When Sandi Carroll takes the stage starting Feb. 11 at the Penn State Downtown Theatre Center, she will not be entirely sure about what’s going to happen.
Carroll, a research fellow at Penn State’s Arts and Design Research Incubator, has created the comedy performance, “Mission: Implausible,” which uses audience and social media interactions to propel the action forward.
“I love the relationship that I can build with my audience and I love allowing whatever our audience gives us to help shape the show. They really are my scene partner and I try to challenge them in an entertaining way,” Carroll said. “ ‘Mission: Implausible’ takes that idea about 100 steps further in that I actually put the end of the show into the hands of the audience.”
Carroll conceived this idea when she was performing on stage with a partner, took a look at the audience and thought to herself, “Why shouldn’t they be involved too?” Her talent and creativity eventually culminated in “Mission: Implausible,” where she performs as Top Secret Agent Karen who is given the task of saving the world.
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“I really wanted to take a member of the audience on this journey with me and also on a hero’s journey,” she said.
Given the logistics behind the show, it is obvious that “Mission: Implausible” isn’t your typical production. Prior to the show, Carroll will greet and have a brief chat with audience members as they begin pouring into the theater from the lobby. She will familiarize herself with them and hone in on certain people who she believes would be willing to join her on stage.
“I love seeing someone do something that I’ve never seen before, and that actually happens at every show,” she said. “At one point I even made this big chart where I tried to imagine every single thing that a person might do in the show and how I would react, but of course, this chart was just ridiculous. It’s impossible to know how anybody is going to react.”
In addition to the unknown variable of non-actors sharing the stage with Carroll, she has also incorporated the non-dependability of modern technology into the story. “Mission: Implausible” utilizes the video-chat service Skype on stage to communicate with another actor from his home in Manhattan. This not only solves the show’s logistical problems, but also serves as a clever way for Carroll to periodically report back to “Headquarters.”
“It’s a fun and simple way to utilize technology that also saves on our touring budget,” Carroll said. “He can literally be on stage anywhere in the world by 8 o’clock. It’s neat to be able to have him actually call in from a different city as opposed to simply having him in the room next door. It is a really great solution and a perfect example of how sometimes the best ideas come from the restrictions you are given.”
With a heavy emphasis on improvisation, “Mission: Implausible” thrives off of originality and spontaneity. Of course with each show having a rough outline to launch from, there is still plenty of room for Carroll to color outside the lines. The freedoms that this sort of approach offers Carroll are unparalleled and provides her with a fresh canvas to showcase her talents on a nightly basis.
“I knew that I wanted to take the audience onto a journey, but to discover the various ways and places they took the show was a huge surprise,” Carroll said. “I predicted that it would go in a certain direction, but pretty much every single time I’m out there, it goes another way. The possibilities for how this show could go are infinite. It’s really exciting theater for me and for the audience. I think that they can feel that I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
IF YOU GO
- What: “Mission: Implausible”
- When: 8 p.m. Feb. 11-13
- Where: Penn State Downtown Theatre Center, 146 S. Allen St., State College
- Info: www.facebook.com/ MissionImplausible