“6 Guitars” isn’t just a concert. It isn’t simply a theatrical performance. And it’s more than improv comedy.
But Chase Padgett’s original one-man production combines elements of all three artistic forms into a show that has been winning awards and selling out venues since it premiered in 2010. As he’ll show on Feb. 21 at Heyde Center for the Arts in Chippewa Falls, Padgett works his magic while portraying six guitarists who tell personal stories while playing in the respective musical veins of jazz, rock, folk, country, classical and blues.
“Whenever I do the show I start with just a verbal explanation as myself outside of character where I tell everyone, ‘Hey, thanks for coming out to the show tonight,’” Padgett said in a phone conversation. He went on to explain exactly what they are about to see.
“(M)y disclaimer at the top is this is not a concert, this is also not a play, it’s not quite stand-up or improv comedy. It’s actually a hybrid of all those elements in a single one-man show,” he said.
While some might guess from the title that it’s a concert featuring six guitar players or a single musician playing familiar tunes in six diverse styles, both miss the mark.
“It’s kind of best described as a hybrid of things it isn’t fully,” he said. It has elements of the familiar one-person Netflix comedy specials, he said. “And then it also has elements of dramatic storytelling at times. And just good straight-up musical moments that don’t need a framing, although many do.”
You don’t just have to take Padgett’s word for it. Go by those who evaluated the “6 Guitars” premiere at the Orlando International Fringe Festival. They were so impressed they gave Padgett awards for Best Solo Performer, Best Male Actor and Best Musician.
The show evolved naturally from varied talents Padgett honed while in college. He was getting a music degree from the University of Central Florida, from where he graduated in 2007. Around that time he began at SAK Comedy Lab, sometimes as a musician but mostly as an improvising comedian. He also filled varied acting roles for productions at Universal Studios Florida and Walt Disney World. All that experience would come in handy when crafting “6 Guitars.”
During the time he was considering his career options, he saw a friend do a one-man show.
“And that just seems like the hardest, scariest thing in the world to do,” he said. “But the fact that I saw a friend of mine, someone I actually knew, pull it off, I thought maybe …”
His guitar skills would always be in the mix, but one day he thought of a show based on five guitars. But then a friend reminded him of classical music, and not only was “6 Guitars” conceived, but that friend, Jay Hopkins, went on to be a writer and director for it.
While the idea came to Padgett in 2007, “6 Guitars” wouldn’t debut until 2010 as Hopkins helped Padgett develop it.
“He’d sit me down and ask me questions about each character, and I would sort of define their background,” Padgett said. “Then the second step was me embodying each character in an interview he would conduct. Then he would take all that information and distill it down into what was the first incarnation of the script. But that was nine years ago, and nearly 400 performances have happened since then. The show, just through sheer repetition and small evolutions here and there, has evolved into something that frankly I haven’t seen the likes of anywhere else.”
Padgett’s website and other online platforms speak to the accolades “6 Guitars” has earned. With video, still photos and snippets of reviews, it notes the sold-out venues and critics’ raves. But he acknowledges that the unique nature of “6 Guitars” can make it a tougher sell than a more traditional kind of show.
“The biggest driver I have for the show in terms of getting people in seats is word of mouth,” he said. “When people come to see the thing … I’m going to say like 95 percent of the time, maybe even more, I’m met with a roaring standing ovation before I even have the time to stand up and the lights come back up. Those people end up telling all their friends, all their family members, and not only do they tell people, they come back and bring people too.”
He added that sometimes the challenge is “getting people to take a risk on it in the first place.”
“It’s a little bit of a double-edged sword,” he said. “That’s why I try to do whatever I can to get across that, ‘hey, this is a little different, but you’re going to have a great time. You really will.”
Contrary to what some might think, Padgett said, it doesn’t always follow that individual viewers will come away most impressed by the character who plays their favorite style of music.
“Not necessarily,” he explained, “because the real gift of music that I try to highlight in this show is the universal message regardless of genre. People will walk in saying, I love country, I love this particular thing. And they’ll leave oftentimes resonating with a character that isn’t necessarily their genre because the character they are taking on resonates with that individual’s personal life story more.”
That point underscores why “6 Guitars” is about more than music.
“It starts about each character’s individual relationship with music and then as the show goes along it keeps broadening until by the end it’s really about our relationship to each other as humans and the human condition,” he said. “It is uniquely suited to become that metaphor.”
Those who simply want to hear Padgett the musician in action will have the chance when his debut album comes out. He may not yet have the album ready to sell at the Heyde Center performance but expects it will be out soon.
The 12-song recording will be completely different from the stage show. “The shows are about half music, half character-based comedy and storytelling,” said. “There isn’t necessarily a storytelling element to the album itself. Certain songs are related to storytelling just kind of within themselves. ... All the songs on the album are a little bit more keyed into who I am as Chase Padgett rather than who the characters are in a show people might see.”
In addition to having an audio product on the market, Padgett is hoping he’ll get a chance to showcase his talents in the visual medium as well. That is to say, he would welcome a chance to have one of his shows recorded and shown on a platform such as Netflix.
“The real trick is where do I get from where I am now to where I need to be so that they are aware of it,” he said.
Perhaps word of mouth will work for that step as well.