Way back in the "before" times, two months ago, Mikey “the Rad Scientist” Gervais worked as a performer and educator at schools, libraries and other places kids gather, performing songs on subjects such as tide-pooling, gravity and the adventures of a water molecule named Carlos.
But when coronavirus closed the schools, he and singer-songwriter Kaylee Cole decided to do a show from their apartment in the Roosevelt neighborhood. They do the Mikey the Rad Scientist show every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, full of science experiments, songs and videos.
“We just figured that a lot of people were at home needing something for their kids to do,” Mikey says.
Their first attempt was “a complete failure,” Mikey says. “It turned out we don’t know how to do a live show. All of the rest of them we’ve done pretty well.”
More or less.
“We had two and a half minutes of silence one time, which was not intentional.”
But audiences have been patient with the technical challenges, and response to the show has been warm. Mikey and Kaylee finished Episode 26 on May 13.
Typically between 300 and 1,000 households tune in – a lot more than you would expect at a library show. As parents come in, they identify their kids in the comments. Then Kaylee sings the “Rockin’ Roll Call” – with all the kids’ names – accompanied by Mikey on guitar. Due to the wicked ways of Facebook algorithms, they sometimes miss some names.
“We ended up at the end of the show doing a 'Grateful Goodbye' where we get the names we missed,” Mikey says.
Along with tracking kids’ names and improvising songs, Kaylee and Mikey also perform, cue videos, change backgrounds, adjust the camera and do whatever else needs doing. At times they talk to their imaginary crew, but it’s just the two of them quarantined in a room.
“We ended up doing lights and sound and animation and all this stuff,” Mikey says. “I never thought I’d be this busy. I’ve been kind of working harder than I ever have before.”
Not that they don’t have help. Tuesday shows are request shows, and kids send in drawings to go with their requests. The drawings become backgrounds. The show also uses videos kids send in.
There are regular contributors, such as Dr. Hexaflexagram (age: 13, talents: numerous), who makes videos for the show. Lynn Brunelle, whose TV credits include "Bill Nye the Science Guy," also contributes videos. Mikey’s Dad, Lee Gervais, drew their frequently used backgrounds. Mikey and Kaylee’s landlady, Jane Yorke, contributed a song about hand-washing. Mikey’s brother and sister-in-law, Matty Gervais and Charity Rose Theilen, members of the Head of the Heart, contributed a special performance of the Head and the Heart song “Honeybee.” Stelth Ulvang, of the Lumineers, made a guest appearance with his wife, Dorota Szuta, a marine biologist. Another guest: Julia DeMarines, an astrobiologist who works at the UC Berkeley SETI research center.
“She came on and talked about SETI and how far away the moon is,” Mikey says.
Learning to perform alone in a room was a big change from engaging with rooms of wiggly kids, Mikey says. Those wiggly kids gave him a lot of energy and ideas. For example: his song “Flamingo.”
“I wrote that at a preschool because some kid was like: ‘Do you know any songs about flamingos?’ and I was like: “Uh …” Mikey says.
It took a while to learn how to look at the camera and how to sustain the feeling of talking to people. But now they enjoy the kids’ comments and drawings and other means of participating, such as the show in which a kid leaned contributed a stack of frowny-face emojis.
“They get a kick out of knowing that it’s live and they can write stuff,” Mikey says. “I really can’t wait to see some of these kids in real life.”
And there have been plenty more ideas, such a punk-rock number about simple machines, and “The Garbage Monster,” sung from the point of view of a purple, trash-craving character bemoaning the growth of recycling and composting.
“We’ll have a record by the time this is all though of the new stuff,” Mikey says.
More online fun: