If you're looking for something different and unpredictable to do on a weekend this summer, Accomplice: The Show is just the treat. I'd done a different hunt several years ago, and this past Sunday I enjoyed the Village hunt. What's so special and remarkable about Accomplice is the characters you meet along the way. They don't just give you the next clue; they keep you laughing all the way. Quinlan Pozner, a veteran actor who has been with the show for three and a half years, responded to my questions via email:
This show is one of those rare family-friendly activities that's both clean and fun at the same time. How do you beat the odds and design something so wholesome while simultaneously enjoyable for adults?
Pozner: It's true that Accomplice shows are particularly wonderful at giving all kinds of different people, no matter what their age or background, a fun experience. This is in large part due to the talent of our actors/comedians. When there are kids in the show, the challenge is to find a way, for lack of a better phrase, to "Shrek it" -- or look for ways to pepper in some inappropriate material for the adults that will go over the kids' heads. It's a delicate balance to ensure that the show doesn't turn into a kids' show just because children are present. Accomplice was never intended for children, but because we see how much kids love the format, we are currently developing a show that will be geared for younger audiences.
It's never dull being an actor at Accomplice. On a given day, I may have a group of 14-year-olds celebrating a birthday, then next a rowdy bachelor party, followed by a group of elderly Brits. The challenge is to get the groups the same information but in a way that they as a group will find entertaining. Each group is a new adventure in acting and comedy.
The characters you and the others portray are so outrageous and lighthearted that everyone walks away with stories to tell. Do they ask the actors to stick to the script, or do you have full reign to improvise as you see fit?
Pozner: Accomplice works hard to cast actors and comedians that are highly intuitive at reading an audience, and also extremely witty. We work with loose form scripts that share a common back story, and then we individually develop a character that we're good at and that we think will be the most fun. When actors are auditioning for Accomplice, the writers/producers ask them to do long form improvisations, and then interrupt and ask questions of us while we are in character, to make sure that we can be in the moment and be funny.
Being an Accomplice actor is not about memorizing lines and delivering them well, it's about being able to case out the audience and deliver to them what they will find to be the most entertaining. It's about understanding what kind of humor people are looking for and what will make that particular group have a great experience. Once you understand the rhythm of what it's like to riff with an audience you can jump into any role, some may fit more comfortably than others but the formula of improvising is the true skill behind performing in Accomplice.
I'm impressed by how many shop owners you have working with you throughout the hunt. Is it hard to get non-actors to play along with these quests?
Pozner: The businesses on board are generally those that appreciate the fun in what we do. Those that participate are smart in that they realize that it's a great marketing tool for their business - we're driving traffic directly to their shops or restaurants every Saturday and Sunday, with people that might otherwise never know of them. It's funny because we generally try not to give them too much information - we don't want them ruining the illusion by even knowing the name "Accomplice." In the New York show, one particular guy, a non-actor, street vendor, gets so into it that the audience often brings him up as one of the most memorable moments of their day. A few months ago we had a casting associate come through the show and at the end comment on how great he was!
What's the most memorable and unexpected thing that's happened to a group along the way?
Pozner: We love this question because sometimes the most memorable happening for the group is the thing that has gone wrong. A lot of the fun for the audience is in the confusing aspect of the show, when they're not sure what to do next. At the same time this makes the stage managing very nerve wracking because we are trusting our audience to navigate the city without a chaperone, and trying to avoid them bumping into another group. Sometimes people get very off=track.
Once, a group had been given $3 as part of the show and knew that they had to buy something. As they were walking through Chinatown, a man approached them and asked them if they wanted a massage, saying that it cost $3. For 5 minutes, the group stood around watching as one of them sat backwards with his face in one of those chairs getting a massage, only to realize at the end that the masseuse had nothing to do with the show!
I've done two of your tours now and I'm struck by how the hunt, as you walk from location to location, gives you an informal tour of the city and how neighborhoods change and intersect. Is that an underlying goal beyond the basic detective work?
Pozner: Yes. Having New York City as a backdrop to your own little adventure is one of the things that makes the Accomplice experiences so popular, and the neighborhoods and locations are carefully selected. People have difficulty describing it, but it seems the psychological effect of being on an unknown destined path, in interesting and diverse neighborhoods, is super fun. There's a certain freedom to spending the day at the mercy of someone else's creation, especially when the design is meant to be quirky and fun and not too thought provoking (adding a few cocktails into the mix doesn't hurt either).
The producers of Accomplice, Betsy and Tom Salamon, were inspired by a walking tour that they found fun, except for all of the facts that they were being asked to digest. Our audiences are creating memories as a result of the things that happen to them and the people that they meet along the way. It's a much more enlivened and elevated way to view the already vibrant New York.