Steps to a con – making sure THE GRIFT works

THE GRIFT, is an interactive show where the audience learns about and becomes a part of multiple cons is the newest “Without Walls” production from the La Jolla Playhouse. This world premiere, and immersive theatre experience is the newest project from its creator, writer, and director, Tom Salamon and Diabolical Muse productions. Part con, part mystery, and part drama, this experience puts the audience in the show as themselves who have become a part of this fantastic journey.

Tom is the Artistic Director and President of Diabolical Muse, a production company that develops new concepts and produces work in forms of immersive entertainment and events. Salamon was also the co-creator, writer and director of THE ACCOMPLICE productions in New York City, Hollywood, London and San Diego. I caught up with Tom for chance to talk about the show, his process, and how he got into the immersive theatre business in the first place.

Tom Salamon, the Artistic Director and President of Diabolical Muse, talk about his newest collaboration with the La Jolla Playhouse and The Lafayette Hotel for THE GRIFT Photo: La Jolla Playhouse
Tom Salamon, the Artistic Director and President of Diabolical Muse, talk about his newest collaboration with the La Jolla Playhouse and The Lafayette Hotel for THE GRIFT
Photo: La Jolla Playhouse

The first part of a confidence trick is “the foundation” – so going along that theme, how did Tom get the idea for this show?

“I had a couple of ideas, one of them was about a voyeuristic thing, where the audience was following a couple and they were getting involved in this mystery. I was looking for a hotel room to use in that show and it would have been throughout a bunch of different locations, like bars, a bookstore, restaurants and things like that. I wanted to use a hotel room and I walked into this hotel and approached them about it and asked if they would be interested in doing this and developing the idea. And they said, “‘Oh my god that sounds so fun.’ So we did a bit of a test there, and the hotel turned out to be really engaged in the idea of doing some kind of theater in the hotel.”

Next step is the “build up” – how did he build this show in and around the Lafayette and find ways to keep it interesting in one location when his other shows were more mobile in nature?

“It’s a terrific hotel, and they had just refurbished and they were really liked the idea of the play in the hotel, and certainly the playhouse, so I really started to push in terms of what we could do in the hotel, What if we did a scene at the bar? And the ballroom downstairs?”

But the “payoff” step is where all doubts are vanquished so that the next step can be taken. It turned out the hotel and its history, was happy to encourage Tom to use their property more fully and wipe any doubts about their participation away.

“Every time I pushed a little further they were really excited about it. So I started to rethink the entire project and think about making it entirely in the hotel. They were up for it, and it is a dream location. I didn’t think anything like that had been done before, taking over a hotel for a show. So we started to meet with them more earnestly, and with people at the La Jolla Playhouse and we figured it all out.”

But like all good cons, and even in good theatre, there is that one last” hurrah”, where the unexpected appears and presents a unique challenge. In this shows case, it is that that this show is being performed in the midst of a live working hotel. How did Tom direct the cast who have to juggle their lines, timing, and their audience with patrons of the hotel who were not part of the show?

“The first thing is to make sure that you have cast people that are able to be in the moment, so that whatever is happening with the audience will be addressed. Secondly, this is an actual hotel that we are doing this in and it is not shutting down. So sometimes there are people in the pool and sometimes there are people in the lobby checking in, and all that stuff is a reality of the situation. So you have to make sure the cast is prepared to be present with all of that going on. A large part of it is also scripted, and that they can hit all of those notes and the story can be told. So it requires a very specific skill set for an actor to be able to play in one of these shows. It is along casting process because it is a very specific thing.”

“They also deal with different personality types and there are people that want to riff with them and that’s ok, and roll with that, and also steer back to what needs to come across to any given scene and the bigger picture story. So it’s a process of design those people that can roll with the punches.”

This means we have reached the last step, which is the” In and Out” – where someone buys into the plan. But this is where the audience comes into play. How do you get the audience to engage in a unique piece like this?Luckily, Tom’s experience with past productions like ACCOMPLICE also gave him insight into what the audience would be game for trying.

“After having done this for a number of years, and seen a lot of audiences and put a lot of people through these ACCOMPLICE productions, I have a sense of what kind of people will come, and how to play to different types of people and what they’re going to be able to do and what they’re not going to want to do. I always keep in mind the people who are going to come, and one thing I think about is giving certain types of people things that they can do, and also have a space where if you don’t want to , and just experience it and not actively participate in it, then that’s ok too. Not everyone wants to play along in the same way, and that doesn’t mean they’re not having a good time. But people get nervous about being called on in class. There are different personalities and there will be people that really want to play along, and there will be people that want to be there and be engaged that are less active, and there will be people that want to riff with the actors and want to engage with them. There is a clue solving element in these shows and some people are really into that. So hopefully there is something in it for everyone, and for all of these personality types. ”

So, now you know about how Tom crafted the show, how to build a con, and how to play along. So are you ready to buy in?

THE GRIFT is playing at The Lafayette Hotel 2223 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego. Show times are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 7pm; Fridays at 6pm and 8:30pm; Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm, 6pm, and 8:30pm. For ticket information go to www.lajollaplayhouse.org

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