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SEC Shorts Live Exceeds Expectations in Athens, GA Performances

Monday, April 18, 2022 , Posted by Christopher Byrne at 9:40 AM, under

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Athens, GA (April 18, 2022) -  Over my 28 or so years in Athens, Georgia I have been at the Historic Morton Theatre for many events, either as a performer on the stage, a ticket holder, or as a volunteer usher. The acts and shows have been varied, and most times I would know at least a third of the people in the audience either directly or indirectly. A few years ago there was a singer coming to town to perform a Christmas show. An invitation went out to invite our chorale group to sing some songs on stage with him. That sounded kind of fun until you got to the small print that said to do this you had to buy a $47 ticket for the show. So yeah, that became a hard “No, I don’t think so” from me. The cajones on this promoter!

Ok stay with me here as I tie this in…

This past weekend, the Morton hosted four performances of the first ever live stage show of “SEC Shorts.” When I first saw the show announced a couple of months ago, I thought "Hmmm, how will they pull this off and will it sell?" But this crew are not dummies and scheduled it for the weekend of G-Day, the annual University of Georgia end of spring practice scrimmage. The two scheduled shows sold out in an hour, so they added two more shows which sold just as quickly. As a theatre dad, I wanted to go not necessarily as a fan of their video work (of which I am), but to see how they made the transition from video to live performance as it is two different worlds that are night and day apart.
In film or video, you have take after take after take to get it right. If there are still problems, there is the age old “we’ll fix it in post.”
There is no such thing in live theatre. There is zero safety net and no place to hide. You have to know the entire script for the show to go on, you just don’t do one side at a time.
About an hour before the show I had short conversations with Robert Clay and Josh Snead, who birthed SEC Shorts eight or nine years ago. The first thing I shared with them in these conversations was how much I admired them for taking the risk with SEC Shorts, for having the guts to walk away from the security of a full time job to pursue their passion. Blame it on me approaching my 60th birthday and musing“what if?”:)

I also told them I was there to see how they made the transition to the stage, and they acknowledged that it was a huge challenge as only one of them had stage experience and they could not have pulled it off without the excellent support and guidance of the Morton Theatre technical staff who worked with them on lighting, audio, etc.
What struck me immediately about them is that there was not a false thing about them that one might experience with or perceive about other performers. They were just genuine, nice people.
And this played out in the performance. You would never believe them if they told you they had never worked on stage before, it was like second nature to them. In fact they seemed more relaxed than they do with their videos.
Beyond their sketches and “behind the scenes” discussions that had the audience in stitches for the 1 hour and fifty minute show (with no intermission), as well as the show-stopping song sung by “Hope” (Mezzo-Soprano and comedic actor Hannah Kuykendall), the connection between the cast and the audience for the audience participation segments was an interaction as real and genuine as it gets. It would be really easy to dismiss this as “well they are actors and this is part of their schtick.”
But no, these actors are not professional stage actors and only Hannah had “significant” stage experience compared the rest of the cast. Heck, Eric Hall is an IT Geek by day, and IT guys are not necessarily known for smooth interpersonal skills!:). I wish I had the chance to talk to him for a few minutes but I did not. Before these four stage performances were they spent upwards of nine years producing content in front of cameras and a small crew, not the general public.
As the show came to the “curtain call”, Robert did not just acknowledge the Morton technical crew by pointing at them as you see the casts in most shows do. He made it a point to thank each and everyone by name and the jobs they did.
With the show over, they did not just retreat to their dressing rooms to later come out for “stage door” meet and greet of a few minutes. No, they had a special area where audience members could have their pictures taken with the cast on their own phones.
Marketing tool? Sure.
But they treated every single person in the line that snaked through the lobby and onto the sidewalk as the most important person in the world at that moment. They did not just shoo them away after the snap of the photo. They talked with them, asked them their names, and signed autographs for them. And they did this for each of the four shows.
Earlier I mentioned the traditional audience I have seen at the Morton Theatre over the years and knowing a large chinch of them.
This audience? I did not see a single sole that I knew except my co-usher Alan Cason . While I know some came from outside of Athens, including Jimmy from Georgia Tech who came because “nobody does comedy sketches about the ACC”, I hope that if this the first time locals have been inside the Morton Theatre that they return for more and different shows to support this historic performance space that is one of Athens’ pure treasures.

Oh and the best line of the show came in a sketch taking place after the 1980 Natty, where three UGA fans are asking a fortune telling machine about the future and when UGA will win one again. After a few set up lines the Swami in the machine says:
“You might want to save some of that positive energy for the Ray Goff years.”
Sure hope Ray didn’t come to the show!:)”

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