GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – In the late ’80s, a rock band was looking for a bass player. Pat Hibbard sang and played guitar, mostly as a prop. So, goodbye guitar, hello bass.
“(E)verybody’s looking for bass players. They’re the rare breed. To find a bass player who sings is even more a rare commodity. So I’ve not been hurting for work since I did that – until COVID.”
Pat Hibbard is co-writer and co-director, with Frank Hermans, of Let Me Frank Productions show troupe.
“I’ve gotta say, the first couple of weeks I was like, ‘This is a nice little rest.’ But now four months into it, I had enough time so we actually got ahead on a few shows. I’ve got a bunch of things charted and edited and things like that. Which was nice. But, obviously, with no shows on the calendar, which equals no income, it’s been a struggle.
“Other than just financially, too, Frank and I have talked about ‘How long can we stay out of the public’s eye before people start to forget about us?’ Maybe not forget about us but realize that we were on the expendable side of their social lives, that kind of thing. I think that’s the biggest thing – uncertainty, you know, to my life.”
A telling point comes Friday, July 31, when Let Me Be Frank Productions starts a run of “The Frankstones” at the Meyer Theatre in downtown Green Bay. Pat Hibbard will playing bass and playing a character, Barney. That’s out front. Behind the scenes…
“When it comes to the shows, my main responsibility is to put together the charts and the songs and the arrangements for the band. I put together all the charts, all the edits, all the arrangements, and then I turn them over to the guys in the band and Amy (Riemer, vocal director). From those arrangements, Amy puts together her vocal arrangements – her harmonies and things like that.
“And then just general writing. Frank comes up with an idea. He’ll usually send it to me, and I’ll write a bunch of stuff on it and send it back to him. Like the last show was mainly my show – and he puts his stamp.
“And then for rehearsals, generally I run the band side of it. However, when we’re blocking, everybody’s open to ideas. Everybody throws out ideas for sets and look. A lot of that is Frank’s eye. But he’s very good at allowing somebody else to take a look at it.”
The hybrid form of Let Me Be Frank Productions musical comedies often includes 11 performers – four in the band and eight singers, with Pat Hibbard doubling as musician/singer-actor… and preparing arrangements.
“I’ll take a look at the original version of a song. I’ve got a program on my computer that allows me to cut those because we try to keep things around three minutes when we do it. For oldies, that’s fine. Most of the ’60s and ’70s songs clock in around three minutes. But a lot of songs are eight minutes long. Whether we like them or not, we kind cut them down so the audience doesn’t get bored with them. A lot of them musician-wise we could play forever and entertain ourselves, but I think sometimes that gets lost on the audience.
“When I take a look at a song, I’ll look at this computer program that looks like a wave. You actually see the sound wave. Say I want to cut the intro in half, I can do that on this program. If the song has five verses, I can make it so we only do three verses and still put an ending on it. Or a lot of songs we’ll do a fade-out, and it’s my job to come up with an ending that goes on there. I do that kind of thing for arrangements.
“We don’t use sheet music on a lot of the stuff. We kind of make a road map, but that sheet music isn’t going to match the music I just did. Often, we have to change keys. So it’s a job to kind of go through and make sure all of that works.
“In the first couple of band rehearsals, we end up scribbling down a pile of notes. Then I go back and try to boil that down onto one or two sheets that you can see the band looking at when we’re actually doing the shows. Rather than trying to turn 10 pages of sheet music, I boil it down to two pages or one page if I’m lucky. But it actually reflects our arrangements.”
Songs in Let Me Be Frank Productions shows were popular before most of the troupe members were born, especially the array of singers.
“That’s one thing we kind of pride ourselves on, too. Everybody’s got so much talent and such a great personality, what we really want to do is when we go into those songs, we don’t want to do a kids bop version, we don’t want to do the boy band version of it.
“Frank and I have been to Branson – all these 20 year-old-singers come out and do all these oldies, but they sing them as if they were in a new boy band. We’re still trying to be faithful to the original version of songs.
“Yeah, we’ll color them up a little bit, but for the most part we want to try and cop that style in the band and in the singers. That puts a ton of work on them. They all have to woodshed to come in and do that stuff correctly. Everybody’s got their thing that they do. You know who our crooners are, you know who’s going to sing the rock songs – that kind of thing – but you still want to try and get pretty close to the original as you can.”
The singers in Let Me Be Frank Productions more than sing a song. They sing a song as a character created by Pat Hibbard, Frank Hermans and themselves.
“When a script is written, that’s where we’re trying to emulate a real person. Everybody’s kind of given free rein to run with it and do what they want.
“Because we’ve done so many shows, and it’s the same cast, you’ll start to see things in that person’s acting that come back, things that they do well. So when we write, we try to play to everybody’s strong suits and say, ‘This character will be great for Tom (Verbrick) because Tom does this well.’
“We have younger guys in the cast now, too, having Blake (Hermans) and my son Zack in there has been real cool. And Sarah Hibbard as a new cast member. We can see what they’re going to develop into.
“Sarah comes from a theater background, so you can pretty much throw anything at her and she can do it. Which is great. Blake and Zach both did theater in high school as well. Trying new ideas with those guys and trying to get them to understand the timing of live theater has been fun. That’s kind of where characters develop.
“In rehearsals, everybody’s kind of allowed to do anything or say anything with their character, and then Frank and I will kind of look at it and say, ‘Okay, that worked,’ ‘Don’t go that far,’ that kind of thing.”
Let Me Be Frank Productions puts on six multiple-week productions a year. When the season is announced, titles are named, but individual shows are not anywhere near being a finished product.
“Typically, the titles are from the mind of Frank. Frank will put down a whole pile of titles and then send them to a group of us to kind of look through and go, ‘That one’s cool.’ ‘This one maybe not – why don’t we change it to this?’ And then we kind of bounce around ideas for what we think that show could be.
“But generally, it’s just a title until somebody sits down and starts writing it, and that typically is writing a show as one is being performed. So right now we’re in rehearsals for ‘The Frankstones,’ and we’ll put together the music and the charts for ‘Sputnik Manitowoc’ (due to open Sept. 18), and that one is just an idea that I don’t think there’s much ink on paper for that show yet.
“So they’re basically just titles until months before we do them. And descriptions that we put out a year-and-a-half ahead of time sometimes don’t look like the show that you come and see.”
For the shows, is Pat Hibbard the story person or the word-play person or both?
“I like wordplay. I think I use too many words sometimes. I think it was (veteran entertainer) Dan Riley who might have said – and maybe it was something he had gotten from Rodney Dangerfield but very smart: ‘Look at a joke. Take out every word that doesn’t need to be there. That’s the joke.’
“Well, I’m probably guilty of going the other way. I add a ton of information where Frank wants to strip that down. Frank has the audience fill in a ton of blanks, where I like to fill in some of that information.
“So I think that’s why it (the teaming with Frank Hermans) really works, because we pull from different directions. We both do the funny, but I think my funny is wordier maybe. I don’t want to say more cerebral because it’s not. Just more words. (Chuckles).
“I’ll laugh at stuff that nobody in the cast ever laughs at wordplay-wise. I like things that are nuances that are clever and maybe only two people are going to get. I mean, I hope everybody gets it, but it doesn’t always work that way.
“Frank likes to hit ’em over the head. He’s The Three Stooges. I’m more Smothers Brothers.”
Let Me Be Frank Productions shows include the unexpected – ad libbing.
“That’s fun for us. That’s the beauty of doing it live. And kind of our brand.
“We don’t get taken very seriously by a lot of, in don’t know what phrase I’m looking for – legitimate theater people – because we’re really not. We’re trying to do something a little bit lighter.
“As a kid watching Carol Burnett, my favorite thing was when something would go wrong. Tim Conway would do something to crack somebody up or somebody would make a mistake. I think bringing the audience into that is kind our brand – the fact that the audience is part of it, and it is a different performance.
“And something could have happened outside, could have happened in the theater, could have happened on stage, and we have to roll with that. And some people really like that. I think legitimate theater people like it, but they don’t consider it legitimate theater. That’s fine. We’re just trying to entertain.”
Monday: The starting points of Pat Hibbard, a farm kid.