Friday, October 24, 2008
Last night I was in one of the first uninformed groups to pass through the haunted house set up by Scare for A Cure at the Elk’s Lodge near the downtown arts venues.
The premise is that the Dunstan Interactive Corporation, flush with its success in video games, has recruited you as a “beta tester.” Their new product is a step forward - - instead of sitting glassy eyed at a monitor with a keyboard or joystick, you put on a metal hood that scans your brain waves and inserts you directly into the game world, armed with the identity and weapons of choice.
Our mixed crew was invited for dress rehearsal evening, so in effect we were the beta testers for the “beta testers.”
We were impressed by the clever scenario and the imagination of the settings and costumes. More than once, we were spooked, surprised, ambushed, amused and haunted. Coordinators told us that the experience has 26 stages. There were costumed characters and zanies galore.
Audience members acting as “beta testers” sign formal releases of liability that are pretty scary in themselves (what’s this about “you may be subjected to flying insects”???). Organizers call them forward in groups of six at five-minute intervals. On the stairs at the south parking lot, the staff go over the rules before bringing participants to the Dunstan corporation front office, delivering them to their testing tasks.
[[The voice of conscience intervenes in the review at this point: Time out! Time out! What’s this about reviewing a Halloween haunted house? Isn’t this space called “Austin Live Theatre”?
- - Yes, exactly. Read the title block. It says, “This is a voyage to discover the underreported Austin theatre scene.”
But a haunted house? Give me a break. Next thing we know, you’ll be writing about the bats flying out of the South Congress Street bridge.
- - No, the bat flights are a spectacle. They’re not theatre. And besides, I think they’ve gone to Mexico for the winter.
But a Halloween scary house! You might as well drop your standards entirely and start hanging out on 6th Street or nosing up to arts sponsors, like the rest of the blogs!
- - Here’s what I do: I go looking for actors who are offering narrative and character to an audience. People who make believe. Most music acts in this town are not in that business, although the White Ghost Shivers come close. If a Central Texas actor or singer or company creates a world for an audience, I’ll go see the performance and write about it. That includes puppet presentations, children’s theatre, community theatre, and some special projects. Like this one – Scare for A Cure’s World of Horrorcraft.
- - Depends on the show. Unbeaten by Shannon McCormick at the Salvage Vanguard sounds promising. Eddie Izzard back in May was fantastic. But for the most part, I don’t do improv. Oops, that’s poorly expressed. I mean, I don’t seek out improv acts to attend, unless the promise is that there’ll be narrative and character. That Trekkie thing at the Hideout sounds like a possible.
How about The Casket of Passing Fancy, where each member of an audience of thirty is granted an experience by the Duchess?
- - Sounds to me as if the evening begins well but ends badly. Read the reports (they’re not reviews) by Barry Pineo and SaraMarie. I’m not looking for an individualized experience, the equivalent of a lap dance. For me, the essence of theatre is the complicity between the actor and the group of spectators – the roar of the greasepaint and smell of the crowd, as Anthony Newley used to say.
And this World of Horrorcraft meets that standard?
- - Sure does. May I continue, now?
Conscience settles down in a corner, with crossed arms.]]
Each group of “beta testers” is accompanied by a “technical assistance representative” from the company. Our escort, a serious, courteous young man with long hair shepherded us through corridors, nooks, and crawl spaces into an increasingly unpredictable world. Weapons and identities failed to materialize; in our own identities and humble selves we were cast into a game world. We met a seven-foot hornéd beast, a vampire and victim, spooks and dementors. “Something has gone wrong with the main server,” our escort told us with a worried look.
I had just accepted, reluctantly, to be the one to sit in the torture chair when the ferocious palace guard broke character. “This way,” he said, “quickly, before they know you’re here. . . .”
In the hustle and shared apprehension, our group of six quickly formed bonds, both amongst us and with our escort. As the story evolved, we understood that malice was afoot; Dunstan himself contacted us to enlist our help and to warn us of pitfalls. Scenarios both comic and dramatic from other game worlds were torn apart by some hostile intelligence and we rushed onward, pausing only to count noses and to heed warnings from our escort. We progressed up stairs, around corners, through coded doors and down a twisting chute.
Dunstan himself received us in a penultimate scene that ended in chaos and catastrophe; we bore onward our McGuffin to Control Central for a confrontation with the mysterious Alice, played with brio and convincing threat by an uncredited Paige Roberts. Escape and exit were via a confined, bobbing capsule sent across space and time.
The World of Horrorcraft was vivid, coherent, sometimes scary, and fun. It was indeed theatre, with the interesting twist that only our escort and Dunstan provided the continuity. Other actors, all volunteers, met us only briefly to deliver their participation – imagine, then, how often they will play their short scenes between now and the Halloween finale. No wonder the organizers urged us to come back again to experience the further development of character and spectacle.
After emerging from that make-believe world, I was elated, and even a bit disappointed to be back in “normal” reality.
You can share some of that night’s trip, for the Statesman’s “A-List” photographer David Weaver (shown here) was in the same group. He was often trailing behind, caught up in the effort to capture his images. Click HERE for an 18-image slide show on the Stateman's website.
An added attraction that evening was the costumed corps of women dancers from the Austin Police Department. They were preparing Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” for presentation on Halloween night. I was greatly impressed, and I wouldn’t want to come across them in a dark alley.
Unless, of course, they were cleaned up a bit and in uniform!
Review by High Heeled Speaker on LiveJournal, October 26
Fox 7 video clip featuring the "blood and guts cannon" October 21