First Time Showtime

June 1, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — A 37-year-old machine operator and catering employee has been bitten by the show-business bug, and his first production will debut in a few weeks on the DeVos Performance Hall stage.

Marvin Franklin, a Grand Rapids native and burgeoning entrepreneur, is CEO of 4 Real Mass Entertainment, a fledgling production and promotion firm. The curtain will go up on his very first endeavor, which he calls the Comedy Explosion, on Saturday, June 23, at 8 p.m.

Franklin has booked four funnymen for the explosion. Lavell Crawford and Dirty South headline the show, while Shawty Shawty and Shawn Morgan are the rising newcomers. All four focus on urban humor, and Shawty sings and dances.

“It’s pretty much been in my blood,” said Franklin on why he became a promoter. “I’ve had a desire to entertain people by putting on good shows.”

For his first professional endeavor, Franklin picked comedy over music. Why?

“Well, laughter is love,” he said. “I think that with everything that is going on in this world right now, we need some laughter.”

And Franklin knows about needing some laughter because he is familiar with tragedy. He has dedicated the Comedy Explosion to the memory of his mother, Evelynia Hill, who was brutally stabbed to death in her southeast home on a Sunday morning in February. The alleged attacker, a relative of Hill, has been arrested and is awaiting trial.

“She knew that I had a desire to entertain. I just know that my mother is looking down on this project and supporting me 110 percent,” he said.

SMG Marketing Director Lynne Ike, who works closely with promoters who book shows in the performance hall and Van Andel Arena, said Franklin had more knowledge about the industry than any other first-timer she has met.

“A lot of people don’t understand when they endeavor to produce a show how much work is involved. It’s not just renting a building and putting actors on a stage. He understood all of the steps in getting things taken care of, like making sure the advertising is appropriate. He is a member of the Grand Rapids community, so he knew the different areas that would be workable for him,” said Ike, who is helping Franklin with the PR work.

“He knows what he needs to accomplish. He has everything laid out in a timely manner, so we don’t have to have a stage manager to help him. He actually knows how to get the job accomplished,” she added.

Franklin said he gained insight into the industry from work he did for Behind the Scenes, a catering firm that organizes parties for corporations and entertainment businesses.

“I had been on the road with them for maybe seven years and was responsible for setting up the artists’ dressing rooms and being an assistant to the artists,” he said.

“I did my research while I was out on the road. And I said, ‘One day when God blesses me, I want to be a promoter and be one in the city of Grand Rapids.’ It just was about learning, watching and listening.”

The Comedy Explosion is another event in the ongoing Diversity Series that the Convention and Arena Authority ordered up last year. The effort, led by CAA Chairman Steven Heacock and past vice chairman and current board member Clif Charles, pledges to book more shows in both buildings that appeal to minority races. The most recent performance in that series had legendary blues guitarist B.B. King playing before a nearly sold-out audience.

“That was a fabulous concert, and the audience was very diverse. We’re continuing to work on diverse programming, and we continue to be successful,” said Lew Chamberlin, CAA board member.

Ike said the audience’s reception for King was so strong that he has promised to return.

Tickets to the Comedy Explosion are on sale. Prices range from $27 to $42 for the VIP package, and tickets are available at the performance hall, the arena, D&W Food Stores, and through TicketMaster.

Franklin doesn’t see his first show as becoming his one-and-only. He said he wants to produce a show every few months, and he has his sights set on playing a specific venue.

“My ultimate goal one day is to have entertainment at Fifth Third Ballpark. In the near future, I’ll be looking for sponsors,” he said.

“4 Real Entertainment is going to be a variety of entertainment, so it’ll be music, comedy, gospel and gospel plays.”    

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