Shear Participation

Invisible Theatre asks folks in the audience to help solve a mystery

So, whodunIT?

(Hint: there's a clue there.)

The Invisible Theatre (IT) production of "Shear Madness," will call upon audience members to help solve a murder mystery, so you better hone your clue-identifying skills. It is you who will be in the spotlight and counted on to identify the signs which will help track down the killer of an aging pianist who lives above the Shear Madness Hair Salon. Yes, you darlings who yearn to be theater folk coupled with a soupçon of Hercule Poirot, this is your chance to shine.

Of course, if audiences help determine the outcome, each performance does as well, and that's probably one of the big reasons the show has become the longest running American non-musical in history, with some patrons seeing the show again and again. What you experience one night will be quite different from what you will experience on another. That will keep not only the improvising actors on their toes, but audiences infinitely delighted. Perhaps that's why it's been running in Boston alone for over 35 years.

In Germany, several decades ago, a playwright named Paul Portner (who was also a psychologist, God help us) created a play called "Scherenschnitt" (essentially meaning "scissor cuts") who wrote the play as a rather serious matter to explore how people perceive (or misperceive) reality. But when producers Marilyn Abrams and Bruce Jordan in Lake Charles, New York, gained the rights for a production in the serious manner in which it was intended, they began rather ironically to see the serious potential for some serious fun. So they experimented, believing more and more in the play's appeal when twisted from its original form to the one we see today. They bought the world television and stage rights, and thus began the phenomenon of "Shear Madness." It has enjoyed runs in Boston, Washington, D.C., at the Kennedy Center, in Turkey, Korea, Paris and Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Madrid, Rejkavik, Rome, Tel Aviv, Melbourne, and Johannesburg.

IT director Susan Claassen says she saw the play many years ago in Boston and has been trying to get the rights to do it here for years with no luck. But at long last, it's happening.

The set alone, which is a working hair salon, is challenging to pull off, Claassen admitted. "There must be three functioning doors leading to different places, two fully decked out styling stations, hairdryers and a shampoo station with, yes, running water."

Those who are familiar with IT's wee stage might be a bit incredulous, but it's amazing how the group bends that tiny stage to their will. "At the widest part, the stage is 22 feet, says Claassen. But it's got an irregular shape, so there's that to deal with too. There's eight feet from stage to ceiling. That means no overhead lighting. And there are six actors and one dressing room." She says she tells folks if they "have 30 seconds to spare I'll give you a backstage tour."

No matter. IT's "Shear Madness" shop "would be the salon I would have if I was a hair stylist. Black and white polka dots and lots of bright yellow and red. We thought it would be the perfect kind of show for the spring. There's a magic about it. It never puts anyone on the spot. It lets you participate to the degree you want to. But there's a great bonding among the audience, because they talk to each other." And prospective audiences need to know that "there's a kind of prologue. We are going to seat early because there are things that happen before the show officially starts that won't really affect you if you don't see it, but will definitely enhance things when you do."

The cast is an ensemble of some of Tucson's best talent, Claassen says, most of whom have been seen on IT's stage before: Jesse Boone, Jack Neubeck, Lori Hunt, Robert Encila, Susan Kovitz and Eric Anson.

"The feel" of the IT production, says Claassen, is the same as when she saw it in Boston all those years ago. "Even if we don't run 30 years," she says coyly, "it would be nice to run more than a couple of weeks."

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