There is a very rich history of stand-up comedians performing in challenging environments.
While comedy clubs and theaters are familiar settings for stand-up shows, comedians often receive requests to perform in a variety of venues, including bars, cafes, coffee shops, basements, garages, and more. One of the most challenging environments for standup is an outdoor gig.
During the height of the pandemic, a number of touring comedians did outdoor shows, including shows at drive-in theaters, in order to meet COVID-19 distancing requirements.
Some made it work; others struggled.
While some comedians successfully navigated these new circumstances, others encountered difficulties.
Musical comedy and other theatrical performances, in contrast, have a long history of outdoor success. With the right venue and production, an outdoor show can be an enjoyable and hilarious experience.
With my limited experience in the theater (other than the occasional improv performance, storytelling show, or sketch comedy endeavor), I reached out to Matthew Kraft, the director of the Eden Prairie Players’ production of “The Addams Family,” which is being presented free of charge at the Staring Lake Amphitheatre from June 16-18 and 22-25.
Kraft has been involved with the Eden Prairie Players since 2005. For nearly two decades, he has directed, acted, stage-managed, and handled lights and sound with several theater companies across the Twin Cities. He has directed shows for the Eden Prairie Players Children’s Theater Workshop, as well as several one-act productions and the company’s production of “Cinderella.”
The upcoming production of “The Addams Family” is a true team effort, involving approximately 40 to 50 people, including actors, production crew, and orchestra. Melissa Warhol serves as the musical director, and choreography is handled by Brianna Belland.
So, how does performing an outdoor show vs. an indoor show affect the presentation of a production?”
According to Kraft, having an excellent venue like the Staring Lake Amphitheatre is beneficial.
“It’s well designed for large groups to attend,” says Kraft. “Each audience member gets a great view no matter where they’re seated.”
Kraft also emphasizes the importance of having ample resources.
“The Eden Prairie Players are part of the Eden Prairie Park and Rec Department … and we’re able to utilize wonderful resources including sound equipment, microphones and speakers so that the audience can hear the actors no matter where they’re seated,” he said. “And of course, that natural bowl at Staring Lake provides a great amphitheater for the audience.”
‘So get a witch’s shawl on‘
While Kraft and the other talented individuals from the Eden Prairie Players are doing their best to plan for contingencies, one truth about outdoor performances is that unusual and unpredictable things can happen, often leading to great energy and humor.
“My first musical with Eden Prairie Players was in 2006 when I played the villain in our production of ‘Oliver,’” Kraft says. “At the end of the show — spoiler alert — my character attempts to kidnap Oliver. The director had me pick up Oliver and walk with him up through the audience and attempt to leave out the back of the atrium. But at that show someone had brought their dog, who thought I was literally putting this child in danger, and was very close to getting involved in the action in order to protect this child.”
Kraft continues, “We’ve also had gusts of wind blowing things around or audience members who get really involved — which we love — who will interact with the performers on stage. It’s all part of the fun of being there with audiences of all ages, with those young children of four or five years old, all the way up through great grandparents that may attend these shows.
IT’s not unusual
Gomez, Morticia, and Wednesday Addams are iconic characters, and “The Addams Family” franchise has earned its legacy in pop culture.
It started with single-panel cartoons in national magazines in the 1930s, followed by the original TV series, several reboots on the big screen, and most recently, the Netflix series “Wednesday.” The franchise has thrived through multiple generations.
According to Kraft, the current musical comedy is written with the established characters as a basis but also takes the characters in a brand new direction.
Kraft explains, “The show is rooted in family. It’s a very eccentric family, that has this absurd interest in the macabre … but really it’s a family that’s attempting to mature and grow together as their children are maturing. The conflict of the show is that Wednesday is engaged and brings home her fiancée, and the two families — who couldn’t be more different — are meeting for the first time.”
“Compare and contrast” is a reliable comedy technique that “The Addams Family” is likely to bring to bear with great effect and great (sometimes odd but always good-spirited) humor. Mix in excellent music, energetic choreography and a fantastic outdoor venue, and the show at the Staring Lake Amphitheatre promises to be a great experience for all ages.
I had to close out my interview with a test of loyalty. I presented this scenario to Kraft: Lurch from “The Addams Family” vs. Herman Munster from “The Munsters” in a WWE-style cage match. Who would win?
Without hesitation, Kraft replied “Lurch.”
Loyalty test passed. But hey, somebody out there needs to make that question a Twitter poll.
"The Addams Family"
June 16-18 and 22-25 at 7 p.m.
Staring Lake Amphitheatre (outdoor venue)
14800 Pioneer Trail
Editor’s Note: This is the newest installment of a periodic comedy-focused column, Little Joke on the Prairie, by Eden Prairie resident Pat LaVone. He is a writer, speaker, stand-up comic and storyteller. During the original comedy boom, Pat began performing stand-up and sketch comedy in the mid-1980s. After a brief 30-year hiatus, he returned to the stage to perform stand-up and storytelling shows as well as humorous keynote presentations. He currently produces shows for YellowBrick Comedy and performs at various theaters and clubs around Minnesota.
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