Making Phish’s "Meatstick" Dance
Much like myself, Marc Kimelman grew up a listening to Phish in his hometown of Toronto. After attending university for psychology and business Marc decided to move to New York to pursue his dreams of working in the Theatre. Marc has worked with artists such as Neil Young, Shakka Kahn, Katie Perry and, most recently, he was picked as the associate choreographer for Phish’s NYE “Meatstick” gag. Yesterday, Marc took time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions about how the idea for the gag started, the planning and rehearsal process, and what it’s like to be given the opportunity to work with the group.
How did you get involved with the band and when did they first approach you about working with them on the NYE gag?
About a month ago I got a call from a choreographer friend of mine who I’d met two years ago at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. I hadn’t heard from her in about a year and a half and randomly I get an e-mail asking if I wanted to work with her on a gig, but I wasn’t allowed to know what it was until I signed a confidentiality agreement because they wanted to keep everything hush-hush. I really wanted to work with her so I said yes to whatever it was. And then the producers called me and had me go to their office and signed all of these confidentiality waivers. Then I flipped to the next page where it said “Phish New Years Eve Madison Square Garden,” which I was trying to get a ticket for anyway. So it was pretty crazy.
Then we started working right away. I didn’t meet the band until a week before the show, we had worked with the dancers and just spoken to the band, but I hadn’t met them personally yet. They came in a week before and checked out what we had done, and we were off to the right start. Then we started seeing Trey every day and collaborating with him on the project.
Were you a fan when you first started working on the project? You mentioned you were already trying to score tickets. Were you familiar with the band’s NYE tradition?
Yeah, I had grown up on Phish and saw a bunch of shows in my high school and university days. I’m from Toronto and all my friends were big into Phish. I’ve probably seen a handful of show. I’m not a huge Phish fan but I definitely appreciate them. I’ve never been to a New Year’s show, and I live in New York now so I was trying to make it happen this year. Obviously I know what they do on New Year’s, and it’s the same production company that worked on their gig last year when they shot Fishman out of a cannonball. So yeah, it was just really exciting to not only being on a Phish show, but a New Year’s show.
What was the timeline like with the rehearsals and preparation? When did you first start working on it and how long did it take to come together?
It was between just me and the choreographer for a couple weeks in the studio just trying to figure out what the movement style should be. Obviously we didn’t want it to be so off the wall that no one was feeling it in the crowd. It had to go with the heavy groove that Phish gives us. It was tricky.
The first stuff that we came up with was just definitely wrong and then slowly but surely we got it right. And once we got it right, which took about a week and a half or two weeks, we cast the dancers. We knew we wanted it to feel like the stage was covered with dancers. We wanted it to look like there were 200 dancers onstage, but we really only had room for about 50. So once we broke it down to how many Rabbis we wanted, and how many mariachis we wanted and all that, then we started casting. And first I reached out to my friends, which was cool to be able to hire them for a Phish gig and be able to pay them. We got the dancers in just a week before the gig. The gig was on Friday and we rehearsed with them on Tuesday and Wednesday. We had our stuff really tight so when they came in on Tuesday we were ready to roll. Then the next day the band came in to see what we had done and they were just blown away. I’ve never seen people laugh so hard for so long. We thought they would come in and just watch it and leave but they hung out for almost two hours. They just wanted to see it time and time again. Then they called their wives to come and see it and they brought all their kids to come see it…they were just so stoked by what we had done. They were really excited.
Where did the idea for the whole dance routine come from and how much creative control were you allowed?
The idea originally came through Trey and the production company I work with called David Gallo Designs. David and Trey have a long history together and the idea came through them brainstorming. They knew they wanted it to be “Meatstick,” they knew they wanted to bring back the hotdog and take it out of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which was tricky. As soon as they took it out there were Phish fans who had noticed that and had started to rumor stuff on the web. So it was hard to keep things confidential. But I think we definitely pulled it off. So the idea originally came from Trey and David. [David] knows Trey the best so any time we had an idea, we would run it by him and he would either say yes or no to that. So we were definitely able to come up with ideas, but we allowed him the right to shut us down because he knows the band the best.
That’s interesting because Trey is actually working on a musical of his own right now. Is there any connection?
Yeah, I don’t know much about it but yeah I heard he’s doing that with this lyricist Amanda Green and I know our music arranger has some part in it as well. His music definitely lends itself to the stage and just seeing what we were able to do with five-part harmonies and stuff…I think it probably just motivated him more to put his stuff on the stage because it’s so theatrical.