A seemingly absurd encounter with a theme park over two decades ago changed the trajectory of Chase Padgett’s career.
The actor-singer-musician, then a high school senior in Florida, was visiting Universal Studios Theme Park when he was sprayed with water by a “mystical talking fountain.” The fountain asked the teen what he wanted to do when he grew up. Padgett said he planned to move to Chicago and study improv with The Second City comedy troupe.
“The fountain said, ‘Cool, don’t do that,’ Padgett recalled. “‘You have to go to a place here in Orlando called the SAK Comedy Lab.'”
It was a nerve-wracking conversation, but Padgett followed the instructions.
“That conversation with that talking fountain ended up changing my whole life,” he said.
The voice behind the theme park installation turned out to be that of Jay Hopkins, Padgett’s future improv coach at the SAK Comedy Lab in Orlando, who has been the voice of the fountain character for some 20 years.
In the decade following their serendipitous theme park reunion in 2000, the couple developed a friendship and artistic partnership that has resulted in numerous collaborations, perhaps no more popular than “6 Guitars,” their one-man, tour-de-force show with Padgett in the starring role, which premiered in 2010 and has since criss-crossed North America, performing to tens of thousands of theatergoers.
It returns to Toronto’s CAA Theater this week for the first time since 2018, after its previous engagement was canceled in March 2020 due to the pandemic.
“I’ve wanted to do this particular series of shows in Toronto for years,” Padgett said. “To be back here feels like the beginning of a return to normal.”
In “6 Guitars”, Padgett plays six different guitarists, each with a different musical background: blues, jazz, rock, classical, folk and country. The two-hour show weaves together music, comedy and improv into a story that follows the six characters and their relationship with guitar music.
“It’s an exploration of music, especially different styles of music, and how everyone thinks they’re so different, but there’s something in all these different styles that brings us all together,” said Hopkins, the show’s director. and co-writer.
The show’s development process, which began in 2007 just after Padgett graduated, is based on improv theater. While most playwrights start with a sketch and type their scripts on a computer, Padgett and Hopkins conducted mock interviews.
Padgett embodied each of the six characters and improvised answers to Hopkins’ questions about their lives and musical careers. The pair recorded those mock interviews and used the transcripts to create storylines that eventually formed “6 Guitars.”
“It was so much fun just spontaneously creating the show like that through improvisation and recording it on video so as not to make (those moments) go away,” said Hopkins.
Although Padgett is about to celebrate 700 performances of “6 Guitars” over a decade (excluding a two-year pandemic hiatus), the piece remains a work in progress. He expanded the piece from one act to two and added additional numbers. In July, he added a backing band for the first time in production history.
“It’s an iterative process,” Padgett says. “I know what it’s like to do a show that’s done. It will be a museum piece.
“For me, I want this to keep growing as I keep growing.”
Padgett draws on his previous experience as a theme park entertainer to keep “6 Guitars” fresh. (The 39-year-old artist admitted that Florida theme parks played a surprisingly large role in his development as an artist.)
While a music student at the University of Central Florida, Padgett recorded performances at Disney World and Universal Studios.
“It was such valuable entertainer training,” he said. “You really learn the skill of entertaining an audience and holding their attention when you do it seven times a day, five days a week, for years.”
But Padgett attributes the show’s unbridled success largely to its core message, which has gone untouched since production began.
“The main strength is universality,” he said. “It touches the beauty and kind of secret divinity, folded into every song and every melody.”
JOIN THE CALL