Shot To The Heart: Spectacular Disaster Company’s Temp Cupid

Temp Cupid

I am stalking a man and a woman as they enter a bedroom during a friends’ party. They start talking to each other, allowing me to sneak past the woman and focus on the man as I raise my bow and arrow. She says something cute and I fire an arrow of attraction right into the man’s chest. He reacts instantly, touching her hand as he tells her how funny she is.

I smile, too. I’m just doing my job.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be Cupid? To be in charge of helping individual humans find love and human connection in its many forms and possibilities? If you have, then Spectacular Disaster Factory’s newest immersive creation Temp Cupid might be the experience for you. Temp Cupid places audience members in the role of being exactly what the title suggests: temp workers taking on the role of cupids for the night. It’s a highly interactive experience where each cupid uses a bow and arrow to make targets either like or dislikeother people around them in an effort to give each target some type of love before the night is over. It’s a production that combines aspects of improvisation and gaming to allow audiences to determine the outcome of each character’s relationships.

Temp Cupid
Cassie (Ashley Busenlener) is about to get struck by a Temp Cupid’s arrow

It’s a rather fun idea for a show. Participants are given a bow and arrow each and instructions that no character at the party they are entering can see or hear them. When participants shoot arrows at characters, they can increase or decrease how that character feels about another character by up to three steps (in each direction.) Finally, each Cupid is tasked with helping a specific character (including a cute dossier that gives a quick rundown on each one’s wants/likes.) The new Cupids are then unleashed upon the party, free to shoot (or not shoot) anyone at any time. They can talk to each other, team up with other cupids to create a specific goal or wreak havoc by sabotaging what other cupids are trying to do. Once they’re done impacting the characters however they want, a finale plays out where the outcome of those actions gets shown to the Cupids. It’s a fairly solid concept.

This is the type of experience that works well for audience members who are new to immersive shows as it does not demand much from participants other than understanding how the arrows work on the characters. That’s all a Cupid really can do to control anything within the show, since they cannot interact with anyone in any other way. For newer audience members, making the interaction simple and game-like can make this a really fun way of entering the immersive space.

Temp Cupid
Lonely Hearts Cassie (Ashley Busenlener) and Tracy (Casey Dean) find a match thanks to their Temp Cupids

For those who enjoy watching improvised interactions and are interested in seeing how changing someone’s like/dislike level will impact those interactions, this show also offers great potential fun. During my experience, I chose to partner up with other Cupids to make sure a specific couple ‘liked’ each other as much as possible. That decision meant that I followed that couple through most of the experience.  Having the chance to be a fly on the wall and watching their relationship blossom in front of me was highly entertaining—as was fighting off the sudden attempt by other cupids to sabotage the relationship I’d spent time putting together. Just as the couple was becoming invested in each other, I became invested in holding them together against all the other Cupids.

It’s not a surprise that the interaction between characters is my favorite aspect of the show. The actors involved in the production are solid across the board. Casey Dean’s portrayal of Tracy is almost unbearably cute, even when responding to arrows that make her dislike someone. Orion Schwalm’s Jack is goofy and sincere, with just enough quirkiness to make him really believable and real when someone suddenly begins to like him. Tricia Fukuhara’s depiction of Audrey is almost heartbreaking in itsawkwardness. During my experience, there was a moment where an arrow derailed a friendship she was trying very hard to make happen. Her reaction to the emotional change was so painful it made me immediately shoot her with the arrow necessary to change that back. Ashley Busenlener has the emotional range to go very dark, as evidenced by a sudden change in emotions towards another character during my trip that became the most serious moment of the night. She played that moment exactly correctly. Kristofer Buxton’s eagerness as Clark is as amusing as his coldness when persuaded to dislike someone. He turns perfectly on or off, as the cupids demand. The best performance for me is Lena Valentine. She gives her character Jo a wonderful maturity that runs through whatever emotional alterations come from the arrows. Even when arrows give her rapid emotional shifts, she somehow makes each transition both natural and truly engaging. More than once, I stopped paying attention to the ‘game’ of shooting others just to watch a scene she was part of as it played out. She’s truly compelling. The greatest positive of this production is the exceptional choices in casting and their ability to handle their characters while being impacted with constant relationship changes in real time.

Temp Cupid
Audrey (Tricia Fukuhara,) Jo (Lena Valentine) and Jack (Orion Schwalm) exchange words and cookies in the kitchen

There are other aspects of the show that are less effective for me. The setup for the experience feels overly complicated and far too long. Each character has a specific color. Attraction is coded red and repulsion coded black. So each time a Cupid wants to alter a character’s feelings toward a second character, they have to find the arrow with that second character’s color code and then remember to use red or black, depending on their choice. It’s a setup that takes fifteen minutes to explain and, at least during my experience, still had audience members asking for clarification. While a production likes this clearly needs to have the ‘rules of the game’ laid out, I think this long an onboarding seems to work against the premise of having fun playing a cupid. It comes across as a lot of effort and learning before you can actually go have fun. If the Spectacular Disaster Factory chooses to remount this show again, perhaps they can find a way to streamline the rules into something that can be explained in 5 minutes. I think that would help make it even more of a good show for entry-level immersive audiences.

 

Temp Cupid
From Left: Casey Dean, Orion Schwalm, Tricia Fukuhara, Ashley Busenlener, Lena Valentine, and Kristofer Buxton

The show also feels too long. During my stint as a cupid, I noticed several players who got either bored with the premise or simply got tired of shooting arrows and were sitting down for the last 10 minutes of the experience. This may be a case of too many players per experience slot. Or perhaps the show is simply too long. Once again, if the show is remounted I think some effort at fine-tuning this could generate an even stronger experience. Showing the impact of arrows in mid-scenes as well as at the finale might help audience members stay more connected, for instance.

Overall, Temp Cupid is a fine show, with a lot of potential for audiences to have fun. For those who enjoy seeing their actions have impact on actors, this experience offers immediate gratification as each arrow generates an immediate response. And for those looking for a show that’s light and entertaining and designed simply for some fun, this is that kind of show. The flaws that exist are mostly ones that simply slow down the experience or aren’t holding everyone’s attention as strongly as one would like—all of which could easily be overcome in a remount. Honestly, I do hope they bring this show back again. Cupids may be most common during Valentine’s Day, but Temp Cupids are needed all year long.


 

Temp Cupid closed it’s initial run on February 16th, 2020. Make sure to follow Spectacular Disaster Factory on Instagram, Facebook, and at their website for remounts and new experiences throughout the year.

 

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The Autumn Experiment’s On With the Show: A First Love Letter to Classic Halloween

I’m waiting on a street corner, watching two men in kitschy pumpkin-sack masks gallop towards me. They wear shirts that say “10” and “31,” respectively, and grip my arms tightly as we walk down the street towards our destination. I gather that we’re trick-or-treating together, but none of the houses we pass seems just “right.” That is, of course, until we reach the last one. The one with the fog gently billowing out the front drive. I see a small figure kneeling on the ground and I squint to make it out, just as I realize my guides have vanished and I’m now here alone. The figure is a child, her long dark hair over her face, a dress so white it seems to glow. She’s drawing something on a sheet of paper on the ground. I take a breath and crouch down in front of her. “My name’s Mischief, what’s yours?” I answer her and she opens her mouth in a dramatic, overdrawn cackle. It unnerves me. She stops as abruptly as she started, and continues to draw, humming to herself. “Halloween is coming,” she mumbles, her eyes dark and hollow, and I open my mouth to speak just as a set of gentle, firm hands grip me from behind and hoist me back to my feet.

Autumn experiment, on with the show
Tom Blunt and Galen Adair as 10 and 31

Witches. Three of them, their faces hidden from view, they take turns whirling me to face them. One of them dabs at my wrist with a wick soaked in perfume oil. It smells damp and sweet, like Fall. She asks me if I know about “Spook Shows,” the old take on haunted houses that challenged guests to only the bravest of guests. But it was a lie, in a sense. Nothing really scary ever happened at spook shows. They were all just a gimmick to get people to have fun. Another witch gently touches my face with a gloved hand and turns me towards her, putting a cup of warm liquid in my hand: apple cider. It’s perfect. 

She tells me that even though they weren’t truly frightening, Spook Shows were eventually outlawed due to a series of unfortunate accidents. It wasn’t until year later that a young man with fond memories of the Spook Shows of his youth decided to recreate the festive scares. He called it The Autumn Experiment. But then he met a man who claimed he wanted to invest in the idea and…well…something went very wrong.

The autumn experiment, on with the show
Stepy Kamei, Jocelyn Gajeway, and Sarah Uplinger as the Witches

The witches all begin to chant in unison, closing in on me. Something about immersive theatre’s latest and greatest, monsters coming to life, participants being carried off into the darkness. The chanting dies out as there’s a tug at my sleeve. I look down to see the Mischief again, her eyes now wide black pools. I lean down to her and she hands me a drawing. It’s The Halloween Cowboy, drawn in the loving way only a child could, but he looks very sad.

She thrusts the page into my hand. “We weren’t supposed to meet this way,” she says. She tells me he, whoever he is, just wanted to make things like they were, to bring back something people loved. But it’s ruined now. Broken. Now she doesn’t know what happens next. No one does.

The autumn experiment, on with the show
Lillith Barriel as Mischief

She tilts her head back and lets out that braying laugh again, cracking the misty air. All at once she stops and shoots her arm out towards the street I arrived from, one long finger extended. “Warn them. Warn your friends. Halloween is coming. HALLOWEEN IS COMING!” She shrieks and I swim my way back out to the street through the growing fog. 

I inhale the cool air once back on the pavement, that damp, sweet smell still lingering on my skin. If Halloween is coming, I think, glancing back over my shoulder, I’ll be the first to say hello.


Halloween 2019 came, and went, but Halloween is never over for The Autumn Experiment. The above was a recap of the first full Autumn Experiment experience, On With The Show. The show combined classic whimsy with a heavy dollop of the macabre, enough to make the overall essence of the performance ripe with nostalgia for October nights gone by. The Autumn Experiment hopes to bring back that warm and fuzzy and yes, a bit scary, feeling of Halloween’s past, one story at a time, and it’s a welcome addition to an immersive theatre landscape that can sometimes rely too often on a heavy dramatic hand.


The Autumn Experiment is the collaborative effort of Drew Rausch and Jocelyn Gajeway. Find the Autumn Experiment on Instagram and visit their website at www.theautumnexperiment.com to sign up for newsletter updates so this year round celebration of Halloween doesn’t pass you by.


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