Comedy, Magic, And Mischief with Eric Buss

You might have seen him on America’s Got Talent, David Letterman, or at the Magic Castle…Eric Buss’ innovative and high-energy brand of comedy magic has entertained and amazed audiences worldwide.

Eric Buss Live Variety Show Shenanigans Curtis Theatre
Eric Buss

His latest project is a variety show that feels more like a party.  Shenanigans features a live DJ, along with a variety of guest entertainers, and Eric Buss himself. It’s magic in a fun and modern format that aims to blow your mind and tickle your funny bones.

We sat down with Buss and got some answers on all things magic, comedy, and Shenanigans.

How did you first get interested in magic?

I’ve loved magic since I was young. But at age 16 I was working at a small Italian restaurant near my house in Tucson, AZ. There was another busboy working there that was already into magic. He showed me tricks on our breaks, and I was blown away. He also proved to me that you could make money doing magic, without being famous like David Copperfield. He also told me about the magic shop in Tucson, which wasn’t far, and I was hooked. I began hanging out there every weekend, meeting all the magicians that came in. The busboy also told me about the Society of American Magicians’ local chapter. I quickly became a member and started attending meetings once a month. From then on, I never looked back.

Who or what is your biggest inspiration for the work that you create?

As a kid, I always loved watching Doug Henning. I thought David Copperfield wasted too much time dancing with pretty girls, instead of doing more tricks. Henning was a bit more kid-friendly. However, when I got seriously into magic, I started studying Copperfield as well. They were both huge inspirations.

I also loved comedy. My dad used to do a lot of Steve Martin impressions, which I thought were hilarious. I had no idea he was doing Steve Martin. I thought he was just being funny. When I found out they were Steve’s jokes, I started watching him as well.

What’s your favorite part of performing for a live audience?

My favorite part of performing for a live audience is the unpredictability. I have a direction I’m going, but based on the audience, it could change at any time. Also hearing the laughter is almost, if not, more satisfying than the “oohs” and “ahs” from the magic.

Eric Buss Live Variety Show Shenanigans Curtis Theatre
Eric Buss performing in Shenanigans

Tell us more about the Bubble Wrap Bike. What was the process like from initial idea to finished product?

When my wife and I had our baby in 2012, we were both sleep-deprived. But I was still getting out to my workshop for an hour or two a day to work and create. I happen to have a big roll of bubble wrap and a bike. In a sleep-deprived daze, I thought, I want to ride over that bubble wrap!!! Then I thought, ‘NO, I want to attach the bubble wrap so it’s a continuous popping noise.’ I quickly grabbed some duct tape and set to work. A day or two later, I had built a better version and had a friend come over to film it in the street.

I put it on YouTube almost as a joke, and it went viral immediately. I had over 1 million views in a week. It got a lot of publicity for me; the bike in the video is the exact one I still use. The footage on YouTube has also been seen on many TV shows all over the world.

What is one of your favorite props to work with?

I love performing my looping routine. It’s a musical piece, which is fun, and because I’m making the music live it’s like a concert. It’s also the most difficult routine I do which I also think makes it fun. It’s a challenge every time. I get to live out my fantasy of being a rock star or DJ, all while doing magic. It’s a blast every time!

Do you have any lucky charms or pre-show rituals you always do before going on stage?

Eric Buss Live Variety Show Shenanigans Curtis Theatre
Eric Buss performing in Shenanigans

I’m not superstitious, but it doesn’t stop me from doing certain things before EVERY show. I usually jump up and down in one place RIGHT before going on. This gets my blood pumping. There are lots of little rituals with my props while setting up… certain things need to be set up certain ways. My OCD really shines through while I’m setting up. While getting dressed, I hate dropping hangers on the floor. For some reason, I think it’s bad luck.  Even though I don’t believe that I get frustrated when I drop hangers. If there is someone backstage with me, I like to tell them that I’m going to go back to my hotel real quick, right when I’m being introduced. They always look at me like I’m crazy. It helps me relax and have fun.

If your show was an animal, what animal would it be?

If my show was an animal, it would be a Golden Retriever – playful, yet intelligent.

What do you hope we walk away from the show feeling?

I hope the audience walks away with a smile on their face, maybe even with sore face muscles from laughing.


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Eric Buss in Shenanigans performs April 21, 2018, at 3pm and 8pm. Tickets are on sale now. Visit our website or call the Box Office at 714-990-7722 Tues-Fri 12PM-3PM. Have questions? Contact us! 

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An Interview with Click, Clack, Moo Actor Liana Costable

Fun. Educational. Theatrical.

TheatreworksUSA is all this and more. They deliver incredible theatre productions around the nation for young audiences and their families. With each literary- and historically-based show, they spark dialogue on cultural and social issues. Theatreworks instills a lifelong appreciation for the arts in children that often aren’t receiving that education and exposure in school. Their current touring production of Click, Clack, Moo, based on the popular children’s book by Doreen Cronin, is a hilariously “mooooo-ving” musical about negotiation and compromise. When Jenny visits her grandpa, he declares the farm a tech-free zone and confiscates her laptop. The cows type and send their demands via email; the hens go on strike — what will happen next?!

Cast of Click, Clack, Moo - TheatreworksUSA
Cast of “Click, Clack, Moo” (Top Left – Liana Costable) Source: TheatreworksUSA

Before their tour arrives in Brea for Click, Clack, Moo, Liana Costable, the actor who plays Jenny, typed up her thoughts on the show and emailed them on over (just like those cows!)

Who or what is your biggest inspiration for the theatre you create?


I am definitely most inspired by our young audiences. In Click Clack Moo I play Jenny, a 12-year-old girl visiting her granddad at his farm. As an adult actor playing a child, I was excited to create a character that the children could relate and connect to. In particular their vivid imagination, creativity, and ability to stand up for what’s right motivated my choices in this role.

What’s the rehearsal process like before you go on tour?

The rehearsal process flew by! Over the course of two weeks, we learned the hour-long musical as well as our duties as assistant stage managers. We worked with a fantastic creative and production team at Theatreworks USA who taught us the keys to success on the road- providing guidance and tips on staying healthy, safe, and energized for our daily morning shows.

 

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Source: TheatreworksUSA

I hope audiences leave feeling a little more connected to the people around them, more willing to speak up and in return, more open to listening to differing views.  

What’s your favorite part of performing for a live audience?

I love hearing the audience’s reactions! Every audience is different and seeing how people react in different parts of the country is really exciting!

Do you have any lucky charms or pre-show rituals you always do before going on stage?

Click Clack Moo cows - TheatreworksUSA
Source: TheatreworksUSA

Before every show, I rub a locket that my boyfriend in the US Army gave me a few years ago. While we are apart and pursuing our own careers at the moment, having the locket reminds me of him and his support for not only my career but also for protecting this country and the people we are performing for.  

If your show was an animal, what animal would it be?

A cow of course!

What do you hope we walk away from the show feeling?

Click Clack Moo focuses on teamwork, compromise, and standing up for what you believe in. I hope audiences leave feeling a little more connected to the people around them, more willing to speak up and in return, more open to listening to differing views.  

 


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TheatreworksUSA in Click, Clack, Moo performs April 8, 2018, at 3pm and 5pm. Tickets are on sale now. Visit our website or call the Box Office at 714-990-7722 Tues-Fri 12PM-3PM. Have questions? Contact us! 

Meet John Carney: the man behind the magic

When you buy a ticket to a theater production, you’re hoping you’ll encounter some sort of magic.  You wish to be swept away, to believe in a new or different reality, to believe in the impossible. With John Carney, you get just that and a little more. It’s more than a magic show, it’s more than a theatre show — it’s theatre magic. 

Now what makes Carney so adept at marrying these two art forms? He’s certainly not new to either scene. As an accomplished actor, he’s participated in a multitude of sketch comedy shows, plays, and even landed roles on TV shows such as Spin City and Two and a Half Men. As a magician, he’s acknowledged by his peers as one of the finest sleight of hand performers in the world with many awards to go along with that. He’s no stranger to Hollywood’s The Magic Castle where he performs often and has been given more awards there than anyone in their history. He’s even shown off his magic tricks on the Late Show with David Letterman!2

What makes John Carney so special is his passion for creating original material. He dazzles us with his ability to make us laugh during an illusion. Maybe it’s so magical because he’s done the prep work — but every time it feels brand new. 

Our operations assistant, Lottie Frick, sat down with John to get some insight on his art, life, magic and everything in between.

LF: How did you first get interested in magic?

JCI started when I was a teenager. I think it helped a lot that I had the benefit of a few mentors who were willing to take me beyond the initial infatuation. Close-up magic was a way for me to perform for small groups without stepping foot on a stage. I would perform for friends after dinner or at parties.

LF: Who or what is your biggest inspiration for the art that you create?

JC: My greatest influence in magic was a man named Dai Vernon, probably the greatest sleight-of-hand master of the last century. He was a real artist, in the truest sense of the word. He taught me that good sleight-of-hand is more than just fast hands. Ideally, it’s more intellectual in nature. It’s about psychology, problem solving, choreography of movement…and it has elegant simplicity. Dai Vernon taught me so much. There were never any formal lessons, and no money ever changed hands. We would just sit and talk about magic for hours. We were kindred spirits, even if we were generations apart.

Mystoimplores-1.croped.dd_.jpgLF: What’s your favorite part of performing for a live audience?

JC: I like the challenge of making a theater of wonder out of simple everyday things. The audience is focused, and I can manipulate the environment with lights and sound. I can create the kind of atmosphere where I can do almost anything, from the silly to the sentimental.

LF: How do you go about creating characters?

JC: Most are based on someone I have known, but exaggerated for effect. Others are amalgams of famous people from real life, movies, and my imagination. A script will get me started, along with a point of view, attitude, voice and speech pattern. From there, I take it on stage and improvise in that frame work, then just keep rewriting, and tweaking it technically. Generally it takes at least 100 performances of a new piece before I feel it has really taken shape. Even then, I can find new touches to add after hundreds of shows.

LF: Incredible that it can still be new after 100 performances. Now, do you have any lucky charms or pre-show rituals you always do before going on stage?

JC: Hopefully, it all looks spontaneous, but my only ritual is checking and rechecking the hundreds of small details that make it look effortless. Most of the real work comes long before, planning out tiny details that no one would ever notice, unless they were neglected. There are countless technical things that could go wrong in the show, and part of my job is making sure that if they do happen, I figure out a way to fix them so they never happen again. I’m more a believer in preparation than superstition.

LF: If your show was an animal, what animal would it be?

JC: A chimpanzee: Silly, playful, and charming, but underneath it all, more clever than you think.

LF: What do you hope we walk away from the show feeling?

JC:  I want to affect people and give them a unique experience. I want it to be fun, with people walking away happy, perhaps with a new perspective on their own beliefs and perceptions – and what is possible.

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Carney Magic runs Saturday, November 12, 2016 at 4PM and 8PM at the Curtis Theatre. Tickets range from $16-$32. For tickets, call the Box Office at 714-990-7722 or purchase 24/7 on our website http://www.curtistheatre.com. Use code “HalfOffCarney” for 50% off tickets.

Giving us direction: Stephen John on “Sweeney Todd”

Sweeney_FB-EventCover.jpgDirector Stephen John reflects on stepping into the world of Sweeney Todd 37 years after its Broadway opening. He’s been waiting 20 years to get a stab at directing this bloody tale and has run headfirst at this opportunity with the Curtis & Southgate Productions to re-imagine and re-envision the classic musical. Stephen John will direct Sondheim’s most gruesome musical this October (just in time for Halloween) to kick off the start of our ’16/’17 season.

Don’t know the show or just need a refresher?  Here’s a (very) short synopsis: 

This dark and witty tale of love, murder, and revenge takes you to 19th century London. The road to vengeance leads Sweeney Todd to Mrs. Lovett, a resourceful proprietress of a failing pie shop. Mrs. Lovett’s luck sharply shifts when Todd’s thirst for blood inspires a secret ingredient into her meat pies that has the people of London lining up! 

Our operations assistant, Lottie Frick, met up with Sweeney Todd director, Stephen John, to get more information on his vision for this production.

Lottie Frick:  To set things moving, tell us a little about yourself  and give some background on your work as a director.

Stephen John:  I have been directing in Orange County theatre for 16 years, but have also branched out and worked in Arizona and Indiana. When directing a straight play, whether it be comedy or drama, I like to work fairly organically and rely heavily on the script as the primary source. Whereas, when it comes to musicals I am much more into creating a strong concept and beginning from there!

My vision of our production is a cleaner more efficient version of the show that tells the story through the eyes of Tobias.

LF: What inspired you to direct Sweeney Todd?

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Stephen John, director of “Sweeney Todd”

 

SJ:  I am actually the first in my family to be born in the U.S. My Grandparents emigrated with my father and my uncle from London in the early 60’s. My grandfather was a theatre manager in London both for live theatre (primarily Musicals) and then also for a movie house. He had a personal obsession with the horror genre of film and therefore I grew up entrenched in Horror and Musicals; the perfect combination to set me on a trajectory for Sweeney Todd. I must admit that I have loved the show since I first saw it and have wanted to direct the show for 20 years. I can now say that staging the Prologue with this group of actors and on this set has been one of my favorite things to stage and has truly lived up to the hype in my mind!

 

LF:  Awesome – I can’t wait to see the final product! Can you explain your overall vision/concept for this production of Sweeney Todd?

SJ:  My vision of our production is a cleaner more efficient version of the show that tells the story through the eyes of Tobias. It is my hope to trim the fat away and present a much more streamlined production.

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SJ, director, with actor Aaron Stevens who plays Anthony in “Sweeney Todd”

 

LF:  Layering on that, how is it different from what others may have seen in past Sweeney productions?

SJ:  Our production looks at the two main characters, [Sweeney] Todd and [Mrs.] Lovett, and reconsiders who the worst of the two really is. If you think about it, while Todd kills, it is with revenge in mind and in response to some pretty awful circumstances. Whereas, Lovett sacrifices others for her own advancement of purpose. In our production, we hope to present the idea that she is actually the evil one and Todd is the one that deserves at least a little of our pity.

LF:  An interesting point to think about. What do you think will be the biggest challenge in this process?

SJ:  The original production relied heavily on the spectacle of a grand set, multiple props, and blood, Blood, BLOOD! Our production trims all of these things down dramatically. The challenge for me, our design team, and actors is to tell the story by focusing more on the character relationships rather than spectacle.

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A closer look at the tools of Sweeney Todd

 Our production looks at the two main characters, [Sweeney] Todd and [Mrs.] Lovett, and reconsiders who the worst of the two really is.

LF:  I’ve heard temporary tattoos might be used in the design process, can you talk a little bit about that?

SJ:  We are looking at bringing the design of the production forward in time. The idea is to keep the period appropriate silhouette but use fabrics that are more contemporary. Following the contemporary thought, we are considering more modern hair and styles for the actors, including temporary tattoos. By doing so, we will make the show more relevant and approachable to a modern audience.

 

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Actors Rudy Martinez (Sweeney Todd) & Laura Gregory (Mrs. Lovett)

LF:  Along with directing, you also did the set design; give us some insight on what the space will look like and the meaning behind it.

 

SJ:   I was actually in London this summer and was inspired by the claustrophobic feel in London itself. The buildings are literally stacked on top of each other! Our set is itself very narrow at only 16 feet wide on its main platform. This will force us to work efficiently and when the full cast is on stage will reinforce the claustrophobic feel that I remember from this summer.

LF:  Flash forward to opening night — the audience is walking out from a night with Sweeney Todd. What do you hope they take away from this production?

SJ:  Ultimately, we have to remember that the show should be entertaining. As we are producing the production in October, it is our hope that the audience comes into the production to have fun and walks away with exactly that, some good Halloween fun!


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Sweeney Todd runs Oct 7-23, 2016. Half-off preview Oct. 7 with an official opening & reception Oct. 8. Runs Fridays & Saturdays at 8PM, Sundays at 3PM. Tickets are on sale now for Sweeney Todd. Visit our website or call the Box Office at 714-990-7722 Tues-Fri 12PM-3PM. Have questions? Contact us! Let us know your thoughts on     Sweeney Todd — previous productions    you’ve seen, what you hope to see in this one, etc.

 

 

 

Lights up on the ’16/’17 season: Interview with theatre manager, Tiina Mittler

The Curtis Theatre first opened back in the times of 1980 and has hosted many different types of seasons before arriving in the season you experience today. We have been home to several distinct local community theatre groups including the Young Americans and the Brea Civic Light Opera. At the start of 1991, we began the incredible partnership with Stagelight Productions that is our much-loved youth theatre program, Brea’s Youth Theatre. Flash-forward 25 years and you’ll end up here at our 36th season, where we strive to create a memorable live theatre experience and engage our community with a variety of presented and self-produced performing arts acts over the span of a year. The Curtis has certainly evolved since its inauguration and this season is no exception – with upgraded lighting, world-class performers, and more chances to engage in the before and after of the show.

On the cusp of opening its ’16/’17 season, Operations Assistant, Lottie Frick, sat down with Theatre Manager, Tiina Mittler, to get the scoop on how this season was put together and what to expect in the upcoming year.

LF:  To start off, give us a little background on what the Curtis Theatre does, and your role in that.

TM:  The Curtis connects Brea and our surrounding communities with opportunities to experience live performance — it might be a Grammy-winning concert artist or the first-time parents have taken their kids to a live musical. Everything we do leads back to connecting the audience with the artist to create a memorable experience.

LF: How do you go about putting together a season?

TM: Great question! Building the Curtis season is a collaborative process with our Cultural Arts Commissioners, our Theatre staff, and the artists and theatre production companies we work with. Our season is a mix of creative partnerships that we have formed within our vibrant Orange County Theatre community and shorter, weekend engagements with professional touring artists. We work with a network of other venues, artists, and agents to identify notable performers that would work well in the intimate setting of the Curtis. As part of the City of Brea, we present our proposed season to our Cultural Arts Commission in advance of announcing it to our community.

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The energy when the performers meet the audience is exhilarating. It is the best day at ‘the office.’ It is what our team is working toward. We want our audience to feel that same sense of excitement.

LF:  That’s one of the interesting differences between the Curtis and other theaters. Being a part of the City of Brea gives us a wonderful sense of service to our city and community. Did you set out with a theme in mind for this season? I know “Let’s Play” is the tagline this time around – how did that come about?

TM:  Let’s Play came out of a wonderful discussion with a colleague in the field of presenting, Deborah Brockus of Brockus Dance Project. We were talking about the recession, that period uneasy, the storms that were weathered. While people still bought tickets, it was such a difficult time. We both acknowledged that, yes, while there are still challenges, we sensed something had lifted among our patrons, among our colleagues, and that is was time to play and pass that feeling of fun along to our audience. I knew then that “Let’s Play” captured that energy and spirit of what we planned to present.

LF:  How wonderful! In addition to the feeling of play, what do you hope the audience takes away from this season of shows?

TM:  Live performance is such a powerful medium. It can be thought-provoking, it can make bold statements, and it can start conversations. At the same time, it can offer escape, bring laughter, and create a memory. The energy when the performers meet the audience is exhilarating. It is the best day at ‘the office.’ It is what our team is working toward. We want our audience to feel that same sense of excitement.

LF:  Is there a particular show you’re most excited for?

TM:  Truthfully, every single show. We are continuing our partnership with Southgate Productions and opening with a reimagined, bold new staging of Sweeney Todd. Thanksgiving weekend, we are presenting The David Benoit Christmas Tribute to Charlie Brown. To pair a world-class performer like David Benoit with our Brea Junior High Choir to recreate the iconic music of A Charlie Brown Christmas will bring a phenomenal energy to our stage and community. Our Brea’s Youth Theatre Program, produced by Stagelight Productions, will produce Disney’s The Little Mermaid, for the first time, this summer, which will create a great experience for our families that follow the Curtis.

In 2017, the second half of our season, we are producing two evenings of Latin Jazz that will begin with a reception on our Civic & Cultural Plaza and continue inside the Curtis with a live concert. The two concerts will feature Grammy-nominated Afro-Cuban ensemble Mongorama, fronted by K-Jazz’s Jose Rizo in February and ending our season in June, the Latin Jazz supergroup Cuba L.A. We hope to craft an experience that is fun and lively.

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Live performance is such a powerful medium. It can be thought-provoking, it can make bold statements, and it can start conversations.

LF:  Exciting! How has the theatre’s partnership with Southgate Productions grown and developed over the years?

TM:  The right amount of organic and strategic. Sweeney Todd is our sixth show with Southgate. It’s been fantastic to see Jon Infante and the Southgate team grow as a producing entity. They have an appreciation for the intimate setting of the Curtis. With Jon’s talent for projections, Southgate has focused on reinvention with a twist on staging.

LF: Now we want a quick run-down of what’s to come this season, but I’m going to make it a little tricky for you. Only three words to describe each show in the season: GO!

TM:

  • Sweeney Todd – Reimagined. Bold. Sondheim!
  • John Carney in Carney Magic – Charming, engaging, magic
  • The David Benoit Christmas Tribute to Charlie Brown – Christmastime is here!
  • Charles Phoenix’s Retro Holiday Slideshow – Hilarious, Retro, and Fabulous!
  • Brea’s Youth Theatre in The Wizard of Oz – Wizard of Oz
  • TheatreworksUSA in Charlotte’s Web – Perfect family outing!
  • An Evening of Latin Jazz featuring Mongorama – Sizzling, lively, beat
  • A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum – Comedy tonight! 
  • Rock Legends – Total request, live!
  • The Alley Cats Doo Wop Show – 50s & 60s hits!
  • An Evening of Latin Jazz featuring Cuba LA – Sultry, Summer, Sound
  • Brea’s Youth Theatre in The Little Mermaid – Under the sea!

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LF:   Speaking of The Little Mermaid, the youth theatre program, Brea’s Youth Theatre, produced by Stagelight Productions in association with the Curtis is celebrating its 25th year. What’s the secret that keeps this program so successful over such a long span of time?

TM:  Without question, the tireless energy and creativity of Janice Kraus (the president and producer of Stagelight Productions) is the nexus for the program’s success and longevity. Janice has cultivated an excitement, discipline, and a love for the medium of musical theatre spanning generations. Her enthusiasm never falters. Each show, be it a new production of Mary Poppins, or another staging of The Wizard of Oz, she will invest and reinvent the production elements so when the lights come up it is pure dazzle. Her approach is not just to engage the child, but the entire family. To see parents be introduced to this medium through their children, and embrace it, is just fantastic.

LF: Thank you so much for meeting with me! Before you go back to making magic happen this season, answer this final question — What has been the most rewarding part of putting together this season so far?

TM:  Going back to question 1 — the energy that occurs when the artist hits the stage and connects with the audience. It’s an intangible, but very real thing. It’s unmistakable, but amazing when it all works.

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“Let’s Play” Art by Hayden Design, Inc.

 

Tickets are on sale now for the /16/’17 season. Visit our website or call the Box Office at 714-990-7722 Tues-Fri 12PM-3PM. Have questions? Contact us! Let us know your thoughts on the upcoming season by commenting below.