Saturday, June 30, 2007

Spontaneity is a Good Thing

A few years ago, my main internet community was a discussion board that originally formed around Buffy the Vampire Slayer fandom. One year I went to the board's face-to-face gathering. At one point, almost all the 50 or so people in attendance crowded into the hotel suite serving as the party room and watched the 6th season musical episode "Once More With Feeling," singing along and talking back to the TV as appropriate.

It was good geeky fun, so when I found out a theater on Capitol Hill here in Seattle was hosting a "Once More With Feeling" singalong, I rushed to buy my ticket, especially since a friend of mine chose to have it as part of her birthday festivities. I was expecting something like the board gathering, only a bit more formal and with more elbow room. Good geeky fun, in other words.

It wasn't. At least, not as much as I'd hoped. The organizers quite simply tried too hard. When we entered the theater, each of us was handed a goody bag including assorted props we were supposed to use at various points in the episode--bubbles to give Dawn's ballet a Lawrence Welk feel, those mini-firework popper things (I don't remember their real name) to use at the climax of Tara's song-gasm, etc. That was a little regimented for me, but not a big deal. What really annoyed me was having to wait a full hour after the showtime listed on our tickets for the opening chords of "Once More With Feeling." Before that we had to sit through an MTV report on the Buffy singalong phenomenon, act out scenes from earlier in the series with audience volunteers as Buffy, Angel, and Giles, and be given detailed instructions on what we were supposed to do with our bubbles and finger puppet "Grr Argh" monsters, and so on. The crowd was palpably annoyed--audible grumbling, repeated calls to "Play the episode!" and a loud unison chant of "Start! Start! Start!"

Once the event we'd come for actually STARTED, it WAS good geeky fun. Though I could've done without the fireworks for Tara. Gunpowder? Not a sexy smell. Not even to an Age of Sail/Flintlock geek like me. And it kinda irritates the eyes, especially in an enclosed space. But I have to say, the best audience participation moments were the unscripted ones, like my friend's suggestion that the musical demon marry Xander. Someone two sections over shouted, "But that's only legal in Canada!" "And in Massachusetts!" my friend pointed out. (Probably not that funny out of context, but it worked and felt genuine, unlike all the scripted bubble blowing and firework popping.)

These things are supposed to be in the Rocky Horror tradition, or so I gather. I only went to Rocky Horror two or three times in my life, but I seem to remember it being a lot more relaxed. There were some regulars who told the newbies what to expect, but it never felt like there was a dictatorial emcee who was determined that we were all going to have a good time, dammit, and on his terms.

But last night? As annoyed and, to be honest, angry as I was at that emcee, I'm sure he meant well. He's got his clever ideas and props that probably worked well in some of the cities the tour has stopped. But they weren't working last night. The mood in that audience was getting seriously ugly about 45 minutes into the pre-show, and we'd have been a MUCH more satisfied group of customers if only the organizers had been willing to go off script when it was clear the audience wasn't enjoying it.

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