UG Touring Groups take the stage at City Winery

The Art for All Gala is tomorrow, March 8 at City Winery! If you have any experience planning benefits, you can probably imagine the scene around our office. We are swimming in a sea of auction prizes (my mouth is watering over that trip to Italy) and reprints of student artwork (which will be available for purchase!).

If you can’t make it to the Gala, that’s okay, because you’ll get a decent idea of the evening’s lineup right here on the blog. A few weeks ago we talked to Michael Riendeau about the percussion performance he’ll be doing with EPIC Academy students; last week, we had a Q&A with City Winery owner Michael Dorf.

Today, I’m taking a break from event planning hubbub to bring you words of wisdom from Gala entertainers Mike Dangeroux of the 20th Century Players and Jonathan Pitts of Chicago Improv Productions.

So, who are these folks?

The 20th Century Players perform everything from funk to gospel to rock, and the band has been together for about 6 years; guitarist Mike Dangeroux has been a UG touring artist for 8 years. The band will play at the Gala with featured singer Dora Washington, a vocalist who can beautifully mimic the stylings of just about any singer you can imagine. “We plan on bringing Etta, Aretha and Chaka [to City Winery], if you know what I mean,” Mike said.

Chicago Improv Productions is a nonprofit improv comedy and improvisational theatre group that’s been around since 1998. In addition to producing shows like the Chicago Improv Festival, they’re invested in workshops and educational outreach, and they’ve been touring with UG for over a decade. What to expect from them at City Winery tomorrow? “A 15-minute set of high energy, short form improv to rock the house with laughter,” Jonathan said. “The kind of improv games that people might have seen on ‘Who’s Line Is It Anyways?’” (They performed at ARTini 2012, and I can attest that they did indeed rock the house with laughter.)

Both groups will be appearing in style at City Winery, but they also show up at our partner schools to perform educational shows year-round. I’m always interested in hearing how our artists got started in their chosen disciplines and why they tour or teach with us; hence I peppered Mike and Jonathan with plenty more questions.

Example: Earliest artistic inspirations? Jonathan’s dad was in Ice Capades and his mom helped market their local children’s theatre. Jonathan was entranced by these shows and by the behind-the-scenes work he saw through his parents.

As for Mike – “Personally, I began with pots and pans until my parents bought me a drum kit (true story) when I was about 6 years old. The next year I received a toy piano for Christmas and my older cousin broke the piano bench. My grandmother gave me a used acoustic guitar around the time I was 8, followed by an electric guitar with a small amp.” He was also a serious fan of Jimi Hendrix, who really got him rocking on the guitar.

Sage advice for Urban Gateways students?

From pots and pans to touring in front of 250-300 students at Urban Gateways school shows, these performers have come a long way. I asked what they think the impact is for the UG students who watch them perform.

“I think we show them that adults can still play and play together, how to use their imagination onstage, how to use and improve their communication skills,” Jonathan said.

And Mike told me he gets great feedback from students about the musical information they’ve absorbed, the fun they’ve had and the inspiration they’ve gained through these assemblies. (I went to a 20th Century Players show once and the kids swarmed Mike and Dora like superstars when the show was over.)

For some students, watching Mike or Jonathan and their groups is the first live show they’ve ever seen, and it sticks with them for years, eventually leading to a career or lifelong interest in performing.

So, final question: What would you say to a student who wants to make it in your art form?

Mike: “Practice makes perfect is true, but always have fun doing what you want to do.”

Jonathan: “Take classes at an improv theatre so that you can play, share, give, take, listen, and make lots of friends, because the people you work onstage with become your friends in real life. After that, whether or not you reach a point where you get paid to play, you’ve had a great time along the way!”

What synergy!

More about the Art for All Gala right here>>