and bring to reality all of the peripheral things it takes to pull the show off.  

     Another set of elements that Dave has to look after are the lighting and sound.  If you notice in the photo above just below the upper set of seats lay two big consoles.  

Bobby Eaddy

Bobby Eaddy has been handling the sound system here for ten years.  These things are all computerized these days, but even so Bobby is real busy during a show.  I sat beside him with the camera and watched him working to keep everything balanced.
Chris Penn

     And on the lighting system is Chris Penn.  He has been working with Dave for two years.  There is a large screen that runs live shots during the show - the cameras that feed the video are also run from here.

    And now we have a theater, a set, lights, cameras, sound and an audience  All that lacks is a good show.  And the Palace has one tonight.

     Meet Peter and Carol Gossamer, billed as the best magic show ever.  

     They are a husband and wife team who have performed all over the world - including in Korea, Japan, Greece and South Africa.  They have been together for 15 years, and it shows.  They are synchronized and appear effortless as they pull off one difficult stunt after another.

     Peter is quick with a joke and has a wry sense of humor.  He started performing magic as a Boy Scout and is still at it 40 years later.  Throughout the show he brings different children on stage to assist in the acts, and has a gentle manner that quickly puts them at ease - easier said than done when you are dealing with a youngster standing in front of a large audience for the first time.

     "Your vacation is my vocation" says Peter.  Both he and Carol remarked how much they like Myrtle Beach as a venue.  The entertainment is most large resort towns is geared toward adults, but in Myrtle Beach the focus is on vacationing families.  Many people save up money all year to come here on vacation and one of their highlights of the year is bringing the children to the show.  This creates a lot more enthusiasm than playing in a market that caters to an audience of adults who are used to going to a theater.
     Peter talks about how the performers can feed off the energy of an audience.  Surprisingly, he says that the most engaged audience he ever had was the evening of 9/11/2001.  That was the day that the towers in New York had fallen, and there was much conversation as to whether they should cancel the show or play on.  They decided to put on the show, and the audience went wild.  It showed Peter the importance of his role - bringing people a window of enjoyment and relief in a life that isn't always easy. 

      Peter is a good technician.  The tricks come off fluid and believable - there is no hesitation or jerkiness.  In fact it is so fluid that sometimes it feels like he lets the magic happen - like he is merely a facilitator of sorts and lets the tricks manifest themselves.

     And Carol - she is a bundle of energy during the show.  She performs at just as high an energy level as the dance team, plus every few minutes she is getting swords stuck through her, being cut into pieces, being shrunk into a midget - and she does it twice a day six days a week.  

     She has been at this a number of years, and usually a high-energy dancer is done by thirty - maybe thirty five.  Among other things, Carol works out every morning, is cautious about what she eats and visits a chiropractor once a week.  Given the number of contorted positions she ends up it, it's surprising that the chiropractic visits aren't more often.  

     Fifteen years ago when Peter asked her if she wanted to work as his assistant, she asked him how much money he was offering.  When he told her, she promptly told him it wasn't enough.  So, she says, Peter jut turned around and married her and now she works for free.

     The show rolled steadily along, and their acts consumed about two thirds of the two hours.  So I cannot show many, but there were a lot.  Here is one that can be shown pretty easily.  He leads her to a chair and rests her neck on the chair back.

     He then lifts her feet . . .

     And then walks around and removes the back legs of the chair.

    Here is one where Carol gets squished into a little person.

     Another where she disappears from a box. . .

     . . . and one she gets folded up into a tiny box with swords stuck through her.  

     After the show, the whole crew makes themselves available to meet with the audience.  One of the questions asked is about how the tigers that appear in the production are treated.  And so Carol, who has just gotten squished into a little person, cut into pieces, squished and hung out to dry over the last two hours explains how the tigers have their own swimming pool and big outdoor area to play in.  

     You can view video of some of their acts and read more on Carol and Peter Here.  

     This "Blackbird" levitation act is a great tribute to Dave's talent at eliciting a great visual from set design.  Dave comments that of all the types of shows there are, magic is probably the most difficult. There are a bunch of props and frequent stage and costume changes.  It takes a dozen stage hands to pull off this show - a remarkable amount of people moving behind the scenes to supply Peter and Carol with what they need to pull the show off.

     But there are two other acts here tonight as well - and first up is Ben Blaque.  Ben is an archer extraordinaire - in fact you can watch part of his performance on the TV Show "America's Got Talent" Here.

     Ben started in the business working as a crew member for a magic show when he was 21.  A fellow he met along the way mentored him, and here he is.  He has performed all over the world.  He loves the Myrtle Beach venue, but says in some parts of the world the people are incredibly enthusiastic about magic.  They oooh and ahhh and scream and throw popcorn in the air. He says it is amazing how much you can feed off of the energy of a crowd.

     He does runs through numerous difficult shooting routines, and of all of them I liked this one best.  He puts balloons on a wheel and a woman gets strapped in the middle.

     The wheel is set spinning, and a paper blind is pulled in front of it.

     The wheel spins at a pretty good clip - I don't know if his archery was more impressive than the woman being able to walk after spinning  rapidly in circles for a couple of minutes.  But anyway, he shoots through the blind, breaks the balloons, saves the girl and gives the tattered paper target to a child in the audience. He later autographed it for them.  And for his final act?  He shoots an apple OFF OF HIS OWN HEAD!!  Cool trick - worth seeing.

     And the part of the show that gets shown in all of the advertising?  That belongs to Carlos and Ameera Quinones.  They handle the live tiger act.

     Carlos started out in Columbia with a circus at age 19 - he did a high wire act.  But he was always drawn to the animals, and found a mentor who taught him to train tigers.  Ameera is from the USA and worked with Universal Circus, learning from animal trainers and veterinarians how to care for big cats.  The two met 7 years ago and married soon after.

     Ameera cares for the cats and home-schools their children.  She is a driving force behind the act, keeping track of all the many details it takes to mother the children, the cats and Carlos. 

    And Carlos - he has a special relationship with these cats - in fact this group of five has known him since they were cubs.  He has a commanding presence with them - you can tell they respect him.  But these are real tigers - 350 to 400 lbs of tawny muscle run by a cat that is both mischievous and moody.  It takes a special person to maintain control of them when the curtain goes up, the lights come on and the crowd starts cheering.

     One of the big challenges in the tiger show is the balloons.  That's right, balloons.  Part of Ben's act is to shoot through the ribbons of helium balloons, which releases them to float up into the rafters above the stage.  Well,  eventually those balloons lose enough of their helium that they float down onto the stage.  A brightly colored balloon lazily drifting downward during a performance is of great interest to a cat who likes to play with things, so when this happens during a performance the cats lose interest in everything but trying to get at that balloon.  More than once in the past stage hands have had to scramble to direct a descending balloon off stage before the tigers see it.

     Another issue is that the cats spray people when they get the chance.  Stage hands learn to steer clear when one of the tigers turns its backside toward them.

     Ameera says the cats know by the music when their act is coming up and get restless to get on the stage.  Then, they stare at the curtain, waiting for it to rise so they can view the audience.

     They are also always testing the water - seeing what they can get away with.  They swat at each other, deliberately lay down when they know they are supposed to go on a platform - they are always testing Carlos' authority.  


     Carlos uses the flaming hoop trick - where the tigers have to step through the fire.  This is the time of the show when all of the support people hold their collective breath - you have a whole bunch of elements going on that could go awry.  For Dave and his crew, getting the big cage assembled, all of the props in place and back off stage in short order, while being safe in the presence of the tigers and open flames is probably the most challenging part of the show.

     But Carlos and the crew pull it off - another successful show.  

     There are so many other people who make this place run - and many of them helped me with this story in various ways.  I wish I could mention them all, but there are constraints on how much I can write.  I did want to mention the dancers though - they also go at it hard for two hours straight - twice a day.  

     The final act wanes - a motorcycle vanishes in mid-air and a stock-car appears in its place. Another great show.  

     Just note the helicopter above everyone's head in the final scene - another of Dave's creations.  I think we might be able to use some furniture colleges in the United States.

     Today's parting shot(s) are the view across the street from the front doors of the Palace Theatre.  It is a new wax museum venue that just opened here this year.

     One thing for sure about modern day Myrtle Beach - no one is shy about trying to attract attention.

Have an awesome Thursday !!

If you can contribute to help me with this trip and setting up the foundation, please click Here.  If you have no idea what this is about, Click Here and Here.  Click Here to e-mail me, and if you want to read today's meditation just click Here.  Thanks for your interest and support !!

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