I went into the theatre and (before the show started; recording during the performance is prohibited) photographed part of the set (not easy for my camera phone), which included the Applause sign I've now adopted as a new icon. I was in seat C1, which is practically on the stage already. Another group sat in row B in front of me and we chatted a bit. One of their group said, "I wonder if they have ringers in the audience?"
Her male companion asked what she meant. She explained, "Sometimes, they have actors in the audience who become part of the show. "
I volunteered, "Well, they did say that audience members would be called up on stage as contestants."
She said, "Yes, but we don't know how that works. You could be part of the cast, for instance."
I smiled and said, "Well, yes, and you'd never know, would you?"
They decided that Row B is too close, and since the place was less than one-third full, moved back several rows. I stuck to my seat because I wasn't sure how I'd be called up; they might need me to be in the seat to which I was assigned.
The show's director, Scott Evan Guggenheim, came out to introduce the show and explain that this was a "preview" performance and that subsequent shows might be quite different. The cast actually entered through the audience. One of the women (I've now forgotten which character, but I think it was "Helen Hart" (Lee Ann Payne).) asked me if I was alone tonight. When I said yes, she said, "Well, not for long!" I don't know if she realized I was going to be one of the contestants or not.
I'm going to avoid spoilers if I can here, and I'm not going to recap the entire plot. Act 1 is set in a 1950s game show called The Secret Square, and it is, like everything in the play, a mash-up of multiple shows. Most of the musical numbers are based on the melodies of the themes of various game shows, and it's a delight to any fan of game shows for all of the references. Act 1 starts with everyone rushing around to get everything ready before the first show ("Beat the Clock") The plot in Act 1 revolves around the host/producer, "Bill Todson" (Stephen Guggenheim), and how "The Secret Square" grows into the biggest game show on television, only to run afoul of the show-fixing scandal that brings them low as the curtain falls on Act 1. But the "focus" character is actually "Frankie Marks" (Shannon Guggenheim), who starts as a production assistant on the show but has dreams of more.
Act 2 opens with Frankie's entrance, and I was impressed with how, even before the dialog confirmed it, just the difference in Frankie's hairstyle and clothing tells you that years have passed. Its now the early 1960s and Frankie has managed to survive the scandals, become a successful producer, and is reassembling the old team from the original Secret Square to form a new show now that the networks are willing to risk doing game shows again. Todson, who was disgraced by the show-fixing scandal, has been forced upon her because of the assumption that nobody will take the show seriously without a Man In Charge.
After the setup, a series of recriminations by Frankie at Todson ("To Tell the Truth" — which happens to be one of the few game show themes that already had lyrics, but I think this show's version of them is better.), The New Secret Square is ready to go, and they call two new contestants, including Kevin Standlee.
I took my place on the platform and the host, "'Tripp' McMurray" (Ric Iverson), who had been the announcer on the original Secret Square, did the contestant-introduction thing. I felt sorry for my fellow audience member, because he completely froze up. I mean he was only barely able choke out his name.
I figured I could do better than that and said, in my best 1970's perky game-show contestant voice, "I'm Kevin Standlee, I'm 46 years old, and I'm a computer programmer from San Jose, California."
"Tripp" said, "Wow, computers! Those are those giant machines that take up a whole building!" Darn it, I forgot we were in 1964! Oh, well, while the play continued on around us, I thought of something I could ad-lib when I got a chance if they'd let me.
Despite the oddball trappings, the basic game here was Match Game. After all, one of the panelists was named "Charles Nelson!" (Jackson Davis). My fellow contestant was still frozen, and the hostess standing between us, "Louise Carlisle" (Breigh Finnerty) had to whisper an answer into his ear in order to keep the play moving along.
In retrospect, I'm very annoyed with myself for not recognizing the classic question they used when they came to me. I'm not going to say what it was because any of you attending the show ought to be surprised, but I should have known the definitive answer. It wouldn't have mattered of course — it's not like we were really competing! — but I wanted to be funny! It does show how difficult being a show contestant is. I've been on stage doing the host thing for years, but when I was up there as a contestant, in front of fewer people than the largest audiences before which I've appeared before, I choked up. Nevertheless, I did have an answer (not a good one), and my attempted ad-lib ready.
I was of course amused to see my own ECM-51a microphone in use. It's a lot different having it put in my face compared to holding it myself. I don't think the mic was ever actually live, since all of the actors were individually mic'd and the contestants had fixed-position microphones. (I wouldn't blame them for not making that ECM-51a live; it's a temperamental piece of tech with an annoying tendency to fail unpredictably, which is not something you want in the middle of a live theatrical show. You can put up with it on a game show, but not in a musical.) During the think-music section on my question, the host turned to me and said, "It is hot up here?" I couldn't tell whether that was part of the script or not. That is, I don't know if the audience could hear him or not on that one. Not knowing what microphones were live or not, there was no way I could try to communicate to him, "Trust me when it sounds like I'm about to go off the rails here."
While the think music was playing, I was making a show of looking terribly concerned and thoughtful. The host came to me and I tried to say, "Wow, this is a lot harder than digging moths out of relays!" I'm pretty sure that's a line that would have got a laugh with a Silicon Valley audience, but we'll never know, because (rather understandably) the host cut me off and steered me to actually give my answer, which I did, and which (not surprisingly) matched nobody.
I'm amused that they used a pattern that turned up in one of the Match Game SF shows, where one panelist kept using the same answer over and over again no matter how inappropriate it was. Had I gotten a second answer, I would have said, "I think I'll say, '[Kevin Standlee's pants!],'" substituting their running gag for the one we had afflicting me at the Las Vegas Westercon.
After my first-round question and the byplay between the host and the other characters, the hostess next to me stage-whispered (I assume her mic wasn't hot), "We're going to dance on the next question, okay?" I said, "Sure!" So when the think music started on the other contestant's next question, she and I started some pastiche of 60's dancing, at which I doubtless am terrible, but I thought I heard laughter from the audience, so I guess we did the right thing.
At the end of that third question, they were "out of time" and they started to escort us off the stage. I initially misunderstood how they were directing me to look at the camera and do a "freeze." Sorry about that! If I'd done a perfect job, I would have hoped that woman who talked of "ringers" in the audience before the show would have turned to her companions and said, "See! I told you so! The big guy who was sitting behind us was a ringer!"
Jazzed up from my turn on stage, I returned to my seat and watched the rest of the show play out through the finale. The cast then exited through the audience and was available in the lobby thereafter. With such a small audience, it was no problem coming out to talk with them, thank them for their performance, explain that I'm the game-show-hosting owner of the vintage microphone they're using, explain what my ad-lib was going to be and let them know that I understood why they had to squash it, and otherwise enthuse. What I didn't do — and I'm kicking myself over this — was not get a picture taken with the cast, even though I'd turned my Droid back on and primed it for photography.
I had an utter blast attending this show. They'll be playing Friday-Saturday-Sunday through May and into early June. I heartily encourage anyone who can do so to get down to the Retrodome and see this show while it's available. If I understood what they were telling me, I think they've invited me to a later performance as a thank-you for the equipment loan. Lisa and I need to talk about whether she wants to make the trip down from Nevada to attend, too. She has to be very careful about shows she attends because of her precarious hearing, but I think this should be okay.
It was a great deal of fun being there. Of course, I assume that they won't ask me to be a contestant if I'm there for a subsequent show since it would spoil the charm of having "cold" reactions, but even so, I'm sure I'd enjoy seeing it again.
Oh, and I got a "lovely parting gift" as a contestant: a box with chocolates and a certificate for free popcorn at a subsequent show at the Retrodome. I gave them back the box not only because I don't have enough room in this postage stamp of an apartment to keep much clutter, but also because, as a show producer myself, I know the hassle of putting together all of this stuff, so if they can reuse the decorated parting-gift box, good for them.