This week’s column deals with a local entertainment establishment’s solution to the lack of live performances in the central Maine area. Johnson Hall has been bringing top-notch shows to Gardiner for years now and they have come up with a novel idea to bring one of their more popular comedic endeavors back to help lighten the COVID-19 anxiety with live broadcasts of “The Early Evening Show” the first Saturday of each month. Host and creator of this performance is Michael Miclon, and in a recent telephone interview from his office at the Hall he chatted about the planned shows and how they are going to be produced.

Q: Now, logistically, how are you going to be doing this — will artists be performing remotely or can you do it live from Johnson Hall?
Miclon: We have no more than seven people in the building, so we have two camera people, a sound technician and four performers. We all social distance and keep our space. Two of the performers are my sons, Shane and Collin. We live together so we can interact physically, but the rest of us are all keeping our appropriate distances. And then we have performers, and actually it’s kind of exciting, from all over the country. We satellite them in on Zoom or we have them send pre-made videos that we’ll include in the show.

 

Q: That sounds neat. Now it’s a 90-minute production, right?
Miclon: Yup, and we’ve been doing this show — which started in May of 1998 — almost every month since then. We’ve taken a few breaks here or there. Actually, this is a show that I do live normally the first Saturday of every month at the Celebration Barn Theater in South Paris, but they had to make the decision to fully shut down this summer. So, we’re going to be doing it at Johnson Hall then broadcasting it.

 

Q: For the folks who are may not be familiar with your Early Evening Show, what can they expect?
Miclon: It is what we call a spoof of a late-night talk show … We did one already, and people said it was great just sitting on their couch and that it felt like they were watching a late-night talk show. But basically, I do a monologue at the desk. Normally we have a band on stage, but our band is now remote, made up of Oren Robinson and April Reed-Cox, both from Waldoboro. I have a co-host who is Jason Tardy who’s a fellow physical comedian/juggler/performer. We do interviews. Some are by Zoom, but normally I would bring guests in and they would do a performance piece, and I would talk to them about it. I would say it’s sort of a combination of the old “Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” mixed with “Saturday Night Live” kind of sketches … It’s sort of a hybrid.

 

Q: You said you were bringing in people from all over the country?
Miclon: Yeah, this next show we have a hand-balancing act — Angela Buccinni and Yoni Kallai — from Brooklyn, New York. (They are) going to be piping some stuff in, but we also have coming in by satellite Fritz Grobe, a comedian from Buckfield, and Leland Faulkner doing hand shadows from Auburn. We are going to be doing five of these — we’ll be doing June, July, August, September and October, right now — and if it’s working we’re going to keep doing it, but that’s the schedule for right now.

 

Q: Performance-wise, what else is instore?
Miclon: Well, we have an Australian guy who’s in Amsterdam who’s going to be sending in some stuff — not this particular show in June, though. And I have got some performers that are going to be either sending in videos or we’ll be bringing them in via Zoom. We’ve got people literally all over the country and, in some cases, all over the world.

 

Q: For example?
Miclon: I’ve got a gentleman in Italy whose going to be doing something for us, so it’s kind of fun. When I do the show normally it has to be whoever is passing through the state performing. We’ve had Cirque du Soliel performers and, in the early days of the show, we helped launch the career of — believe it or not — Ray LaMontagne, who’s a Grammy-winning singer/songwriter. We’ve launched the Diet Coke & Mentos guys to the internet … This show has always been this kind of weird, quirky little thing where people can try out stuff. And in this instance not only can we actually go to anybody and say, “Hey, do you want to shoot us a video or do you want to be a part of the show just from where you are?” It has opened up a lot of opportunities, which is pretty sweet.

 

Q: And for my readership, this gives them a chance to see things that they wouldn’t normally see.
Miclon: Absolutely! And that’s what we discovered when we had a Zoom production meeting last night with all the crew and some of the performers that are going to be in the show. We were realizing the ability that it’s going to give us to not only show artists but other theaters and other places.

 

Q: Speaking of other places, have you noticed more diversity in your online audiences?
Miclon: When we did our first livestreaming version back in March we actually had the largest audience ever watching the show. We had over 500 people watching from four countries, 20 states and 37 towns in the state of Maine — which was amazing!

 

Q: Wow!
Miclon: I mean, the most I’ve ever had gathered to see an Early Evening Show was 200, … but it always has been this sort of interesting communal experience. We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from people saying how much fun it was to go out and get takeout from a local place, to support that place, bring it home and sit and watch the show with their whole family on TV.

 

Q: Just out of curiosity, how do you hear back from this stay-at-home audience?
Miclon: There’s a chat feature in this livestream and we had over 700 comments throughout the show from people, and it was funny, we found people talking to each other on the chat … So, it’s this real lovely experience of bringing people together even when we’re all in disparate places. It was a fun thing. It still felt like an audience; it still felt like you were there with each other.

 

Q: How can folks view these livestreaming shows — are they free?
Miclon: No, this is a ticketed performance. You have to go to our website (www.johnsonhall.org) and purchase a ticket and then you’ll get a link the day of the concert. Each buyer gets a unique link to log in — and it’s for the whole household, so a single ticket gets all the people in the home access to the show. The basic price is $15, which is less than our normal live show.

Lucky Clark has spent over 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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