Anybody Playing Electric Bass in Theater?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by jtroska, Dec 6, 2013.

  1. jtroska

    jtroska

    Joined:
    Jan 14, 2010
    Location:
    fort lee new jersey nj
    I've seen some community theater shows featuring an electric bass in the orchestra. I've been frustrated by the classic rock bar band thing, and some points about the theater gigs seem enticing to me.

    1) Low volume / small amps. I'm tired of being unable to communicate over 200db amps in rehearsals.

    2) Reasonable hours. Most theater shows run from 8 - 10:30pm and a Sunday matinee at 2pm.

    3) Limited run. In a few weeks, the show is done.

    4) There is one music director everybody has to obey instead of everybody having their own ideas and agendas clashing with everybody else's.

    I've actually been enjoying practicing my sight reading skills, although I know I have a long way to go before I'd call myself proficient.

    If any of you play or have played electric bass in a similar situation, I'd love to read your stories. How do you get into it? Is there any work for electric bass? What are you experiences?
  2. elgecko

    elgecko

    Joined:
    Apr 30, 2007
    Location:
    Anasleim, CA
    Some shows (e.g. Hairspray, Rent, etc) call for electric bass. The MOST important thing in playing musicals is the ability to read well...very well.
  3. jtroska

    jtroska

    Joined:
    Jan 14, 2010
    Location:
    fort lee new jersey nj
    Yeah, and I know I'm not at that level yet. But it's something new to aspire to. Like watching Flea slap as fast as he does and wanting to practice and do it like him… I see these folks sight-reading and to me it's a level of musicianship that I hold so much respect for and would love to acquire that ability.
  4. Febs

    Febs Supporting Member

    Joined:
    May 7, 2007
    Location:
    Philadelphia, PA
    I enjoy doing theater work for all the reasons you mentioned, and also because it gives me the opportunity to play a wide variety of different styles.

    I agree with elgecko, there is a lot of work available for electric bass in the theater these days. In the past few years, I've played many shows that call for electric bass, including Bat Boy: the Musical; Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson; Elton John's Aida; The Full Monty; Grease; The Great American Trailer Park Musical; High School Musical; Lizzie; and Passing Strange.

    I've also played a number of shows that call for both electric and upright bass, including Closer than Ever, Miss Saigon, Spring Awakening, and You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

    For shows that call for upright, I will usually play them on upright, but occasionally I'll be asked to play electric bass for a show originally written for upright. For example, I did a production of Annie a few months ago where I pressed to play upright but they asked me to play electric because the upright would have created sight-line issues and obstructed the view of some audience members. I also played a production of All Shook Up a couple of years ago entirely on electric (the book calls for both electric and upright) because the band was onstage and the space they allocated was way too small for me to be able to manage the upright or the instrument changes the book called for.

    At the community theater level, I think that you will find that it is very common to find electric bass even on shows that originally called for upright.
  5. Doctor_Clock

    Doctor_Clock The Moon Machine Gold Supporting Member

    Joined:
    May 6, 2013
    Location:
    Brooklyn, NY
    When I was in college a classmate and fellow music major, would get gigs around NY directing small bands for theater productions. I did a few shows with him where I played bass and sometimes trumpet along with a piano, guitar and drummer. We did a week long runs of Godspell at a senior center, a dinner theater and at a small theater. It was a great experience for me, especially because it strengthened my music reading at the time. I also met a bunch of new people that had been making music and arts their careers, plus the extra money was cool too.
    I also ended up doing some recording with a few guys that I meet in the process and did some networking with the actors and stage crew which helped me later in life when I decided to make a career in television and film production.
    I believe that any thing you can do to expand your playing experience is good. The more you play/interact with different people in different situations can only make you a better player/performer/person(IMO).
    If you can find a gig doing theater work go for it! If it's not your cup of tea, find something else.
  6. the_stone

    the_stone

    Joined:
    Nov 3, 2007
    Location:
    Fort Worth, TX
    I've done a fair amount of theater shows both in Texas and New York, and here's what I would say to keep in mind:

    1. Because the hours are sane and the pay is good, theater gigs are becoming VERY competitive, especially in the big cities, and you can find pretty big-name musicians playing shows. When I was living in NYC, Bernard Purdie and Wilber Bascomb were the rhythm section for "Hair." The Lion King pit had Tom Barney on bass (I took a few lessons from him and even got to sit in the pit and watch him play the book) and Warren Bernheart on keyboards (Steely Dan), Tommy Igoe (master drummer & leader of the Birdland Big Band) on drums, and one of the percussion players from the Saturday Night Live band. It's fairly easy to get started playing small shows, but it can take years before getting steady gigs.

    2. Doubling on upright (both pizz and arco chops) is just about a must, as is playing fretless and 5-string. Like any freelance career, you need to be able to say "yes" to whatever you can in order to get work and make connections.

    3. The name of the game is consistency - you have to be able to play the same part the exact same way night after night. Some guys dig the skills this entails, others go crazy having to do the same thing.

    Do a Google search on "John Miller bass" - he's a big-time Broadway contractor and bassist, and there's a number of interviews with him online where he discusses breaking into the business. Here's one article I've seen before:
    http://elliott-randall.com/2011/01/john-miller-on-broadway/
  7. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Nov 15, 2005
    Location:
    Cincinnati
    I do 10 to 12 shows a year. All on electric. It's community theater. IMHO the people orchestrating the music very often will ask for upright when there is no particular reason. If the show is one of the older shows (Rodger and Hammerstein etc) I'll use fretless and the new shows (Rent, Hairspray) I use fretted. I've seen more that a few examples where there will be a page or more of quarter notes and the indication is for upright pizz, and then it will say to switch to electric and there'll be tied whole notes with crescendos. One musical (Legally Blonde) calls for 4 string electric and 5 string electric. The point of all that is.... if your clever and musical, you can do a more than passible job of any part on electric. There's a lot of prejudice against electric and it has to do with a visual thing and a lot of electric players out there don't read music all that well and play louder and with a rock tone.
  8. smeet

    smeet Gold Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Nov 27, 2006
    Location:
    Woodland Hills, CA
    I've played a few local shows in Chcago and LA, all on electric: Jesus Christ Superstar (several different productions), Forbidden Zone, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Rent. They were all a lot of fun (although the production company for Rent ripped off the entire cast and crew, didn't pay, didn't return phone calls, etc. :meh:).

    I love it. I love reading music, I love being part of a big multimedia production. I'd love to do more of it. I'm going to be playing some gigs performing the music of Jesus Chris Superstar, and hopefully that will eventually turn into a stage show.
  9. elgecko

    elgecko

    Joined:
    Apr 30, 2007
    Location:
    Anasleim, CA
    Often times, you'll get a copy of the book ahead of time and you can woodshed.

    Another important skill needed for playing musicals is the ability to closely watch AND follow the conductor. It can be a bit challenging if you've never played under one.
  10. BassCliff

    BassCliff

    Joined:
    May 17, 2012
    Location:
    So. Cal.
    Hi,

    I don't play nearly as many musicals as I used to but I love being in the pit orchestra and being part of a huge production. I've played at least one musical every year for the last 14 years. It's about the only time I get to use my sight-reading chops and I've lost some of it over the years. But I do get the book ahead of time so I can practice up.

    I usually bring my 2x10 cabinet and Fender Bassman 100 amp and just leave it in the theater for the entire run. No schlepping gear!

    My steady annual pit orchestra gig is at a performing arts high school that puts on a musical every spring, usually in March. They hire "pros" to play in the pit instead of using the student musicians. We'll use a few students once in a while but I guess the music department there does not quite have the same level of performers as the drama department.

    The kids are talented, they build their own sets, the 1500 seat theater is top notch, dozens of wireless mics with a decent sound system, etc. It's as good if not better than most community theater productions I've been a part of. Those kids aren't scared of anything. They hit their ques, sing their songs, dance their dances, speak their lines, and nothing stops them. It's amazing to watch them work.

    One year we did "Chicago" and it was a great book, fun to play. I remember the first rehearsal and having my nose buried in the book for the opening dance number. When we finished I looked up on stage and there were a dozen gorgeous high school girls in wigs, makeup, short skirts, fishnet stockings, high heels, form fitting blouses, etc. I was barely able to pick up my jaw, close my mouth, and put my eyes back before we started the next number. It was a rough couple of weeks for this old married coot. I shouldn't be having such thoughts, especially about jail bait! :rollno:

    Not quite as risque as this, but you get the idea.

    [​IMG]

    I've also done Grease, The Wiz, Fame, Hairspray, The Pajama Game, Pippin, Bye Bye Birdie, South Pacific, The Music Man, Little Shop Of Horrors, and others. It's a blast!

    Anyway, it's great work if you can get it. I wish I could do more but my band has Disneyland and Las Vegas on the calendar. So I take what I can get. Break a leg!


    Thank you for your indulgence,

    BassCliff
  11. jtroska

    jtroska

    Joined:
    Jan 14, 2010
    Location:
    fort lee new jersey nj
    Thanks everybody. I recently started a new job where I'll be forced to work weird hours/days until I acquire enough seniority to pick my own hours/days. I think it'll force me into gigging hiatus for a while. But I'm thinking I can use this gigging hiatus time to get my sight-reading up to speed. Then maybe I'll have something new to be hopeful about instead of continuing to be frustrated and crabby over the bar band scene.

    My wife acts in some community theater shows. Some shows are impressively good. Some are embarrassingly bad. When I see a good one, it seems like it would be more fulfilling than a sloppy drunk bar band playing to 3 people at 2am.

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