I can't believe that it's just under a week until my two-show run of Miss Isabella Rainsong and Her Traveling Companion: A One-Guitar Show and I'm just now letting you know about it.
Okay, I can believe it. If you had been in my basement with me for the last seven weeks, you would know that I've spent nearly every waking moment where I wasn't doing billable work obsessively preparing for my ninth and tenth performances of the show.
"Hold on a minute," you say. "If you've done the show eight times already, don't you have it down by now?"
Yes, I'm pretty solid on the performance. But I've been working on the back-end — truly making this "one-guitar show" a one-person show too — where the set-up, technical performance, and break-down can all be done by yours truly while my co-star, Dolly (who plays the role of the guitar Miss Isabella Rainsong) sips mai tais or whatever it is that guitars sip on when they're chilling.
I'll explain what the heck I'm talking about in a minute, but first let me share some details about the upcoming shows so you can tell all your friends or come yourself (or both!):
Miss Isabella Rainsong and Her Traveling Companion
A One-Guitar Show
Original acoustic musical written and performed by Ross Martin
Plus CD Release
August 2nd and 3rd, 2019, 8pm (doors open at 7:30)
Function Black Box Theatre and Coworking Community
4709 Harford Rd., Baltimore, MD 21214
Ticket price: FREE! (yes, free, by special arrangement)
Reservations and more info: www.MissRainsong.com/events
Okay, now that we have all that out of the way, I'll just ask / implore / beg / plead that you let your friends in the North Baltimore area know about the show and encourage them to come. This show will survive if I can get folks to see it. It is truly a magical moment and the reviews from those who have entered into the experience are consistently resounding. There are several great restaurants within walking distance. Mention the show and Farm to Face (delicious vegan cafe!) will give you 10% off your dinner.
Commercial over. Now on to the latest news and backstory.
From the beginning of this curious journey, I've imagined that this show should be an intimate experience for both the audience and performer — one where audience members feel they are a part of the show. While it could definitely work in a larger venue seating 300 or more, I think it is best experienced in a cosier setting — as a house concert or in a space that isn't necessarily set up as a theater. The whole show takes place in the Anniston, Alabama Amtrak train station where Traveler and his fellow passengers (the audience) are waiting out a major storm along the Crescent Line to New Orleans. Traveler ends up keeping them all entertained by telling the story of how the scalawag of a ruffian came to be the traveling companion of this beautiful all-black guitar.
So how do you make such an intimate show sustainable? For one, by keeping costs down by limiting the roadies required to run it. For all my other shows, I needed two people to run lights and sound (plus other volunteers to take tickets, be ushers, etc.). But if I can automate the lighting and audio cues, I can run the show myself. From the stage. From the guitar.
Crazy, right? Well, crazy is right next door to obsessive and I've been pretty much obsessed with this concept for a while. And in the last six weeks I've made that obsession exceedingly productive to the point that I'm now prepared to set up the show for audiences up to 100 in under 90 minutes in any setting that has power, seats and space for my train station bench and a little wandering room; run the show entirely from the stage with one button on the guitar; and tear the whole thing down again in about 30 minutes.
Creating something that can be that efficient takes a crap-ton of work. And here's the result:
For those who can't watch the video, here's the summary: I've built a little mini-computer based on the open source platform, Arduino, that consists of:
An Arduino Mega 2650 souped up microprocessor topped with the following "shields":
An Adafruit Music Maker MP3 player wirelessly sending left and right audio signals
A Tinker.IT DMX controller wirelessly sending color and intensity lighting commands
An NightShade energyShield 2 Pro to power the stack
A breadboard for wiring the button that triggers the next scene (from pre-show music and announcements to curtain up to curtain down and all the scenes in between).
But wait, that's not all! The signals from the Arduino have to go somewhere, so here's what else happens: —
The audio signals go to a Zoom 24 mixer, which also receives wireless signals from the guitar (and its internally mounted ToneWood Amp to add reverb and tremolo) and my wireless body mic.
The Left audio goes out to a Bose L1 tower that was optimized to work with one guitar and one vocalist plus a soundtrackperfect for this show. I can throw in an optional subwoofer if you really want the extra rumble, which is handy because…
The Right audio goes to a PerfectStorm 2.0 — a clever little box that translates audio signals into "lightning" by attaching dimmable light fixtures. We're in the middle of a rainstorm, remember? So those lights really set the stage for the show.
The DMX signals control six full-color LED theater lights and two black lights mounted on an 11-foot tall bar mounted on two collapsible light stands.
Yes, that's four wireless transmitters coming out of the guitar. I tried doing it with a wireless button on the guitar and all the tech offstage, but I kept having trouble getting a reliable timing on the trigger. There are a couple of places where I want to trigger the audio precisely in the middle of a song, so I stuck with keeping the Arduino built directly inside the guitar with a hardwired button.
So that's cool, but that's also a lot of stuff to haul around. So I also built a couple of custom boxes for hauling the lights and tech. Now setup can take place in minutes instead of hours and it all fits in my Subaru Outback. I also took my train station bench — the only set piece — and added hinges and latches so I can fold it up instead of dealing with almost 100 screws every time I do the show. Now it has a canvas bag and can be assembled in a few minutes.
Seems like a lot of work
Yep. This has been kicking my butt. My hope is that all this upfront work will make it much easier and more affordable to take this show on the road as I'll no longer need a crew to run sound and lights for me. I'll be able to perform it in any venue seating 20 to 100 people — including house concerts and coffeehouses — where they may not have appropriate lighting.
Here's where you come in. If you haven't been able to make it to a show, but really want to
see it and want to share it with your friends. Now's your chance. Let the show come to you! Host a show in your home or church or community center — anywhere there are places to sit for an audience and folks who would like to experience this magical thing. We can use it to raise money for a good cause — the math will work because I don't need to be greedy! I just want to make enough to sustain the show and pay for ongoing expenses. If you're interested in hosting a show or have ideas about where I might bring it, please drop me a note at ross@ACMImimi.org.
In other news
My companion CD for the show has been getting a little airplay. It's been featured twice on WTMD's Detour show on July 14th (starts at 1:19) and July 28th (starts at 1:14). Thanks to Paul Hartman for showcasing my music!