Below is an interview that ARGNet’s own Michelle Senderhauf conducted with Tom Salamon, co-creator of Accomplice: New York, Accomplice: The Village, and Accomplice: Hollywood. You can find details on participating in Accomplice at AccomplicetheShow.com.
MS: What made you decide to do theatrical performances in the wild rather than in a traditional theatre setting?
TS: A lot of the inspiration came from just loving to people watch in NYC, and all the quirky, crazy people that you see on any given day. We thought that if we could figure out a way to develop characters that would blend into the woodwork of the various neighborhoods, and have a way that our actors could identify our audience but not vice-versa, we could create an effect that felt like the city was filled with extras in our little story. We were also watching a lot of the reality TV of the day, and were interested in the sociological aspects of it, and thought that we could emulate the feeling of being on one of those shows for our audience.
MS: Where did the idea for Accomplice come from?
TS: My sister (co-creator Betsy Salamon-Sufott) and I were on a walking tour throughout lower Manhattan a few years ago. While we were seeing all of these cool, out of the way spots, we found the tour guide boring, and thought that there might be a more exciting way to experience these locations. We thought we could design a program where people would get dropped into the middle of an adventure throughout the city. And while there were various gaming events that incorporated quick bits with actors, I don’t think anyone had really taken the time to structure a story and cast legit improv actors, and give them room to breathe and be funny and engaging, and have a narrative unfold that the audience would be in the middle of.
MS: After signing up for an Accomplice performance, what should the customer expect? Do you have any suggestions on how to get the most from the experience?
TS: Come to have fun and play along – the cast loves it when you participate. You’re not role playing, you’re just being yourself, so have fun with it and get involved. Also, a group of 10 is the best way to attend because you’re with all of your own people, but if you don’t have 10 it’s no problem – you’ll be paired with others – just work together!
MS: Have the participants done anything that caught you or the actors completely off-guard? Have you had to change the overall experience in any way because participants didn’t react the way you expected them to?
TS: More often than not we catch the audience off-guard. The whole premise of our shows is to have the audience enter a state of mind where they wonder who’s a part of the show and who’s just a random stranger on the street. When that’s the effect you’re trying to achieve, they begin to think random things are significant, but those make for the best stories. A guy here in LA the other day asked if all the people wearing ipods were watching them – he just thought anyone with an ipod was a plant. Another group talked to a homeless man who they thought was an actor – he was rambling, reading the serial number off of his sunglasses, and an audience member wrote it all down, thinking it was significant. An audience in New York once followed a man into his apartment in Chinatown and got a massage because he was just strange enough that they thought he was an actor.
MS: Do your customers often come back to repeat the experience?
TS: A lot of the show is built on surprises, so it’s not necessarily enhanced by repeating it. We do have three completely different shows, though – most audience members who’ve seen one will come back and see another. Since we’ve opened in LA it’s rewarding to see a lot of the faces that came to the New York shows. People are traveling just to see the shows so that’s nice.
MS: When I looked at the customer reviews, I saw nearly everyone rated Accomplice five stars. How do you keep everyone so darn happy? Free beer?
TS: I think people really don’t know what to expect when they come to an Accomplice show, and they find that they’ve never really done anything quite like it, so the uniqueness of the concept goes a long way. Our casts and crew are eager to make sure every single participant has a great time and I think that comes through. Having said that, a lot of people don’t know that in fact a few beers and some food are included in the ticket price, so that never hurts.
MS: Are there plans to spread out to more cities in the US or internationally?
TS: Absolutely. We’re currently developing a new show in NYC which will take place at an incredible location – we’ll be making an announcement about that shortly. We’ve discussed many other cities, but I think Las Vegas, San Francisco, and London are on the board for the near future.
MS: Can you tell us a little about your experience working with Neil Patrick Harris?
TS: Neil came to Accomplice: New York and was excited about the format, brought up transferring it to Los Angeles, and subsequently signed on to produce. For someone involved in so many different projects at any given time, Neil is extraordinarily hands-on in the Accomplice world. During the development process he was involved in every aspect, from casting to designing clues to scouting locations. He’s got a multitude of interests that make Accomplice a good fit because we utilize a variety of different elements – spectacle, comedy, puzzle solving, theatrics, etc. We couldn’t have dreamed of a more perfectly suited and enthusiastic collaborator.
MS: Accomplice seems to share many of the attributes often used in alternate reality games. Have you ever participated in an alternate reality game? If so, which ones?
TS: I’m sorry to say that I have not. We get a lot of gamers coming to our shows and I’ve heard about some extraordinarily interesting ones. Coming into this project I think we viewed it as more of a theatrical endeavor, and the clue solving, gaming element of it came up sort of organically through the process. I’m going to have to make a point to check some out.