His Show Will Only Go ‘Up’ If You Help

The illustrated man: Peter Michael Marino is poised to deliver a highly animated performance. | Illustration by Eric Sailer

BY SCOTT STIFFLER | When a press release from Peter Michael Marino comes across your desk, it’s tempting to speculate that having a name with such awesome alliteration is all one needs to establish the appropriate rhythm a multidisciplinarian’s busy schedule demands — but the truth is, it’s not easy to accomplish every task at hand, especially when the very act of showing up presents its own challenges.

The above-mentioned writer, director, producer, teacher, and all-around well-rounded performer was hoofing it back to his reportedly groovy pad in Chelsea when he answered the phone and spoke with us about a new project, one of several plates he’s committed himself to spin over the span of a three-day period. On the night of Friday, May 18, he’ll be in the wings — or at least on deck — for the premiere of a solo show he’s directing (Mindy Pfeffer’s triathlon-themed “There’s Iron in Your Future”). On Saturday night, Marino presides over an all-star reading of “Desperately Seeking the Exit,” his acclaimed comedic account of mounting a 2007 West End musical flop based on “Desperately Seeking Susan.” But it’s the middle ingredient of this show business sandwich that especially piqued our interest: On Saturday afternoon, Marino launches a kid-friendly version of the improvised performance this publication saw, to great enjoyment, at The PIT Loft (a W. 29th St. hub for every conceivable form of comedy).

That 2017 production, “Show Up,” had Marino in disarming and breezy conversation with the audience, during which elements of their personal history and prior events of that particular day were summed up on very large Post-It notes tacked to the theater’s back wall — which eventually became plastered with plot points for an improvised satirical solo show that obligated the cheeky and capable Marino to incorporate every suggestion into an increasingly absurd narrative (audience members had a hand in directing, by creating the set and providing music/lighting cues that took the performer in even more unexpected directions). Which brings us to his new project: “Show Up, Kids!”

“I had this notion,” Marino recalled, “that ‘Show Up’ would be fun for kids, because, like the adult show, it puts them in charge of the content.” Marino noted that his own experience with social anxiety — a thematic undercurrent of the adult show, is also a component, albeit an age-appropriate one, of the family-friendly version. Youthful audience members, he said, will be contributing to the show’s content by sharing “things they are scared of.” The premise of the show, he told us, “is that the performer they came to see is not there, and I have to fill the time. To do that, I’m going to have to face my fear and create a show, using them as the inspiration for the settings and costumes and plot. So I get examples of their own issues. It starts off with things they’re afraid of or don’t like to do, and transforms into things they love or want to accomplish.”

Audience members gather for a group photo at the end of the show they had a hand in creating. | Photo by Peter Michael Marino

Gently plucked from the crowd (Marino excels at getting what he needs in a non-confrontational, audience-empowering manner), two kids, he noted, will be in charge of moving the set, and another kid will be tasked with choosing props “from a bin of things like ridiculous wigs and hats… and I have one parent and a kid running the iPad, to pick out the sound effects.”

Marino said his first inkling of how “Show Up” might translate to a younger demographic came when he was on the street selling his show to potential audience members just prior to a performance at the 2017 Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival. A mother wanted to take her 14-year-old son, but, Marino recalled, “I wasn’t sure they should see a show talking about adult issues and using adult language. But the kid told his mom after the show, ‘I have social anxiety, and that guy has social anxiety — and if he can do a show about it in front of people, I can do anything.’ ” That comment came to Marino in the form of a social media post from the mother, and “kept me afloat for, like, six months,” Marino recalled. “It was the best gift I could get from a show, and I think — I hope — that ‘Show Up, Kids!’ will do the same thing. I hope they [kids in the audience with social anxiety] see this guy who’s never done a kids’ show and think, ‘I can do something like that. I can do show and tell. I can do public speaking.’ ”

Show Up, Kids!” has a running time of 50 minutes and is appropriate for kids ages 4-10 and their guardians. Semi-written and performed by Peter Michael Marino. Directed by Michole Biancosino and the audience. At 12pm on Sat./Sun., May 19 & 20; Sat., June 16; and Sat./Sun., June 30 & July 1. At the Kraine Theater (85 E. Fourth St., btw. Bowery & Second Ave.). For tickets ($15 for adults, $5 for under 10-years olds), visit tinyurl.com/kidskrainetix. For the show website, visit showuptheshow.com. For artist info, visit petermmarino.com.

Seen in silhouette, but hardly in the dark: Peter Michael Marino’s improvised solo show is poised to transition into a kid-friendly version. | Photo courtesy of the artist

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