If you were part of the magical experience of Stage Fright last year at the Avalon Theater, then you already know how much fun the Halloween special was. During the production, eye-masked (to differentiate them from the performers) audience members wandered through the minimally illuminated areas of the Avalon. Instead of sitting and watching from a distance, they became active participants in the world created by the play. Written by Casey Rauch and directed by Cecile (Cece)Storm, the drama was ingenious, atmospheric, and different from anything previously seen around the area.
It also was an experiment. Would the Eastern Shore embrace immersive theater where the audience becomes part of the drama?
The reaction was a resounding yes. So much so that the Avalon asked for a repeat performance, and that’s when Rauch and Storm decided to up the ante. Rauch had initially written a fictionalized feature-length screenplay based on his real-life experience with the ghost of the Avalon–Marguerite. The script had three distinct subplots–more material than could be fit into a 90-minute stage play. A decision was made to use one storyline set at the ‘Avalon Hotel’ in 1927. As they thought about this year, instead of doing the same production again, why not do the second storyline with the final installment next October? And that’s how Stage Fright 1964 was born—a standalone story and yet a sequel with elements from the first production.
The Spy was invited to watch some of the production, and we can honestly say we can’t wait to see more. Set again at the ‘Avalon Hotel,’ this time, the site of a gala being held for presidential campaign candidate, Lyndon B. Johnson. Just as the camera crew is about to broadcast live, a series of unfortunate events begin to occur… (That’s about all we want to say so as not to take away from the experience you will have becoming part of the developing story).
What will happen is that for 90 minutes, scenes will unfold concurrently in multiple locations. No matter which scenes you witness or in what order, you’ll reunite with the entire audience for a spectacular finale. Storm’s advice–embrace the unexpected and have your own adventure, letting the magic of this production envelop you. It’s all so much fun.
And it is as much fun for the crew and performers as well. Mary Ann Emerson is used to acting, but she’s having a blast being the Props Mistress for this production. “I love to geek out on the details of the exact period that we’re in. Last time, it was the 20s. This time, it’s 1964. So finding all those elements where the audience could open a drawer and inside the drawer are the exact right things from that era is so exciting. I love it.”
Emerson is just one of over 50 members of this Stage Fright. Which just goes to show how much this production has grown. “Last year,” said Storm, “we had three people show up for auditions. This year exceeded expectations; the turnout was amazing, and casting was a nightmare because of all the talent. I had Casey write three new characters to accommodate how many people showed up. It all worked out because something that I really wanted for this year was more extras in character to make the experience more immersive.”
Katie Bernstein Cox is not an extra and no stranger to the theater world on the Eastern Shore. “I’ve done theater my whole life. I have a degree in it. Being with this group is like working with like-minded creative people who are all invested in quality products. Everybody wants to put in the work to make it happen. It feels like I truly found my group, my people.”
As one of the singers, Cox is excited to bring her talent to the stage again. Similar to last year, audiences can look forward to the incredible music, which is such an essential part of the production. The first Stage Fright included songs that covered the rock band Radiohead but were done in the style of 1920s gypsy jazz. It was mesmerizing and memorable, guiding the mood of the play—this year is no different. “We’re covering Nirvana in the style of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound and a new Nashville country kind of band (think Patsy Cline), that kind of vibe,” said Storm. It’s worth mentioning that 90% of the music will be performed live during the show.
By now, it should be evident that the magic begins and ends with the creative partnership of Storm and Rauch. Nicknamed Rodgers and Hammerstein by some of the cast members, the duo’s vision and artistic synergy is the driving force behind the production’s success.
“I don’t think anybody really knew what to expect last year,” said Rauch. “And that included Cece and myself. People who came out the first time were pleasantly surprised to see the level of detail we put into the show. Then there was the music. I heard over and over again that people were just in love with the music. All the different elements of the show were well received by everybody.”
Interestingly enough, Rauch’s day job is as an engineer. Writing allows him to express a different side of his creativity. He’s also an actor. “I like acting,” he said, but I love writing. I don’t like directing people. The last thing I want to do is be the boss.”
But that is where Storm excels. In addition to co-owning the ice cream shop Storm and Daughters next to the Avalon, Storm brings extensive theater knowledge and experience to this production. Beyond her background in acting and directing, she holds a degree in Contemporary Theatre and Film and has worked in immersive theater before; Storm is well-equipped to handle the unique creative demands of this show.
Expect surprises and guest appearances, including one by LBJ. Whether you were part of the Stage Fright spectacle last year or are jumping in for the first time, don’t miss this haunting performance.
This production is a limited run of eight performances. Wednesday 10/25-Saturday 10/28, at 6:30 and 9:30 pm. Tickets are limited. Audiences are encouraged to come in Halloween costumes and comfortable footwear. The run time is 90 minutes with no intermission. For tickets and information, go to: https://avalonfoundation.org/event/stage-fright-1964
There is also a 2-hour Director’s Cut Special Performance on Sunday at 7:00. Ticket price includes hors d’oeuvres by Piazza, cocktails by Lyon Rum, and beer by Other Half Brewing.
A full Cash Bar will be available. For ticket and information, go to: https://www.avalonfoundation.org/event/stage-fright-1964-directors-cut
NOTE: Content Warnings–This experience is based on the ghost stories of the Avalon and deals with themes of civil rights, racism, murder, and revenge, which some may find triggering. There will be dark spaces, loud noises, strobe, and haze, as well as dark areas and spaces that are small and confined. The choice of where to go and what to see is yours. If you feel uncomfortable, you can move to a new area. Talk to one of our stewards or take a breather in the Stoltz Listening Room. The bar can be noisy, so if you need a quiet space, please let a staff member know. For more details, email [email protected]