BWW Interview: Alton Brown Takes Quirky Culinary Science on the Road in THE EDIBLE INEVITABLE TOUR
Food Network favorite Alton Brown - the gracious and always-witty star of Good Eats, Iron Chef, and Cutthroat Kitchen - arrives in Providence later this week with his latest project: Alton Brown Live! The Edible Inevitable Tour. In a recent phone interview from the road in Dayton, Ohio, Brown spoke with BroadwayWorld Rhode Island about the origins of the stage show, the logistical challenges of touring, and how the yeast puppets continue to steal the spotlight.
VB: You're a busy man - the Edible Inevitable Tour, Food Network programming, a thoroughly-engaging podcast, bestselling books - it seems your creative energies are boundless!
AB: [laughs] Well, I like to stay busy, I will say that! I don't really think of it in those terms, I guess. I've tried to build a career based on figuring out what my skill set is and finding out if I can do things that most other people don't think of doing, or doing the unusual or the unexpected in showing that food, as a subject, has a great many permutations in entertainment that can be fun. I don't know about the "boundless energy" part; I do like looking at what the subject is and what I can do with it, and having as much fun with it as possible.
VB: What sparked your interest the Edible Inevitable project? How did the touring stage show come about?
AB: I've done so many live shows over the past 15 years, probably. When you make food shows, you get hired to do speeches and lectures and demonstrations, and you do things on TV shows and whatnot. I've always really enjoyed that; my original college degree was in theater, so it's always been a big part of me. Probably about six years ago, I started seriously thinking that I'd like to do something much larger, but when you do that, you really have to take it on the road to make it cost efficient. You've got to take it to a lot of cities if you're going to spend a lot of money on a stage show. It was just a matter of finding - number one - time in my schedule, quite frankly, and coming up with the right production partners. I'm friends with the guys on Mythbusters and they did their own live touring show with this company called MagicSpace, which they introduced me to, and it turned out to be just a really great mix. And so that was the last piece that really needed to be brought together for the tour to happen.
VB: And you're singing on the tour as well?
AB: Yeah, it's really a two-hour variety show, and it does involve myself and my trio performing some of the food songs off of our upcoming CD.
VB: An upcoming CD? That sounds like fun!
AB: Yeah, that's just to add another layer. [laughs]
VB: I've seen some of the press photos from the show, and you're touring with some very creative stage pieces! Given that your props range from hand puppets to life-sized cows, what are some of the challenges of traveling with such specialized equipment?
AB: Number one, nobody's asked me that question and it's really actually kind of fascinating, so thank you for asking something like that. You know what it really comes down to, I'll be really honest with you, it comes down to the truck. I wanted this whole show to sit in one semi-truck, because when you get into two trucks, it really limits the kind of markets you can go into because of loading docks and blah, blah, blah. The size and shape of the big demonstration pieces and everything else that goes on the stage is greatly determined by how we could get it all in one truck. It's been a real feather in the cap of my tour planners that they've actually been able to figure out this Rubik's Cube of a problem of how to get a show as large as ours into one truck. That actually was what was the determining factor because I knew I did not want a two-truck tour.
VB: That's fascinating!
AB: It actually really is. The logistics of packing these trucks and the cases and the things that have to go in, because we carry our own lighting and our own sound system because of the band; you know, we've got cases with guitars and drums and - as you said - full-sized cows, and the two demonstrations that we do during the show. They're big, they're large pieces, so it's a real job.
VB: It's like playing Tetris to get everything to fit just so.
AB: That's actually exactly what it is! It's Tetris, not a Rubik's Cube.
VB: Speaking of hand puppets, I was listening to your most recent podcast, and it featured an extended segment on the puppetry and puppeteers on Good Eats. I've worked with puppets in the past; it's so interesting to hear you and Todd Bailey give such a detailed account of the craft and method behind the puppets on the show.
AB: Puppets are a never-ending source of amazement for me. You can put your hand in almost anything and turn it into a living, breathing being. And it's funny that, when we started doing it on Good Eats it was one of those things that was just, "Hey, why not? We need this, we need these characters." And the response is just huge. There's a 15-mintue taped pre-show on The Edible Inevitable Tour that's all yeast puppets - people go crazy over it! Crazy enough to where we've actually had to make show t-shirts and things with these yeast puppets on them because people like them so much. It's just amazing! We're not even really that good at it to be honest! [laughs]