More than a party, it's Awesome '80s Prom
Nothing like "high school prom" to invoke memories of cheesy tuxedo rentals, hideous prom dresses, gravity defying prom hairstyles, over-zealous chaperones and those two total losers who managed to get elected prom king and queen. Who in their right mind would dare ask to repeat that horrific rite of passage?
That'd be Ken Davenport, a Broadway producer who turned his infatuation with high school and the 1980s into an interactive theatrical production quite simply titled The Awesome '80s Prom. (It plays Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall Thursday through Sunday. And sorry, all my freebie tickets are gone!)
His creation is styled on the audience participation hit Tony & Tina's Wedding, where ticket-buyers actually become the guests at an Italian wedding. In The Awesome '80s Prom, the clock is turned back to 1989 and guests get to re-create the dance they had always dreamed about. Think more Pretty in Pink, Molly Ringwald and romance — and less Carrie, Sissy Spacek and buckets of pig blood.
Davenport recently chatted on the podcast about his prom vision, how it works and his opinion on the greatest dance scene in any '80s movie. Here are some highlights:
People expecting your ordinary stage production are going to be surprised this weekend, aren't they?
"This is not your mother's Oklahoma, that's for sure. Every single audience member who shows up at Ruth Eckerd will be a senior, everyone's graduating, and it will be prom night. We go out of 1989 in style."
Why seize on the prom as the story line?
"There is arguably no bigger milestone for youth than the prom. There's so much wrapped up in it. You're graduating high school, you're turning 18, you’re going to college. Maybe you'll lose your virginity that night. All these things that are happening are culminating in that one evening."
But some people really hate the prom.
"There is so much pressure on that night. A lot of people are wearing a tux or suit for the first time. Do they have a pimple on their nose? It's really hard to let go and have a good time that night. So we tell people, come to The Awesome ’80s Prom, you're a little older now, you can really let loose and have a good time like you probably wanted. In fact, you drink at our prom; you couldn't do that in high school."
So how do you re-create a prom each night?
"We have 18 actors that are all reminiscent of those '80s movies stereotypes. We have the captain of the football team, the cheerleader, the geek, the bad boy . . . they're all competing for prom king and queen. So over the course of the night, they're trying to get you to vote for them. There's all sorts of drama. And the end, we crown a prom king and queen based on how the audience votes. It's just like American Idol. Every prom ends differently."
Can an audience member get elected king or queen?
"Absolutely. It has happened before."
I’m afraid to ask, but are prom portraits taken?
"Oh, you betcha. Yes."
How did you dream this up?
"I graduated high school in 1990 so I lived through all the '80s and I was obsessed with '80s teen movies. I call my generation 'the VCR generation.' We are the first group of kids that was able to watch movies over and over again in our own homes for only the cost of a late fee. So I watched Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Revenge of the Nerds over and over because the characters seemed to speak me. When I started producing things, you write what you know."
Okay, ’80s movie addict, which movie would you say has the best dance scene?
"Nobody's ever asked me that. My first thought is Dirty Dancing or Footloose. But I think my favorite dance sequence is from Ferris Bueller's Day Off. The parade scene. It can't be beat."
Any dress code for The Awesome '80s Prom?
"You don't have to wear a tux. You can wear whatever you want. You can dress up like Madonna if you want. And you can get crazy and you can have fun. It's your night."