Stage appearances by celebrities such as Charlie Sheen, David Sedaris and "Deadliest Catch" cast members fall into an amorphous yet burgeoning category of live event: the show that's not quite a show.
Celebrity time bomb Charlie Sheen lit the fuse on a nationwide stage tour in the Midwest last weekend; now he’s en route to Comcast Arena at Everett on May 3.
Meanwhile, oddball moviemaker Kevin Smith appeared Monday night at McCaw Hall.
And Captain Sig Hansen and his fellow “Deadliest Catch” captains are concluding a tour of American theaters with a show of slides, video clips and tall fishy tales. (The show has no upcoming dates on sale here, though some of the series stars will be Seattle this week for “CatchCon.”)
They all fall into an amorphous yet burgeoning category of live event: the show that’s not quite a show — the show that fits no obvious category of traditional live entertainment.
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This is a thriving industry trend: The nontraditional live performance that (1) fits no mold and (2) is often centered on someone not known for live performance. This tends to result in some combination of the following: a conversational lecture, a demonstration of something, a handful of video clips and, finally, a question-and-answer session. Or as Michael Mills, owner of New York-based Mills Entertainment, which produces many of the shows in this niche, calls them: “branded and alternative tours.”
Authors and food stars are big players, but not exclusively: Talk-show host Glenn Beck was in Seattle in September 2009; humorist David Sedaris plays Benaroya Hall May 1.
“We are definitely seeing more of these kinds of things,” said Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of Pollstar, the concert industry trade magazine. “Because it’s easy money. It costs next to nothing to promote these shows because the fans are already there, and production costs could be as cheap as a microphone.” Consider Food Network host Guy Fieri, who has been one of the most successful acts in this niche. He played Seattle’s Moore Theatre in December 2009.
“I started doing (live shows) because I was doing food demos at food and wine events, except my events were more out of control,” he said. “To most people, a cooking show is ‘Stir in the beans.’ But I bring out a 25-gallon, 5-foot-high margarita machine. There’s a DJ, lots of music, a mirror ball — you can’t cook in front of 5,000 people without KC and the Sunshine Band.”
It’s not hard to see why these shows have taken off. Chef Anthony Bourdain, who appeared at the Moore last June, has said in interviews that his stage appearances are “easily the most lucrative part of what I do.” Fees vary widely, but even reality-TV stars, depending on their popularity, can command anywhere from $2,500 to $50,000 per live show, Mills said.
“It’s been an amazing phenomenon,” he said, “but it’s not a new one.”
Steve Albert, executive director of the Court Theatre at the University of Chicago, thinks of these hard-to-define shows as more of a byproduct of the work of monologuist Spalding Gray (“Swimming to Cambodia”), “who redefined stage performance in the ’70s and ’80s as him sitting at a table telling a story about his life.” And what that has morphed into, Albert said, “is someone’s celebrity is being leveraged on stage. They are providing an illusion of access to people who just want to be in the same room with someone with notoriety.”