‘The Awesome 80’s Prom’ pioneers interactive storytelling by inviting audience members to vote on play’s outcome

Henri Robbins | Staff Writer 

Pick the winners, losers, and everything in between when you attend the Drama Club’s newest production.

In The Awesome 80’s Prom, running on Fridays and Saturdays from October 19 to October 27 in the black box theater, the audience is attending the 1989 senior prom, the romance and drama that occurs, and the vote for prom king and queen. From influencing improv to voting for the court at the end of the night, the audience plays the role of the student body at the prom and ultimately determines the outcome of the play. 

The play’s focus on audience involvement is what separates it from any other production the student actors have done before. When the audience is there, junior Jessica Burns said they are a part of the story, and how they experience the play is entirely up to them. 

“We’ve never done a show where the audience interacts with the characters to the extent that they are characters,” Burns said. “They are seniors in high school, and they’re attending the 1989 senior prom. They have their stories and we have ours. It’s really just the fact that the audience gets to be actors.“

The play itself is also centered in the 1980s, referencing pop culture, music, and movies of the time and using all the generation’s slang. Burns said that anyone who knows the 80s will recognize a lot of jokes in the play, and can see how it pokes fun at the era. 

“If you’ve seen The Breakfast Club or any of those 80s movies, a lot of people follow those stereotypes,” Burns said. “We’ve got people like that–the mean girl and the jock. The story follows Kerrie, Whitley, and Blake. Kerrie’s a huge nerd, and she’s in love with Blake, so she tries throughout the whole night to get Blake to love her, but Blake is dating Whitley, and they’re that on-again-off-again couple, and throughout this whole thing, Louis is trying to get Kerrie to like him.”

 

The cast of ‘The Awesome 80’s Prom’ (from left to right) Rohan Banerjee, Kara Coffey, Nicholas Krouse, Sydney Burkhart and Nate Smith pose in their costumes for the play.

 

Due to the interactive nature of the story, junior Nicholas Krouse said that around two-thirds of the act is purely improv. The interactions between characters, events, and the audience are all spontaneous, and will make every night of the play unique. Alongside this, Krouse said the play being performed in the black box instead of the usual stage will allow the audience be completely surrounded by the act. 

“We’re all students, so it’s not like we’re up on a stage the entire time,” Krouse said. “We’re mingling around through everyone who goes there. We’ll be walking around the crowd and we might pull someone up to dance with us, and during that we’ll be like ‘Oh man, I absolutely love WarGames’ or ‘oh my god, did you see the main actor in The Love Boat? He’s such a hunk muffin!’”

The play is based around more than just the pop culture of the 80s. In planning the play, director Allen Young researched the history of Mason High School and decided to use the theme of the actual 1989 prom. 

“I went down to the library, and the 1989 yearbook was there,” Young said. “The theme for the 1989 Mason High School prom was ‘Midnight Masquerade’. We have tried to pay homage to that, but of course we have hyperbolized everything and pumped everything up to eleven, so it’s a really colorful and engaging theatrical experience.” 

Senior Kara Coffey said that it should be easy for the audience to get wrapped up in all of the drama, since the actors are all competing to be voted as prom king or queen by the audience. 

“My intention throughout the show is to try and get the audience to vote for me, and one of the other candidates for prom queen is my best friend, Kerri Kowalski,” Coffey said. “My character does have a rivalry with Whitley Whittaker, the head cheerleader, who is also up for prom queen. And I have a rivalry with Dickie Harrington, who tried to beat me out for the role of Fanny Brice in our musical, Funny Girl.”

With the play, Burns said that the main goal is for the audience to be engaged and entertained, making a unique experience for everyone who comes. With a live environment and direct interaction between the characters and guests, Burns said it will be difficult for the crowd not to get absorbed in the moment. 

“When you go to a school dance there’s always people sitting down,” Burns said. “I’m usually one of those people. But the majority of the people, especially with the actors prompting them, are going to be able to get up and dance and have a good time.”

Photo by Tanner Pearson.

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