Whether you know Frank as Elvis (or Cher), from Local 5 Live!, as a writer, Frankly Green Bay, as a comedian, on stage at the Meyer Theatre, the emcee during the CP Telethon, or even if you have no clue who this Frank-guy is, read on to learn more about Frank Hermans and Let Me Be Frank Productions. Their new show, Something Stinks in Kaukauna, opens April 6 and plays through the month of April at the Meyer Theatre.
Cameron: Have you always been a performer?
Frank: I was always the class clown. I liked making people laugh. I played the guitar because girls liked it. I never took it seriously enough to get better, though. I wish I would have. I was resting on my laurels all the time. There were always people around me who were really good, so I may have grabbed on to their coattails. I was comfortable and confident enough to still play in their league.
In your book, Simply Frank, you talk about Herman’s Confidence. What does that mean?
My mom would say I do some things but don’t realize I can fail at it. That’s how my brothers and I look at things. We’ve had so many different businesses throughout the years. We had a pretty successful fireworks stand. We were involved with a couple different bars and a banquet venture.
We opened Green Bay’s first comedy club.
That started because I was working at a bar in Columbia, MO hiring comedians. I decided to open my own place – there should be nothing to it. I moved back to Green Bay and that’s what we did. It was pretty successful too.
I wanted to start a dinner theatre. My buddy Joe Kiedinger goes, “Two of the worst businesses you can start are the restaurant business and a dinner theater…and you’re trying to do both.” So there’s always been that idea that we wouldn’t fail. I had the confidence that even though you don’t know everything, you could jump into it and learn along the way. That’s really what I did; I just knew it would happen. Now I have a beautiful company called Let Me Be Frank Productions.
The name Let Me Be Frank wasn’t my idea. But it really portrays what we are. Joe’s Garage. Frank’s Show. We’re theater for the non-theater-goer. What I mean is we’re not Shakespeare. We’re Saturday Night Live on steroids and with some music.
Despite the warning from Kiedinger, what pushed you through that and led you to succeed?
It was fun. I liked theater. When something meets, sometimes you just do it. Starting the dinner theater seemed to happen that way. My friends and I got together at just the right time with this idea and it worked. It just so happens we all like to have fun. We liked to sing and perform. We liked to have a few drinks while performing. The next thing you know people are making money. Should we keep doing this? Then one day somebody approaches you and asks if you’d like to be the House Troup for the Meyer Theatre in Downtown Green Bay. It’s like somebody gave me the key to the city.
You’re from Green Bay. You’ve moved all over, but this is home. In your book, you mention the cast is world class and could succeed in any market, but they stay here because here is home. What does it mean to you to have your name on something so successful in your home town?
It’s crazy. I forget sometimes how cool it really is. People remind me of that – my wife and kids. To me, I still think I gotta get a job. I wake up in the morning and see Kwik Trip is hiring, ya know. It’s still not real to me.
We’ve sold 300,000 tickets in the last 19 years. Our 20th season is coming up. It still isn’t real. I’m 53 years old and still think I’m living in a dream. The really cool thing is going to the grocery store, people say “Hey Frank! How’s the next show coming?” Or they’ll talk about the cast. Some people find that annoying. I NEVER EVER find it annoying. That tells me I’m succeeding. These people are coming to see the show. Yeaaa… it’s not real. I’m living a dream. I really am.
Green Bay is a close-knit community with the performers. We all know each other. In fact, we sometimes perform together. I host the CP Telethon. If you watched it this year, it was all pretty much local entertainment. Those are guys and girls I’ve performed with since college, or just met, or who have auditioned for me. It’s like a big tree that keeps growing.
In the early days, you made sure your cast all got paid. But sometimes you didn’t. What was the philosophy there?
I did a big show called Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat in 1994 – a show I wanted to do my whole life. I hadn’t done theater since college. I was in the business world now, running bars, restaurants, hotels. I was in the ownership game. But I wanted to get back into performing. I saw there was going to be a local show of Joseph. I had gone to see Donnie Osmond play Joseph in Chicago – LOVED IT! I had wanted the role of Joseph. I was too big and too fat, so I got the role of oldest brother, Reuben. It was a big role!
*breaks into song*
We worked for 8 weeks, like 6 hours a night. All we got was applause, which is awesome! I personally was making good money in my day job, but many of the cast were college students. And nobody got paid. I know what they’re bringing in. I know what ticket sales are going for. I can count how many people are in the audience. I know you gotta pay royalties and other things. A lot of people are getting paid, but you know who’s not? The actors.
The first thing when we decided to do this, I didn’t care about anything else, we took a certain percentage from every ticket sold and split it between every actor. My first show in 2000, The Temp, every single person made $374. I’ll never forget that number. I now have 12 cast members who make this their full-time job, That’s crazy!
You’ve said your goal is to hire actors who are better than you. How do you find the right people who fit your dynamic and what you’re looking for in an actor?
My now wife is one of the best singers I’ve ever met – vocally amazing. Her knowledge of music. I got her on the cast, but then she left for like 5 years. She finally came back. I knew I needed to keep her around, so I married her! I’m kidding…but whatever it takes!
I have really good ears and eyes for talent. But it might not be the right thing musically. I like funny people. Gregarious people. Confident people. If they’re confident, they can bring that on stage. So when I audition people, I always bring my wife along to notice things I don’t. I also bring my partner, Pat, who is a musician.
I’m what’s called a hack. I play guitar half-ok. I sing half-ok. I’m kinda funny. But I’m pretty good in front of an audience. That’s what I got going for me. All these other folks have the expertise. Many of the cast are graduates of St. Norbert College or UW-Green Bay with musical or theater degrees, or have had professional vocal training. They’ve done the hard work to get there.
Yes it’s my name on the show. But I try not to put my face on everything. I want everyone else to have the same kind of presence – in the media, on stage. It’s really easy for this to be an ego-fest. Really easy. I learned a long time ago that it’s not. I don’t need that anymore.
How do you come up with show ideas and what’s your writing process?
It’s actually a whole bunch of different things. I get phone calls and emails, “Hey Frank, did you ever think about doing a show about…the earthquake in New London?” “Frank, you should do a show about….” whatever. I don’t know how many times I’ve use ideas like that. And then Americana big time. I love 70s and 80s TV shows, hence we do a lot of spoofs from that. We also like to rely on local history. I swear I think I’ve got story titles until 2025. People email me at least once a week. It’s pretty cool. My cast will bring ideas. I just write them down and if it’ll work we’ll run with it. Writing is what I like to do. The performing is fun, but that’s what I’ve got everybody else here for.
Do you have any advice for young people who may have reservations about performing or being in the spotlight? How do they break through that?
The big thing is do it as much as possible. You have to get comfortable. It sucks at first. Remember your first oral report in school. You’re so nervous. But the more you do it, the better you get. Even if you suck at first, eventually you’ll get better and more comfortable. Confidence will carry you. If you have motivation to do something, you’ll do it even if you’re scared. If you’re scared, that’s good. Do something out of your norm.
My son has Asperger’s. Doing anything out of his norm is really hard. That’s something we practice. I tell him we’re going to play tennis today or let’s go outside and play. Sometimes it’s a fight. But if he’s motivated, he can do it.
Before we talk about your upcoming show, I’m going back to confidence and need to bring this up. I was looking at all of your previous show posters you have hanging in your office. You really like to show off your thighs.
*laughing* I do! You know, it’s all about the comedy. I’m blessed with this Johnny Bravo frame… really skinny legs and a huge upper body. I gotta accent that. What’s funnier than a pair of 1965 basketball shorts or a gold lamé speedo?! I’m all about it. I’ve never been afraid of that. Exhibition is not something I seek out, but if it sells tickets and gets a laugh… for the sake of comedy…
Alright, now tell us about your upcoming show.
Our brand new show is called Something Stinks in Kaukauna. I’ve always wanted to write a show about Kaukauna and the stink. There’s that plume as you go past Kaukauna….WHAT’S THAT?! We all know what it is. (It comes from the paper mills)
But what if there was a caper about it? What better caper than a 1960s and 1970s Scooby Doo. So we took the cast of Scooby Doo, now a guy named Scooby Dude and we bring them to the Grignon Mansion. The Grignon Mansion was the first deeded house in Wisconsin. It was built in 1837 by Charles Grignon. And this is all true. The house is sitting along the Fox River with property all around it. In the 1960s it was sold to the Outagamie Historical Society and turned into a museum. The last Grignon was selling the land because the family fortune was disappearing. In the show, there’s a mystery about what stinks in Kaukauna. Scooby Dude and his crew solve the mystery. All the music is from the 60s and 70s. It’s fun and light hearted. Rated PG to PG-13 – there are some adult situations.
We’re actually selling Scooby Snacks. Great Harvest Bread Company is making them for us!
Head out to the Meyer Theatre to get some Scooby Snacks and find out what stinks in Kaukauna.