Nov 102014

accomplice-200I just finished my latest directing endeavor, the Rupert Holmes comedy-thriller Accomplice, at the Barley Sheaf Players in Lionville, Pennsylvania. I’ve decided to make a few “behind the scenes” posts, documenting some of the process and the decisions involved. There’s no plan as to how or what I’ll post, so don’t expect a chronological or comprehensive guide to all things Accomplice; I’m just writing about what strikes me, when I have the time to do so. To begin, the story behind the somewhat polarizing curtain speech that I created for the show.

The curtain speech introduces the show, gives some important information about the theatre (location of bathrooms and such), and provides an opportunity to set the mood. I don’t always take advantage of that opportunity, opting instead for merely informational, but I decided this show called for something a bit more creative, so I set to work.

Our schedule for this show involved a divided three-week run, skipping the weekend of Hallowe’en. Since my anniversary is the week before Hallowe’en, my wife and I decided to take a trip during the week the show was dark. We’d taken our honeymoon in Disney World, and opted to do the same for this, our fifth anniversary. This all led to the germ of an idea: model Accomplice‘s curtain speech after the introductory “Ghost Host” speech from Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride:

I felt this provided the right mix of darkness and whimsy to set the mood for a comedy thriller. Of course, there was specific information I needed to convey, so I had to write a new script, while attempting to keep the tone of the original. After a few drafts, I ended up with this:

[Ghost Host:]

Welcome, foolish mortals, to the Barley Sheaf Playhouse! I am here to introduce our performance of “Accomplice.” Kindly sit back, relax, and prepare yourselves for a thrilling evening. There’s no turning back now.

Your cadaverous pallor betrays an aura of foreboding, almost as though you were to be tonight’s victim. I assure you, our show is equal parts comedy and thriller.

[Lights to Black.]

Though if you wish to exit now, the dark offers you this chilling challenge: to find a way out!

Of course, there’s always my way.


Oh, I didn’t mean to frighten you prematurely; the real chills come later. To find your way out, merely exit through the door you came in, the door behind you and to the left, or the door located behind the set, in front of you. Now, as they say, look alive, and we’ll continue our little introduction.

Video filming of this production is strictly prohibited. Oh yes, and no flash pictures, please! We are frightfully sensitive to bright flashes of light. And heed this warning: Unwrap any noisy candies and silence all your electronic devices, now. The actors will materialize only if you remain quietly seated at all times. Applause, of course, is welcome... as are your screams of delight.

All our actors have been dying to meet you! Unfortunately, they seem to have trouble getting through. Perhaps Madame Leota can establish contact. She has a remarkable head for materializing the disembodied.

[Madame Leota:]

Both old friends and new, if you need a restroom; you’ll find two upstairs and one down, if you search through the gloom.

Should you have any garbage, recyclables or trash; to the receptacles behind you, you must make a dash.

If you find yourself thirsty, there’s no need to grouse; there’s a fresh water fountain, at the back of the house.

If it’s food you desire, you’ll just have to wait; but we’ll provide some at intermission, before it’s too late.

Our next production, “It’s a Wonderful Life”; opens December 5th, and contains far less strife.

Now we must find our stage manager, and put her through her paces; to awaken the actors, and call them to places.

[Ghost Host:]

The amiable actors have received your sympathetic vibrations and are beginning to ascend. They’re dying to begin the show, and they’ll be expecting me. I’ll see you all a little later....

Alongside the larger changes I made to the original, there were minor touches, as well. For example, I chose to add “flashes of” to “we are frightfully sensitive to bright lights.” I’m sure no one noticed this, but given that stage lights qualify as “bright lights,” I felt the change was necessary.

The script done, I set out to do a test recording, throwing in some music and effects, just to see if I’d be able to get things sounding satisfactory. I recorded both voices myself, altering things a bit for Madame Leota (and ending up sounding a bit like Art Fern).

At this point, I was reasonably content with how things sounded. My main concern was the length, as three and a half minutes is a long time to ask your audience to sit still. I rerecorded, speaking a bit quicker, and conscripted my wife to do the voice of Madame Leota.

I recorded myself on my iPhone, in my car, early in the morning when my voice tends to be on the deep side. That gave me my first clean copy of the Ghost Host dialogue.

After talking things over with the cast, I decided it would be best to alter my voice, deepening it into the range of Paul Frees, the original Ghost Host. This sounded great, though I was forced to slow things down a bit, which kind of counteracted the time I’d gained by talking faster.

My wife recorded the Madame Leota dialogue in our living room (also on the iPhone). Unfortunately, before we did the recording, we found a video of an early test session that was done for the ride. In that session, the actress’s voice was less altered and less effects-laden than the final, in-ride version. (I don’t believe this was the video we saw, but it’s similar to this.)

So, when we recorded the Madame Leota voice, it was a barely altered version of my wife’s voice, which neither of us were quite satisfied with… but time was short, so we weren’t able to rerecord.

With both the Ghost Host and Madame Leota recorded, I proceeded to put everything together, the first step being all the altered dialogue and effects, along with background sounds.

Sadly, still three minutes long, without music. The slowed-down version of my voice really lost a lot of time, and I really wasn’t happy with things. As occasionally happens to me, one morning, I awoke with a particularly low timbre in my voice. I decided to take advantage of that, and after pulling into my parking lot at work, shot off a couple of quick new recordings of the Ghost Host. It still sounded like me, but was sufficiently different, and enabled me to save at least a bit of time.

Still not satisfied with the rather plain Madame Leota dialogue, I decided to run it through a few effects filters. This turned out to be my biggest regret, as it rendered things a bit difficult to understand to those hearing it anew. As I’d already listened to it dozens of times—and knew the script well—I was able to easily understand it.

It also dawned on me at the last minute that we had show music, including an overture, we were required to use. Luckily, I was able to blend that into the curtain speech… though it did end up adding a bit more time back in. With all the dialogue done, and all the effects and music at my fingertips, all that remained was mixing everything together.

For the final mix, I ch0pped up the Madame Leota speech, removing every spare millisecond of pause I could to try to make up some difference, though it was merely a drop in the bucket. In the end, I managed to get the curtain speech proper under three minutes, topping out at 3:20 with music.

Is it perfect? Not by any stretch of the imagination. But I’m reasonably pleased with the results. I got some encouraging comments in person, and the review in Stage Magazine specifically called it out positively. Not everyone enjoyed it, and not everyone really “got it.” Along with the positive feedback, I did hear some complaints (mostly that it was difficult to understand, and I do agree with that). But to me, it was worth the effort. This has been one of my favorite curtain speeches I’ve done, in fact. The best part to me is that it includes a very subtle hint about the final twist of the thriller’s plot.

And I got to step into the shoes of the Haunted Mansion’s Ghost Host… a dream I never knew I had!

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