vocalosity: the aca-perfect concert experience

Andrew Kruse-Ross

andrew kruse-ross | vocalosity | jan. 2016

Many performers dream of making it in the big city, Chesney Snow was able to do just that. The New York based performer will return to Wisconsin, where he honed his theatrical skills and take the stage as a member of Vocalosity when the troupe visits the Weidner Center on January 22.

Wisconsin Education

“It's a lifelong push," says Snow of a career on the stage, but the actor, musician and beatboxer has made a home for himself in the hustle and bustle of the big city, quite removed from the slow pace of southwest Wisconsin. Snow says he was a freshman in high school when he and his mother moved to Platteville, where his mother — essentially homeless — sought assistance from a local women's shelter.

Soon after, as a sophomore, Snow would attend a Shakespeare festival in Spring Green, Wis., and a performance of “As You Like It." The field trip would change his life forever. “I became mesmerized," he says of the experience.

With his sights set firmly on a life in the theatre, he enrolled in the diminutive Edgewood College in Madison, but Snow recounts his education there as pivotal to his success as a professional performer. “I know [Edgewood] can be looked over, as it's just a small school, but I think the experience that I got there really informed what I've been able to accomplish as a professional theatre artist."

He states that while many larger schools might require up to two years of lecture before allowing students the opportunity to step on stage and focus primarily on a singular discipline around the stage, his curriculum at Edgewood had him thrust upon the stage and learning its many roles from the onset. “I loved Edgewood. Edgewood didn't just put you on the stage; Edgewood put you in the booth, it put you in lighting design. It gave you this holistic experience where you could do every job in the theatre … and that helped me, professionally, beyond measure.

“You want me to hang lights? I can do that. You want me to run the soundboard? I can do that."

Snow is no stranger to the difficulties of his career path. Many performers that he's worked with over the years — some graduates from more prestigious schools — have dropped from the business entirely. He prides himself on the road he's traveled and believes others can do similarly.

“If you're a kid living in a small town in Wisconsin like I was, you can pretty much achieve anything you set your heart on. Everyone has fear; we all do. But you put one foot in front of the other and you can make dreams come true."

Off- and On-Broadway and Overseas

Like so many other performers that want to make it big, Snow left for New York, stepping on a bus with a thousand dollars in his pocket. After staying with friends for a few days, he moved into his first New York apartment. Serendipitously, his landlord turned out to be storied character actor, Richard Bright, known mostly for his role as Al Neri in the three Godfather films. “He rented me this apartment and then he became my mentor. He got me a lot of my first auditions here," says Snow. “It was a crazy ride."

Just as Snow was beginning to make a name for himself, landing his first gigs, Bright was killed, hit by a bus in Manhattan's Upper West Side. He was 68 years old.

Snow had landed some gigs, but was still a small fish in a large pond. Like many before him, Snow realized that his talents, which may have singled him out in small town Wisconsin, weren't so unique in New York. “Once in New York, I realized there were 7 million other trained classical actors living in the city."

To stand out, Snow needed something different. Around that time an old friend from Wisconsin came out to visit Snow in New York. With him were cassette tapes the two had recorded during Snow's time in Platteville where Snow would beatbox in local garage bands. “I listened to those tapes and said, 'Man, I sounded really good beatboxing there.'"

Impressed with the tapes, Snow began studying the form in earnest and incorporating it into his performances. It wouldn't take long for people to take note of his abilities.

In 2005, another artist caught one of Snow's performances in Brooklyn and invited him to come back to Europe to perform. That encounter would lead Snow to make a guest appearance on Polish singer-songwriter Kayah's MTV Unplugged album that would reach No. 4 on the Polish charts. This would lead to other opportunities overseas and considerable success in Poland — a country that has become like a second home to Snow.

Snow's beatboxing prowess would also serve him in landing the roll of Boxman in the Off-Broadway production of “In Transit," which received more award nominations than any other Off-Broadway musical of the 2010-2011 season. Such was its popularity that an On-Broadway run of “In Transit" is in the works and Snow is slated to return to work on that production as well. It was during this time, while “In Transit" was being reworked to meet the demands of Broadway, that Snow first met Deke Sharon, the man considered the father of contemporary a cappella and the creative force behind Vocalosity.

Vocalosity … The Aca-Perfect Concert Experience

Deke Sharon is a giant in the a cappella community. He began performing professionally at the age of 8 and has shared the stage with a diverse group of performers, from Pavarotti to Run DMC. He is the producer behind the unscripted television hit “Sing-Off," and lent his talents to Universal Studios' “Pitch Perfect" and its sequel, serving as arranger, music director and vocal producer for the films.

Vocalosity is an accumulation of everything Sharon has learned in his 20 years in the business and takes a cappella to heights previously unimagined. Vocalosity features 12 dynamic voices performing songs ranging from 10th century Gregorian chant to contemporary pop favorites, barber shop to The Beatles, all without instrumentation other than the human voice.

“One of the things that Deke has done is not only making a cappella cool, but he's really given a cappella purpose again," says Snow who will be lending his vocal percussion skills to the outfit, when they visit the Weidner Center on Jan. 22.

Snow describes the show as high-energy, made so in no small part to the choreography work of Sean Curran, an original cast member of “Stomp." For Snow, the concert is a near-spiritual experience, one that connects the performers not only with one another, but with the audience through the power of voice and vibration.

“It's more than just putting on a show. We want people to believe in it. Sometimes people see music as being something that is really disposable, but I think what we find with this show the goal is to get people to understand just how connected they are with the power of music and what it means to be human."

To see Snow perform solo is to have one's head on a swivel searching for the instruments that must be accompanying him — in fact, there are none. He's able to weave numerous beats and sounds seamlessly together in time using only his voice and vibration to create song. His abilities are a microcosm of the Vocalosity experience, as Snow is just one of 12 talented performers (six male, six female) tackling songs of all genres. Nothing is off limits to the Vocalosity team. “The performers that are coming are amazing. I've had the chance to work with a lot of performers and a cappella takes something a little extra … It's really what we're going for. In an age where everything is digital, it's a chance to be inspired by what the human voice is capable of.

“I really hope people will come out and take in this show as it really is something special as a whole. It gets people back in touch with the power of the human voice."

For tickets visit weidnercenter.com and ticketstaronline.com or by call 800-895-0071.

More information is available at vocalosityontour.com, and look for Vocalosity on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube.

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