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Hairy Murder

BY VICTORIA VAUGHN | JULY 30, 2015 5:00 AM

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Around this time last year, actor Mike Long and director Bryan Garey began working on a relatively new theater piece for the Heritage Theater Festival in Virginia. Though new to them, the comedy had received acclaimed in Boston for being a new, interactive theater experience that challenged, enticed, and thrilled audiences. To add to its allure, each show was completely different every night because the audience was given control over the ending. The play was called — quite appropriately  — Shear Madness. With the rights finally available, Old Creamery Theater Company decided to take a chance on the unpredictable play.

The energetic comedy takes place in a hair salon in which the audience is introduced to a set of key, if not quirky, characters who are going about their daily lives. Suddenly, a murder takes place, and the audience is left with the challenge of questioning witnesses in order to solve the mystery.

Shear Madness was not just a play that happened to be on a list of show options. It was almost by perfect design that it fell into the hands of Old Creamery, and more specifically, artistic director Sean McCall. He first came by the show when he worked at a box office in Kansas City.

“I jumped on it really quickly,” McCall said, after seeing the show and realizing he had the opportunity to do it.

From there, everything fell into place.

McCall contacted friend Long last year, aware that he was in the process of working on Madness. McCall was eager to do the show and wondered how he could go about doing it in Iowa. Long suggested he get into contact with Garey.

“… The show is so unique and specific that when you take on the rights, they want to make sure whoever the director is really understands how it works,” McCall said.

Garey ended up being the perfect fit, and not just because he had directed the show a year ago. He had a clear vision and awareness for how the show worked. It required actors who could nail off-the-cuff humor and had a knack for anticipating the audience’s choices.

Garey aimed to make the show feel like a giant party in which everyone could be involved in the fun. He also made sure to assemble a group of actors that would do the show justice even if only a few of them had done it previously.

“It’s hard to bring in a company that is not familiar, but this is where good, professional actors bridge the gap,” Garey said. Luckily, three of the actors were familiar with the show, and the rest have extensive professional acting experience.

However, having ample experience isn’t the only component that makes a show successful. Passion can make or break a performance.

Josh Cahn, who plays an eager crime-solving Mikey, found his passion for the show at the tender age of 8. He saw the original production when it appeared in Boston, then again at 13 or 14. Needless to say, the show is very special to him.

“It’s hilarious, and there is nothing like it right now,” Cahn said.

He is right.

Shear Madness has several unique qualities — two of the most obvious being that the show takes place locally, and it calls for an audience that is willing to play an additional role. In fact, part of the original structure of the play requires it take place in the town it is being performed — hence why Shear Madness is set in Cedar Rapids. As a consequence, the show is loaded with local references. The actors, Garey pointed out, had to assist him in making them accurate.

As an added challenge, he did not fly into Iowa until two weeks prior to opening. When he landed, the only thing he had solidified was his vision and the team of designers. Timing was crucial, especially because the cast only had 10 days of rehearsal to work.

“It’s definitely not a conventional process,” Garey said.

Despite unusual circumstances, Shear Madness came together. 

Audiences can expect to have an active role in the majority of the show, but the members will not be forced to participate. They are also encouraged to see the show more than once — because each night has the potential for a new ending.

“It’s always an adrenaline rush,” said McCall in describing not knowing where the show will go in its final moments. “But it is exciting, especially for the audience.”

Shear Madness runs from July 23 through Aug. 16 at Old Creamery Theater, 38th Ave., Amana. Tickets range from $12 to $30.


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