|Source: Laff In The Dark|
Two summers ago my daughter was terrified of the Big Wheel at Cedar Point. The sun was setting and we were making our way out of the park, and wouldn’t it be nice to get a relaxing view from 136’ above the park after dark?
She hated it.
It scared her the way a human should be scared when perched in a gently rocking open canopy, 136’ in the air.
In the time since that first visit to Cedar Point two years ago she has returned to that park several times and has developed a great love of roller coasters. Earlier this month we visited Coney Island and we rode the Cyclone -- which is awesome -- but still I was surprised when she not only expressed interest in taking the Wonder Wheel (which is not only 150’ high, but also features cars which periodically lurch and swing on a track) but that she actually thought it was fun!
Wonder Wheel is right next to a classic “dark ride” called Spook-a-Rama and when she saw that she asked if I wouldn’t ride with her, and I said sure. Why not?
She hated it.
Legend has it the original Spook-a-Rama was a much longer ride, but it currently clocks at about a ninety seconds. It’s one of those deals where you sit in an open car for two that travels on a single track through a darkened room that takes you past creepy animatronic displays of ghouls and witches and monsters that hydraulically lunge and shake and also gibber and scream and moan.
There are no physical interactions, no real people in costume or actors to introduce variety, nothing comes into contact with you. Each ride is mechanically exactly the same.
I was trying to get into it, to laugh and gasp and shout a bit but she was entirely quiet. After, she said she had her eyes shut the entire time, though in the weeks since she admits she was squinting, watching a little.
I'm reminded of the first time we went on the Corkscrew together, her first inverted roller coaster. She didn't know what to expect. She hated it. She has since been on it a bazillion times.
Sleep No More
Recently I checked the Yelp reviews for Sleep No More. Originally announced as a two-month run, I attended after it has been playing for two years and they have since celebrated their fifth anniversary in the Meatpacking District.
People still rave, but I was drawn to the one-star reviews. You know what they say haters gonna do, and they gonna do it on Yelp, but I did find one significant, often repeated complaint among them.
Sure, folks whine because they got separated from their date, others because of the masks. Did they do any research, did they have the slightest clue of what they were getting into? Were they even surprised there would be naked people?
No, the thing that struck me were the comments from those repeat attendants who were disgusted by the sheer number of participants and by their behavior.
“Too many audience members. Looks like they increased the audience number limit.”
“SO CROWDED! I really am sad that they let so many people in. It takes away from the beautiful show when people are pushing and shoving.”
“... did i mention about being pushed by rude and manner-less tourists ?”
|My attractive companions at "Sleep No More" (2013)|
We attended on a Friday night, but I wouldn’t call it “crowded” at least not in any way that was remarkable. Maybe the bar, but not the show. However, there have been so many write-ups, many describing where and when to be in just the right place to see all the “good stuff” I can imagine there would be quite a bottleneck in certain rooms and stairwells.
But what if this were your first time? Your first time experiencing everything, all of it. As though this thing had never happened before and would never happen again. But we are sentient beings and we know this is not the case, and can be extremely aware that this is a performance which has been created and rehearsed and performed numerous times.
Then again, it is a live performance, and that is what makes every performance unique, that it is live, that these performers will be performing 1) this one time 2) this one way 3) just for you.
Is the event more or less special if there are only twenty-five people in the room, as opposed to one hundred. Does it feel different? Do you feel different?
I had a one-to-one performance that evening, when I was brought into the witch’s hut. My friends did not. The experience is burned into my memory, I remember that moment with greater clarity than anything else that happened that night. I know exactly who the performer was, too, I looked her up, I know her name even if she does not know mine. Doesn’t matter. We had a moment.
Ha ha, I’m just playing with you, of course we didn’t. She and numerous others in that role have performed the same combination almost the exact same way, night after night, for five years. It’s documented, others have described the exact same actions and words. It was a private performance, but not unique.
|Love In Pieces (2014)|
But to my friends with whom I attended the performance, to those who watched as I was taking by the hand (by the hand) and ushered into that intimate space, I had been chosen, chosen receive an experience to which they had been denied.
When we produced Love In Pieces in 2014 our guest list was limited to those who would fit into any of the rooms, settling on between sixteen and twenty attendants an evening, for three performances. They were chosen, too.
What does the Spook-a-Rama and Sleep No More have to do with each other, apart from the fact that they are only fifteen miles from each other? Well, some have referred to Sleep No More as a “haunted house” and not a theatrical event. You wander around for a scare or a thrill, but there’s no story there, nothing to be gleaned.
But that’s not true, or at any rate, does not being meaningful disqualify a play from actually being a play? When I attend the theater, I desire for a unique, emotionally affecting experience, whether I am sitting in row with an audience, witnessing in stillness, or wandering the halls of a fabricated, period hotel, seeking out the performance on foot.
Then there’s the sense of exclusivity, and by that I mean those limits imposed upon the experience for an exclusive audience. My daughter and I as the only two in our barrel car, the animatronic horror show presented at that moment solely for the two of us. Being led into the witch’s hut to be an audience of one.
Or even the entirely absurd sense of exclusivity felt by those of us who have seen Hamilton on Broadway. How did you get tickets! Well, I guess we paid a lot of money for them? But you can’t get them! Well, uhm, you really can? You are so lucky! And you begin to feel you are lucky. After all, you are a member of an exclusive club consisting of over thirteen hundred people a night, every night, eight times a week, every week, since July, 2015.
|Source: The Great Fredini's Cabinet of Curiosities|
The wife and I discovered a mutual admiration for roadside attractions and honky-tonk during our first road trip in 1995. Truth is, my family never went in for that. My older siblings never even wanted to go to Disney -- openly disdained it, actually -- so my parents assumed I didn’t want to either.
In the past twenty or so years the wife and I have slept in a cement tipi, seen the “world’s largest” carousel, we have saw the mummies.
I miss the dark rides of Cedar Point, the disturbing Fun House, the racist Earthquake, the mostly harmless Pirate Ride. Unlike the girl, I wasn’t into roller coasters until I was in high school, and so taking rides through bizarre landscapes was my personal jam.
Four years ago this October, Spook-a-Rama was submerged in six feet of water during Hurricane Sandy. Built in 1955, it had already been through many renovations over more than half century, and persevered as those attractions which we never built to last generally do, limping along and continuing to make a buck. But this "super storm" left the ride virtually unsalvageable. Little of the original mechanics were still functional.
Yet, the owners decided to rebuild and have created a functioning dark ride where it would no doubt have been much easier to raze the whole thing and install another traditional ride, arcade, snack bar or souvenir shack.
Maybe the girl hated it, or maybe she was acting cool because it was spooky and she needed time to deal. Maybe she will always remember the time she asked her dad to go on the Spook-a-Rama at Coney Island the day before the night she got to see Hamilton.
Maybe some once-in-a-lifetime, emotionally affecting events are more important than others.
Yelp: Sleep No More
Laff In The Dark
The Great Fredini's Cabinet of Curiosities