HomeBlogsDisneyMC's blogHow Toxic Audio Took Their Show To The Las Vegas Strip

DisneyMC's picture

Is it surreal to walk back to my room after shows amid the flashing lights of the slot machines and victory yells at the craps tables? Of course. But its actually the most appropriate setting for Toxic Audio to find itself. Because in this city of bright lights and big wagers, the group is constantly reminded that its the gambles weve taken in ourselves that have brought us to this point.

In 1998, I was working as an actor at the Walt Disney World Resort. I had ambitions as a theatrical director. I had found a mentor in Gene Columbus. Gene was in charge of all of the show directors at Disney and in him I had found an open ear to listen to my goals and ideas. I told him about the musicals I had been directing at the local community theatres. All of them shows that had been originally produced on Broadway with much bigger budgets and much longer runs. He asked me a big question:

Have you ever directed an original piece?

Of course not! An original piece would mean coming up with an original idea. An original concept. Untested. Untried. Not approved by a New York audience. If a reviewer doesnt like my production of Fiddler On The Roof I can always find a little comfort in thinking, Hey, I didnt write the thing!

But he was right. So I turned to something I had a familiarity with. A cappella. I began researching the a cappella scene and trying to figure out a unique spin on it. I was inspired by shows like Stomp,Blue Man Group and Cirque du Soleil. All shows that had taken art forms that have been around for centuries and making them fresh and new for a contemporary audience. I also found a presentation avenue in the form of the Orlando Fringe Festival. Like all Fringe Festivals around the globe, The Orlando Fringe is a starting point for many new works and original performance pieces. It offers a safe and nurturing environment to create and market unique and original theatrical concepts. Many of New Yorks biggest hits have come from festivals like this. The worldwide smash sensation Stomp and the Tony Award-winning musical Urinetown are probably the biggest success stories of the Fringe circuit.

I anted up money for charts, advertising materials, a sound system, and props for this one hour presentation. We were scheduled for seven performance spots during the two week run of the Fringe. I was risking my money to be sure. But my confidence and beliefs in my ideas were also at stake.

The reviews, word-of-mouth and the incredible talents of the cast members in the show generated lines around the theatre for the show called Toxic Audio The gamble paid off. We were winners. It began a series of gambles that led to even bigger and better winnings.

We paid for plane tickets to perform at an afternoon showcase at the 1999 West Coast A Cappella Summit in San Rafael, CA. Despite being virtual unknowns on the scene, it won us an amazing amount of buzz in the a cappella community and led to meeting our first album producer, Richard Bob Green.

We decided to self-finance our first CD, which gave us an immediate calling card and promotional tool to hand to prospective bookers (In all fairness that wager was made by my parents who are still collecting on the win today).

We made the call to leave the safe, steady paycheck of a Walt Disney World Resort booking to pursue the bigger financial lure of corporate work. That work brought us the income we needed to continue to work on our theatrical performance piece.

After six years of honing the material in the show, we decided to stop waiting for a producer to discover us and invested some of our capital (actually ALL of it) on renting a theatre space, sound system, advertising spots and production elements to produce our own showcase in New York City. We ran the show for two weeks and invited every producing entity in the city to come and see the show that our audiences had been forever telling us should be on Broadway! (It was better than Cats, was an actual quote overheard in our lobby. No lie.) The bet ended up being a SURE FIRE bet. We found our producer, and ended up running for almost a year off-Broadway, winning the Drama Desk (award) and hearing the New York Times call us SURE FIRE!

This summer we were booked to perform for a corporate event at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas. We figured while we were out here, why not arrange another showcase show in an available showroom to see how Vegas audiences responded. How did it go? Well, here is one of the cabs waiting to pick up visitors on their arrival to Vegas last week! [click image for larger version]


And the marquee we discovered upon our arrival! [click image for larger version]


We havent won EVERY bet weve made on ourselves. Not by a long shot. Weve paid for advertising materials that havent worked. Weve purchased costumes that were only worn once and never again. Weve invested in some disappointing recording sessions. Last night at the Luxor Craps table, I lost the $40 I had won just the night before.

And like in Vegas, luck has played a big part in our successes and failures. And its not about how much money or time was wagered. Just like the tables in Vegas, weve had some small wins with big bets and some big wins with small bets. But like the song says


Believe methe winnings are sweet.

Rene Ruiz is one of the founding members of Toxic Audio. Contact him at rene@toxicaudio.com