Dr. Bill Thomas: I’m Dr. Bill Thomas and this, by no coincidence, is the #AskDrBill Podcast. I’m joined by Nate Silas Richardson who, by no coincidence, performs with me in Life’s Most Dangerous Game as part of the Age of Disruption Tour. So if you’re listening to this podcast you’ve got Nate and Bill with you in your headphones, or speakers or computer. We’re here to talk to you about what we’re doing right now to get ready for the spring 2016 touring season.
So Nate, we’re sitting at Rep Studio in Ithaca, NY – what have you been working on?
Nate Silas Richardson: I’ve been working on booking for the most part. Getting rooms lined up, making sure they have enough space for our performance, making sure they have a lobby for people to congregate in and learn about what we are doing on the road. We’re going to be playing some really nice rooms.
Dr. Bill: Part of what we do after every performance is go out to the lobby and hang out with people. Again, if you’re coming out to one of our shows you’ll be able to meet Nate and I in the lobby after the show. One of the things that people say to us all the time is “Yea… Hey, that was not what I was expecting!” And I really love that; I think it might be the best part of what we do. You’re talking about booking rooms, we’re talking about theaters and performance spaces and the usual thing is for somebody like me to go out and do an auditorium or a lecture hall. The usual thing for somebody like Nate who is a professional musician is to go out and be in a performance hall. We sort of meet in the middle with theaters – I think that’s a nice bit of symbolism for the show. It’s music and healing, put together. Our performance takes places, in most cases, in a local theater. Theater is a fantastic tool for introduce people to new ideas and feelings.
So let me ask you this Nate: When I first approached you about doing the “performance” what did you think? Because one of things that I asked you to do was go pretty far out of your comfort zone and be a public speaker. There’s a part of the show where you’re telling a story, part of the show where you’re explaining some cool stuff to the audience and you told me that the most you’d ever said from stage was: “The merch table is on the right”. So tell me what that felt like to you.
Nate: Well, I grew up hiding behind either a piano or a guitar and generally have always been the backup guy and never the front man. Although, there’s a few notable exceptions to that. But I’ve always had the instrument as my voice so it’s definitely taking some getting used to. Even sitting here doing a podcast – I’ve done a few radio interviews here and there – I’m still in my infancy as a speaker. I’m hoping to grow and the experience on the road has been tremendous in that way. That’s really the point of our show – to get out of your comfort zone and do something new; don’t be afraid to fail.
Dr. Bill: My part of that equation is I play a guitar and sing even though I’m not a great guitar player and I’m actually not a great singer. I think I have risen above terrible to I amateur; I’ll take that. However, it scares the heck out of me. Night after night.
Nate: I presume if you’re listening to this podcast I presume you’ll have somewhere to click to get the song Nowhere in Time which Bill sings a nice verse on. You can be the judge!
Dr. Bill: That is my great contribution! And of course I sing this verse and I practice it like crazy to try to do my best but it puts me out of my comfort zone. Audiences have really reacted to the fact that we’re willing to take chances. And that’s important because if you are doing a performance about how important it is to open yourself up to new possibilities to risk and change and everything is perfect, that’s no good! So we will guarantee, right here and right now, when you come and see us it will not be perfect!
One thing I will say to well trained musicians: If you listen when Nate and I are playing together. It could happen that I could add a beat here or there, that could happen.
Nate: Chances are good.
Dr. Bill: I’m very lucky to be playing with somebody who can adjust on the fly and say “ok, that’s now a 5 beat measure. So one of the fun things about that is that if you’re going to do new stuff. You want to be running with people who can go with it, and work on the fly. The flexibility is not just for muscles.
Nate: I was thinking of Megan who you had mentioned is going to be doing some video stuff for us. I don’t know that she has done a whole lot of video in the past but I imagine when you told me that the video we were going to use in the performance. We’ll be showing some animated words and I was thinking to myself: “Hey this is Bill doing the same thing for Megan as he did for me – hey, try this new thing and you can probably figure it out; you’re talented. You have artistic integrity and vision – what can you do in this medium?”
Dr. Bill: One thing that I am struck by when we are out in the lobby hanging out with people. I’ll just say, some really fascinating people show up for this. I think every night Americans have a choice between Seinfeld reruns and going out to a really cool live performance that challenges them in new ways. And we get to hang with the people who choose the cool performance. We’re missing out on all of the people who are at home watching reruns. But it means that the audience is also a really important part of this whole experience.
Nate: Nothing like a little challenge to stir up controversy!
Dr. Bill: So we have 3 swings this spring. And by a swing: we go out for a week on the road and do 5 cities. We’re starting out in the southwest, Santa Fe, Arizona, Las Vegas, Orange County and San Diego. We are excited about those stops. We come home after that first swing, get a little rest – do a little laundry. Then we’re hitting the Carolinas and Virginia. Come home again and we’re touring through New England, which is going to be great. So if you want to find out where we’ll be and when we’ll be there. Just go to drbillthomas.org. And you can find out where we’ll be, when we’ll be there and find out about tickets. You can find out how to be part of the tour.
So Nate, I’ve got a question for you that has to do with the tech part of the show. When we started (we’ve been doing this for a couple of years now) we had an extremely simple set. Would you mind just talking a little bit about the setup and how it’s changed and what some of the new features are.
Nate: I was talking to Rob Doolittle, our head engineer, who has fabricated a lot of pieces for us this year. I think that one of the brilliant things about last year was the simplicity of our set and how it allowed us to get into any space and do our thing. It was pretty much going to be the same show all the time. We worked in some really interesting places…
Dr. Bill: HA, he says interesting! That covers a lot ground, I want to assure you.
Nate: Yea, we played in the 100 Acre Woods in Austin, we played on a stage that was the set for an Einstein’s Dreams type of performance in Atlanta. This year we have built a much more elaborate set. We’ve added 2 side screens with square screens for art projections. Not explicit things that draw away audience attention but they add to the vibe of the show. We’ve essentially created a room. We’re traveling with our own room, we’re going to be hanging guitars on the walls, more lights. We’re actually bringing a lighting designer this year. It’ll be a lot prettier.
Dr. Bill: I actually think one of the obligations that people have when they perform is to do the best they can to take care of more than one sense. I think really good live music attends to the visual sense. I think really good theater needs to combine sensations. I won’t do any spoilers but for one part of the show there are 4 sub woofers (that make the really low sound). There’s a part of the show where you won’t just see, or hear, but also feel what is happening on stage. I like that we are moving toward a more sophisticated use of color, and shape, and staging. Not that that’s going to carry the day but I think it helps enhance the message.
One more thing that I wanted to bring up: It’s funny because Nate and I were talking in the studio before recording about “What is Life’s Most Dangerous Game”. It’s a performance, we call it non-fiction theater. Meaning it’s theater but the stories are true. Sometimes Nate and I will say that we’re the opposite of magicians. Magicians take the truth and substitute illusion. We take illusion and substitute truth. But Life’s Most Dangerous Game is really about possibilities. It’s about understanding that moving into the second half of life gives you more possibilities, not less. It’s about understanding that your body and your mind are prepared (or tuned) for new ways of living that require some risk taking. That require that you go face to face with a little bit of danger in order to grow. We’re really out there trying to attack the idea that “Well, ya know. Your best days are behind you” “You had your chance to live an exciting life and now it’s time for reruns!” So what we’re attacking is that narrative – we are substituting a narrative that says it’s time to take some chances because there’s a lot of living to do.
Nate: Just do it!
Dr. Bill: I’ve heard that somewhere, we should patent that! I think we could grab that.
Actually, the most basic and simple ideas are: wake up, breathe deep and live dangerously. And that’s why we’re coming to see you. To try and communicate those ideas to you, with you, for you, alongside of you.
I think that’s a pretty good update from behind the scenes. We will be back. For those of you that enjoy this format. I want you to know that we will be back and we will be sharing more from the road, behind the stage stories and we look forward to answering your questions. And sharing insights that we gain from traveling around the country trying to change the world!
See you on the road.