Tag Archives: comedy

A quick trip home!

16 Mar

At the first workshop of Relish in Immature Bombast, 24 May 2012, Auckland Town Hall. Photo by Oliver Rosser.

At the first workshop of Relish in Immature Bombast, 24 May 2012, Auckland Town Hall. Photo by Oliver Rosser.

I moved to Chicago on 5 January 2015. Three months on, I’ll be back in New Zealand for a couple of weeks.

To clarify for both Chicagoans and Kiwis: no, I’m not moving back. I still definitely live in Chicago. This trip is to fulfil a long-standing commitment with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra because they’re playing my Relish in Immature Bombast again.

If you’re unfamiliar with this piece, it’s for huge-ass pipe organ, full-on funk/rock/jazz drum kit, and symphony orchestra, take a squiz at this video:

The APO is performing this at Open Orchestra Central, at their home venue of the Auckland Town Hall. Reprising their roles are original soloists Tim Noon (organ) and Jono Sawyer (drum kit) – in fact, it’s ten years since Jono and I first worked together in ska band Jonny Doom & The Forcefields. I’ll be introducing the piece as MC and composer, interviewing some of the performers, and also MCing the rest of the afternoon’s proceedings.

Best of all, this event is totally, 100% free. Come to the Auckland Town Hall at 2pm on Saturday 11 April, and hit “Going” on the Facebook event if that’s your thing.

I also have a fundraiser concert!

Sir James Wallace has been quite generous with both his funds and his home – I’ve got a couple of Wallace Arts Trust-funded compositions in the works, and on Sunday 19 April he’s hosting a house concert for me. Poster:

Robbie-Ellis-Rannoch-RGB

I’ve invited two other composer-performers to join me:

Corwin Newall isn’t all that well-known outside of Dunedin, but he and I got to work together quite a bit during my Mozart Fellowship year. He’s got a new song cycle called Scientists (with movements about Alfred Nobel, Nikola Tesla, Gertrude Elion and Ernest Rutherford), which I’m singing and he’s playing on piano. He and I are also working on Douglas Lilburn’s Sings Harry (as well as a few other rarer Lilburn songs), and performing them at a few concerts. Also, he’s quite a nifty wordsmith and comedy songwriter… these skills will also be on display.

Grooves Unspoken album coverYvette Audain‘s axes of choice are saxophone and clarinet. She’ll join me for the North Island première of my new Sonatina for alto saxophone and piano (a piece funded by the Wallace Arts Trust). She’s also a great composer who last year released an album of work called Grooves Unspoken, for which I did the design and layout.

This house concert is on Sunday 19 April, and you can book in one of two ways:
Secure your seat with a donation
– Reserve a place and donate on the night: rannoch@wallaceartstrust.org.nz or 027 472 3669

There’s a recommended donation set at $40: this is kinda necessary because I’ve had to pay for my flights back to New Zealand on this trip (long set in advance). I would love to see you there! RSVP on Facebook if you will.

Also:
Lunchtime concert at the University of Otago, Wed 15 April.
Pre-concert talk for the APO, Thu 16 April.
Lunchtime concert at the University of Waikato, Wed 22 April.
– I do a concert at 1pm in Hamilton, and fly out of Auckland Airport at 7:30pm. Doable.

PS I’m also in Seattle from 1 to 5 April. Will be nice to visit that city again.

New-ish photos!

24 Jan

These images were taken by Kate Little, an Auckland photographer beloved of New Zealand’s comedian community. Thanks to the New Zealand Comedy Trust for kicking in some subsidy with these.

I’ve been using these all over: 9746 is on my business card, 9797 is my LinkedIn profile pic, and 9856 & 9858 are just fun!

If you need to promote anything me-related, you’re welcome to use these photos with a credit to Kate Little. Wonderful!

Get out please Robbie, head overseas.

1 Aug

So, news.

Uniquely American objects.

Uniquely American objects.

I have a US green card. Well, I have a thing in my passport which entitles me to enter the USA within the next five months and hold permanent residency.

It was nearly two years ago I entered the Diversity Visa lottery on a whim, but my number came up (literally) and I went for it. It’s been a long process – from entering the lottery to entering the United States will be 26 months all up – but hardly an arduous or harrowing one. All in all, if you meet the criteria and are careful and conscientious with your paperwork, getting from the chance stage to the “heck yes I got me a green card” stage is straightforward*. My interview at the US Consulate had remarkably few questions for me to answer – just a two-hour wait while I read some Thomas Mann.

So I am moving in less than five months. Today I booked flights from Auckland to New Jersey to see my sister and my nephew (who is currently -6 weeks), and following that I will migrate westward to Chicago and settle there.

What a lovely view.

What a lovely view.

Why Chicago? In short, because the North Side of that city has the highest concentration of comedy, sketch and improv on the planet. Three of the best improv shows I’ve ever seen were during a short stay in Chicago last year. Also, thanks to the heritage of The Second City, there’s great respect for the role of music in comedy.

Furthermore, just this year there have been all sorts of venue expansions for the better:
iO is relocating from two stages in Wrigleyville to their new four-stage home in Goose Island, with one theatre dedicated to a new sketch revue from TJ & Dave;
The Annoyance has just moved from Uptown to Belmont;
– The Second City is expanding its premises in Old Town;
– and least of all, but most excitingly for me, Chicago now has possibly the world’s only theatre dedicated specifically to musical improv and musical comedy.

This image, on my own site, is 14th in my Google Images search results for "improv troupe stock photo".

This image, on my own site, is 14th in my Google Images search results for “improv troupe stock photo”.

However, there is a wider question: why improv? To compare to other things I’ve done and could pursue overseas, it’s not as stable as a job as a radio producer or presenter; it’s not as well-paying as composing (assuming you can attract commissions); and it’s a lot more niche than music recording and production.

But out of all those things within New Zealand, there are many composers, lots of broadcasters, and plenty of people who produce music, yet there are very few of us who do musical direction for comedy. There are even fewer who play music for improv. If I’m going to pursue something, it should be the thing that I am the most specialised in. The United States is a big place with potential careers that simply do not exist here in New Zealand, and you don’t just turn down a green card.

This is a daunting time – I’ve never moved countries before, I’ve never sold a large proportion of my worldly possessions, I’ve never calculated rent by the month, and figuring out the United States’ health insurance systems scares the crap out of me. Also, January is not exactly the warmest time to move to Chicago. Regardless, I am finally fulfilling every middle-class kiwi’s destiny by living overseas.

I will hold a massive farewell bash in Auckland on Saturday 13 December (also my 30th birthday), and departing New Zealand exactly two weeks later. In the meantime, you should give me lots of well-paid work, cause I’m freelance and I need the money.

This is happening!

— — —

* As long as, like me, you are an educated, healthy, white, middle class male native speaker of English with a sensible haircut, a clean criminal record and no visible piercings or tattoos, and are not a member of any organisation to the left of the Labour Party. It also made life administratively simpler that I am unmarried, have no children, and have never lived in a country other than New Zealand. And it helps I live only 35 minutes’ walk from the only US Consulate in this country. Your mileage may vary, but in most cases you have nothing to lose by applying. DV-2016 opens October 2014.

Lots of work for one performance.

28 Jul

One grand cliché of being a composer is that it’s straighforward enough to get the first performance of a new work, but damn difficult to get the second. However, some of my favourite experiences have been writing songs that are very much intended never to be done again.

Andrew Grenon benefit posterLast night I MC’d a Wallace Arts Trust fundraiser concert for my flatmate, tenor Andrew Grenon. A lot of Andrew’s supporters know me as his piano partner in Politics The Opera, although it’s been a long time since we’ve made one of those videos. Life gets in the way, you see.

Andrew has a sense of humour and is a Song Sale writer-performer, so he asked me to sing my Root Vegetable Opera at his concert. That’s always huge fun, though when I perform it in the company of actual real opera singers I give a mountain of disclaimers about my vocal technique beforehand! Andrew also told me I was free to introduce the concert as I wished… maybe something musico-dramatic?

Two-and-a-half years ago I was fortunate enough to write the opening number for the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards in Wellington – very much in the style of a Tony Awards opener. That’s a song that has so many specific references to Wellington theatre, film and current events circa 2011 that it will almost certainly never be performed again.

I did something similar for Andrew. The song has so many particular references – e.g. the setting of the concert, the night’s fellow performers, our Grey Lynn flat, his circumstances (heading to the Wales International Academy of Voice), and the country of Wales itself – that it will never be performed again. It’s a one-time bespoke job.

But you know what? Those jobs are bloody fun. You can go as specific as you like, and your song can be tailored exactly for the assembled audience and their context. I get a kick out of making comedy and art out of the timely, specific and the local. That’s no way for a work to appeal to a wide or enduring audience, but I’ve got other material for that. And given that one of my life’s ambitions is to write the opening number for the Tony Awards, I’ve got to take these opportunities to practise the rather niche craft of occasional songs.

I’ve uploaded the sheet music (hang piracy, I’m never going to sell this song for money) and chucked the video on YouTube. Massive thanks to the pianist Claire Caldwell for adding flair to my Sibelius copy-and-paste dots & chord symbols.

Good luck Andrew!

Perfunctory blog post

23 Apr

Eketahuna German Literature Society coverPoint the first:

I’m now a published author. Given that I expended so much of the effort of publication late last year and well earlier this year, these launch events feel more like niche geeky parties than big culminations of work. I’m not good at writing about these things, but I spent A LOT of time consulting German poetry collections in the University of Auckland library.

You should buy a copy via instructions here – we will deliver to anywhere in the world. $20 if you buy one off me in person.

In a couple of months’ time, I will look back and realise, holy shit, I’m an actual proper published author. Not bad for a composer by training.

Point the second:

Augmented Fourth? Pledge Me? $400 short? 4 days to go? Get pledging. We’ll write you a song. We need us some wireless mics.

Point the third:

Oh god, there’s more? So much self-promotion going on. I should become a much better blogger and write about one thing at a time. About half of my franticisms can be traced back to the New Zealand International Comedy Festival. Go see shows. Most of all, go see ours in Auckland or Wellington. Especially Auckland. We’re driving like 10 minutes to the theatre and 10 minutes back. Not like those Wellington people who only have us doing a 16-hour drive.

Point the fourth:

Just friend me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter. Or keep up with the events in the sidebar, I’m quite good at updating those. But on this blog… I’m really not making it easy for you in this Web 2.0 age… wait… it’s not Web 2.0, that was like 2006. Man, I’m 8 years out of date.

Article the Fifth:

Ko tangata whenua te nope I can’t speak Treaty of Waitangi.

I should not publish this post.

Give us all your money.

17 Mar

Please.

Sam Smith and Robbie Ellis are Augmented FourthSam Smith and I make up a musical comedy duo called Augmented Fourth. We’ve known each other literally half our lives, and through school, university, post-university, and real life we’ve performed together in all manner of musico-theatrico-comedico-debating events.

This is the biggest project we’ve ever undertaken together: a one-hour show in the New Zealand International Comedy Festival called Augmented Fourth.

Now, I could ask you simply to book tickets for either Auckland or Wellington, but we’re getting more creative than simply ticket sales… we’ve arrived three years late to the crowdfunding party.

Specifically we want money for headset mics. Buying, hiring, whichever, but the Festival quoted us $1200 for two mics for two weeks. Here’s our pitch video!

Head on over to our PledgeMe page which details the pledge rewards – tickets, custom-written songs, namedrops and even singing telegrams. We’d be grateful for any contribution you’d care to make.

Also, we have another video which we recorded with our old high school orchestra. Granted, we both played double bass and percussion in this orchestra, not trombone…

PHWAAAAAAAAMP
PHWAAAAAAAAMP
PHWAAAAAAAAMP

PHWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAMP

Also, see us in Song Sale next week. Monday 24 March on Ponsonby Rd.

Tele-spruiking

21 Feb

Looking east onto North Pender Island from the Gulf of Georgia.

Looking east onto North Pender Island from the Gulf of Georgia, taken as I write this post.

I write from the ferry between Victoria and Vancouver, in the territorial waters of British Columbia/Washington State/British Columbia. It’s Wednesday 20 February here in North America, but en Nouvelle-Zélande it’s a Thursday at a particular time of the month. This means Song Sale is on in Dunedin!

Now, it is a little odd and a little superfluous for me still to be spruiking for this monthly gig. Yes, I founded it in Dunedin and it was my baby, but now that Daddy has moved to a new city some foster parents have taken responsibility for the rambunctious toddler. Or something. I’m not good at parent-and-guardian analogies.

Regardless, I look from afar wishing all the best for this year’s gigs. I know it will thrive under new management: Corwin Newall is a fantastic writer and performer, and even though he’s young I can see him developing into a really good teacher and director of talent. Gabby Golding is one of the most enthusiastic and organised people I know in the Dunedin arts scene, and late last year she enthusiastically took the reins to organise this mother. (Told you my family member analogies weren’t good.)

They’ve secured funding from both Creative Communities and the Dunedin Fringe Festival, so they must be doing something right – importantly, this means the gigs remain free entry. They’ve also engaged Angus McBryde, a professional, to do their graphics. This is instead of retaining my, uhh, ‘idiosyncratic’ design principles of textual overload. Compare December 2012 and February 2013:

But beyond who manages it, Song Sale is not only an entertaining show for an audience, it’s a valuable vehicle for many different types of creatives.

For a songwriter in the generally-popular-music world, it’s a chance to submit one’s self to a deliberately constrained process: writing something in a hurry. If the song is no good, it can die after its first outing. If it’s great, all the better. If you write enough songs in a hurry, you develop good instincts about which is which and this helps you early in the writing process.

For composers – those trained in a classical, dots-on-paper tradition – Song Sale teaches timing, audience interaction, and Seeing What Works. So many composers are nervous wallflowers, afraid to put themselves out there. While the gig may look terrifying to total introverts, the vibe of the show means The Audience is On Your Side. Even if you try and fail, the audience will still love and support you.

That’s a precept of improv theatre as well – worth mentioning since many Song Salers are members of Improsaurus. The audience doesn’t come to a show to see the perfect response to any situation, they go along to see what on earth the response ends up being. There’s always a little thrill for an individual audience member when that person’s own suggestion is picked up and turned into a scene (for improv) or a song (for Song Sale), but even if the suggestion didn’t come out of your own mouth, you still feel like you have a stake in it: it came from the room and You Were There.

Added to this, many improvisers are also stand-up comedians and many stand-up comedians incorporate music. Song Sale is a pretty sweet song development laboratory, and it bubbles up musically comedic moments that don’t occur when you deliberately craft songs on your own. After a year-and-a-half of Song Sales in both Wellington and Dunedin, I have a heeeap of songs that have had several outings, become more refined and cogent, and could be turned into a solo show and/or an album.

If you’re reading this from Dunedin, do turn up tonight: 7pm at The Church, 50 Dundas St. The gig has a new structure (or a structure full stop): an established act performs for the first half – tonight it’s Reed Street Posse from Oamaru – and the commissions come after the interval. As always – and with gracious thanks to Creative Communities funding – entry is free and commissions are $5 per song. Here’s the Facebook event – go forth and spread.

The red piano.

26 Sep

Last week I was in Wellington and I had the opportunity to play He Kōrero Pūrākau mo te Awanui o Te Motu, that bright red piano ornately carved by Michael Parekowhai. I had a friend video some of the performances at Te Papa.

Here’s the YouTube playlist. It contains attempted Maori strum in Tūtira Mai Ngā Iwi (yes, bajingajink on piano), a singalong on Poi E, a New Zealand music lesson on Pōkarekare Ana, the Split Enz classic Message to My Girl, and Beyoncé’s Single Ladies.

And as a bonus, here’s Trubie-Dylan Smith’s Das kraftwerkische Blenderlied performed at the last Song Sale:

Last of all, a quick notice: on Friday, Improsaurus performs their first ever long-form improvised musical. It’s called Improv: The Musical. We’ve been working really hard to get this up and running, I’m looking forward to it.

Book advance tickets here, or passively hit attending on Facebook and risk there being no door sales.

LEN LYE a review

7 Sep

I’m in Auckland until this afternoon. I came up on Wednesday to see my former composition lecturer’s new piece LEN LYE the opera, and to review it for Theatreview. (Actually there are more like four of my old teachers among the core creative team…)

It’s “a major statement of advocacy for the overlooked genius and forward-thinking artistry of Len Lye”. My review’s here. The NBR and the Herald carry shorter write-ups.

Today I meet with Penny Ashton, Thomas Sainsbury and James Wenley about musicals in various stages of development.

Next week I sing as a “baritone” on the stage of Marama Hall in Dunedin and play with the Court Jesters in Christchurch.

The week after I get to play Michael Parekowhai’s red carved piano at Te Papa in Wellington, and I do my first gig in Invercargill.

Life’s pretty good.

How many views you know roll like this?

14 May

A contemporary classical piece with nearly 1400 views in four days? Unheard of!

Well done to Aurélien Pétillot and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire music folks. I think this is the first performance of my music in the United States which isn’t a non-musical script.


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