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April, 2015

Suspense to Mystery

See Scene of the Crime every Saturday in May and June! Get your tickets here!

by Scene of the Crime director Troy Miller

A few years ago, I got to bring an improv dream of mine to life at The Hideout Theatre. It was “Hitchcocked!” and, as the title should suggest, we performed a never-before-seen Alfred Hitchcock film on stage. The chief goal of the show was to work the skill of suspense: how to create it, sustain it, and allow the audience to experience it as the main character does.

This was what Hitchcock himself set out to achieve in his films. He wanted the audience to know more than the hero, so that as that character moved through the plot unaware, Hitch could ratchet up the tension to unbearable heights. He had no time for mystery, and yet his body of work is often to this day mischaracterized as such.

“Hitchcocked!” was about suspense. “Scene of the Crime” is firmly about mystery. And getting to bring it to life is another improv dream of mine. I remember seeing the BATS improv company in San Francisco do an improvised murder mystery several years ago, and that’s when I knew it could actually be done. They did it so well, in fact, that there was one key technique they used that I knew I wanted to try whenever I got the chance… but you’ll have to come see the show to discover what that is!

“Scene of the Crime” is inspired by the kind of isolated location whodunnits that Agatha Christie was so famous for writing. In those stories, a group of eclectic characters find themselves suspects in a murder. Each knew the victim, each had a motive. But somehow cut off from the authorities (because of, say, a snow storm), a detective who just happens to also be there (a real sleuth or someone who’s just got a knack for it) is called into action.

If you’ve seen her play “Mousetrap” or read “Murder on the Orient Express” or seen any one of the countless screen or television adaptations of her work, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Hers is the kind of mystery tale in short supply these days. The “action” of the story is more cerebral. Instead of shoot outs and chases, we get to see a puzzle box be constructed, twisted about, then broken back down to reveal layers of deceit, until the real truth is uncovered. Though different in form, Ira Levin’s “Deathtrap” also wonderfully captures that spirit in its tone. Nothing is what it seems, and everyone is on his or her best behavior—until the ruse is up.

When all is said and done, our hope is to exude with heart and zest this more classic style of murder mystery, with the audience jovially sleuthing it up right along with our intrepid detective. If conversations in the lobby at intermission contain phrases like “Well, it couldn’t have been her, because…”, or “Yes, he’s definitely hiding something…”, then we would be perfectly, diabolically delighted.

See Scene of the Crime every Saturday in May and June! Get your tickets here!

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Returning to Silence

Golden runs April 18th and 25th at 6pm.
Get your tickets here!

by Jesssica von Schramm, Golden cast member

I didn’t speak as a child. I knew how to, but I suffered from Selective Mutism, an anxiety disorder characterized by the inability to speak in social settings. At school, I would only nod or shake my head and point to things. The disorder was a struggle, but fortunately I outgrew it. Nowadays it’s difficult to get me to stop talking.

But life is all about full circle moments, and now I’ve returned to using the nonverbal communication I relied on so heavily as a kid. In Golden, an improvised play inspired by silent films, we are boldly following in the footsteps of the silent greats like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Mary Pickford. We are daring to emulate our comedic idols such as Lucille Ball, Tim Conway, Steve Martin, and my personal favorite – Gilda Radner. These physical comedians used their entire bodies to express themselves, and our fantastic directors, Marc and Jayme, have taught us how to do the same. We’ve learned how to contort our bodies and faces to create engaging, memorable characters. We strive to make all of our movements – the big, wild gestures and the small, nuanced ones – calculated and intentional.

And, in forgoing the ability to speak, we’ve gained the ability to communicate telepathically. Okay, that’s not true, but sometimes it feels like the cast can read one another’s minds! We spend so much time together that we’re practically fluent in each other’s body language. But that’s not to say we don’t misread things from time and time. And when that happens, well, it’s even funnier.

But Golden is more than just physicality. Space work and music are ingredients of our storytelling as well. We craft our silent narratives using the same alchemy that films such as Nosferatu, The General, The Gold Rush, and Metropolis used – intimacy, focus, and commitment. Improvising a play is challenging; improvising a play silently is doubling down on that challenge. But when I watch my cast perform during rehearsals, I’m reminded that actions speak louder than words. We’ve created narratives about struggling artists, mistaken identities, and wayward cult members. Our stories have been set in decades past and in modern times (get it?). We’ve fallen in love silently, we’ve deceived silently…we’ve murdered silently. Cue the dramatic music!

We’re bringing silence back, and we hope you come along for the ride. In the immortal words of Depeche Mode, “Words are very unnecessary.” Come see Golden every Saturday in April at 6pm. We’ll make sure you enjoy the silence!

Golden runs April 18th and 25th at 6pm.
Get your tickets here!

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Inspiration is Golden

The newest student mainstage show, Golden, opens tomorrow, Saturday April 4 at 6pm and plays every Saturdayin April. We talked with Golden director Marc Majcher about his inspirations for this silent, expressive improv show.


1) Metropolis – I wanted to emphasize that silent work is great for more than comedy, and Metropolis is one of my favorite silent movies all around. The movement of the different kinds of groups together, the expression of its themes (work sucks, man), and the over-theatrical closeups are super cool. (Also up for contender in the #1 slot: Fritz Lang’s M, Nosferatu, Cabinet of Dr. Caligari)

2) W.C. Fields – Although he wasn’t primarily a silent actor, his bits of physical comedy rival any of the usual trio of Keaton, Lloyd, and Chaplin. He’s great at committing to a stupid, stupid bit for way too long – the pool scene is amazing.

3) Marcel Marceau – You hear his name, and you think of the stereotypical mime, but his facial expressions and detailed body isolations are spectacular. He also did some crazy work with one of my favorite directors, Alejandro Jodorowsky, who created this piece, the Mask Maker for him.

4) Jaques Tati – His use of movement and rhythm in movies like Playtime informed a lot of the stuff we worked on.

5) Rowan Atkinson’s Mister Bean – Yes, the same one we do the Maestro game about. Like Fields, but more modern, with his insertion of trouble and obstacles to make the most mundane scene amazing, frustrating, and beautiful.

Get your tickets for “Golden” here before they’re all gone!

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