One man, many props and a lifetime of music.
For more than four decades, Manitoba-based children’s performer Al Simmons has honed his eclectic, family-friendly mix of music, comedy, antics and Simmons’ own zany inventions.
“It’s music-based comedy and the whole show is, a lot of times, based around my crazy inventions, either musical instruments or a mechanical horse, or an animated fish,” he said. “There’s just so many different elements.”
Simmons will be bringing his one-of-a-kind performance to Okotoks to the Rotary Performing Arts Centre for two shows Oct. 15 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Simmons has been performing across Canada and internationally for 46 years. He has performed on TV and on stages around the world and has recorded three albums, one of which earned him a Juno Award.
Simmons’ busy performance schedule takes him from outdoor festivals, to small intimate venues like the RPAC, to theatres with a full symphony orchestra. His work has earned him numerous accolades over the years, including membership in the Order of Manitoba and the Winnipeg Symphony’s Golden Baton Award.
Simmons started out as a prop comic and singer in a rock band in the 1970s. Over the years, he meshed both together to create his unique act. Simmons said he likes to create zany gadgets in his shop at home, sometimes just as a creative outlet and sometimes to match a song he wrote. This weekend, he will bring a homemade brass instrument based on a baritone horn.
“It’s like a miniature tuba, to which I soldered bells on the valves from three trumpets,” said Simmons. “It’s three trumpets and a baritone horn and numerous bells and whistles and they’re all attached to the same mouthpiece.”
It isn’t always music coming out of the instrument, it’s rigged to have balloons, flowers, a flag or anything else he wants to pop out of it.
When Simmons is on stage with a full orchestra, his performances range from explanations of how different instruments work, to showing off his on unique creations and a full symphonic performance.
“My music is scored for the symphony, so when I play with them they’ll back me up on the tunes, where as when I’m in Okotoks I’ll either back myself up on guitar or banjo or the crazy horn, or I’ll have tracks backing me up,” said Simmons.
Through his years of performing in venues of all sizes, he likes smaller locations best.
“It is more intimate than it is in a bigger place,” said Simmons. “I always feel that my show. I feel that if you’re in the back row of a big concert hall you’re not getting the full impact of a show.”
Simmons is a self-taught musician and doesn’t have any formal musical training.
He said his musical experience started by singing in the shower and he eventually went on to form a rock band. It was a challenge to keep up with the “real” musicians in the group, he said. Simmons found his place when he started doing comedy.
As a youth, he admitted, he thought a person had to be born with a talent for music.
“I know friends who could practice and practice and practice, but if I sat at the piano I was hopeless,” he said.
Now musically fearless, Simmons said he is willing to try anything.
He said he can play any musical instrument, though he may not always do so well at it.
It’s a message Simmons hopes his audience takes away from his show, no matter what their age is.
“That’s the point of my show is to show kids and people of all ages that you don’t have to be frightened of it,” he said. “You can make music with anything. You don’t need to even buy a guitar, you can play homemade stuff and make semi-quality music. If you do get a musical instrument, just try it.”
It all helps him stay young at heart.
“I would say I’m a kid at heart, plus I would say that I just love kids,” he said. “I love watching their reaction to my show,” he said. “I love hearing people laugh, that’s the best thing.”
Doors open 30 minutes before showtime and tickets are $18 for adults and $9 for children.
Al SimmonsVeteran children' s performer Al Simmons brings his zany family friendly show to Okotoks.Where: Rotary Performing Arts Centre.When: Oct. 15 11 a.m.; 2 p.m. Doors open 30 minutes before show.Tickets: $18 for adults, $9 for children