After his calendar was suddenly cleared of performances for children and seniors in March due to the escalating COVID-19 pandemic, 69-year-old musical ventriloquist Kevin Driscoll of Framingham made up his mind to give back through free virtual events.
With assistance from his creative producer and son, 37-year-old Lance Driscoll of Lowell, Kevin Driscoll initially began offering singing birthday telegrams for ages 2 to 12, as well as for seniors in New England-based assisted living facilities and nursing homes.
Encouraged by the heartwarming response to his first foray into Facebook Live — which connected a 10-year-old birthday girl with her grandmother in Haiti on March 24 — Driscoll began hosting Wacky Wednesday events (www.facebook.com/DriscollProductions) at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. beginning April 1.
What could go wrong? To hear Kevin Driscoll tell the story, just about everything.
“My iPhone holder broke at the start of the performance. My PowerPoint slides appeared backwards and unreadable on Facebook Live,” lamented Driscoll, a former Internet startup general manager with a master’s degree in education who reinvented himself as a children’s entertainer following a stress-induced medical episode in 2017.
"I learned that I can’t rely on my past experience as an entertainer for live audiences. Performing virtually is way different,” he added. “Like when I started out doing free, open mic stand-up comedy clubs with my puppet, Jerry, in 2012, I was terrible. So, it can only get better from here.”
The Driscoll team has since found its groove. During the afternoon session of “Drumming With Dummies” on April 21, for example, Kevin Driscoll opened the half-hour show geared toward ages 2 to 10 by introducing a variety of percussion instruments and encouraging at-home participants to improvise their own by hitting spoons against an empty water bottle or overturned pan.
With help from dummies Jerry (wearing a face mask), Mickey the Monkey, and Shep the Sheepdog, Driscoll reminded children to wash their hands and cough into their elbows. He then taught the finer points of drawing a puppet with Willie the Red Nosed Whiteboard, oversaw the duet “No Bully Zone” with Jerry and Doug the Talking Dog, and comforted his young audience members during this uncertain time.
“Even though there are a lot of things that are pretty scary right now, it still is a wonderful world,” reassured Driscoll, readying Doug to sing a rendition of Louis Armstrong’s signature song, “It’s a Wonderful World.” “Nothing lasts forever, so the pandemic won’t be with us forever. People will eventually find and develop a vaccine, just like the flu. And we’ll be able to go back outside.”
Although performing without hearing laughter was initially unnerving, Kevin Driscoll said he is enjoying the opportunity to learn new skills and put into practice what he so often preaches to youngsters: Try your best, and don’t fear mistakes.
Lance Driscoll, who is also an actor and stand-up comedian, manages the Driscoll Productions fan page on Facebook, creates graphics and short YouTube videos, and oversees the creative and technical aspects of virtual events held via Facebook Live, FaceTime, Google Duo, and Zoom.
He says his most important role, however, has been as his father’s lifelong fan.
“In all the time we’ve worked together, we’ve never had a moment of contention. I’m proud of that fact,” he said. “We’ve always approached everything with the same dark but mirthful and joyous sense of humor, which has gotten us through any theatrical or technical challenges — and life itself.”
For more information, call 617-901-6232 or visit driscollproductions.com.
Cindy Cantrell may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.