NEW YORK — It’s not quite theater and not quite a scavenger hunt, but “Accomplice” is definitely becoming a brand.
After mounting two incarnations in New York, the interactive show has finalized plans to expand to Los Angeles, with actor Neil Patrick Harris onboard as co-producer. Given its track record for profitability and word-of-mouth appeal, the production easily could become a bicoastal hit.
One advantage is that it’s incredibly cheap to produce. The Gotham versions — “Accomplice: New York” and “Accomplice: The Village,” both running through October — use the city itself as a set. In groups of eight to 10, audience members are sent through the streets to solve a mystery. To get clues, they must do everything from break secret codes to figure out which people on the sidewalk are actually in-character actors waiting to give them a message.
Costs are limited solely to paying actors and maintaining props, so the expenses for a standard day of eight performances are around $1,500.
Tickets, meanwhile, are $50 a piece, with a maximum daily capacity of 80.
Granted, that’s not an enormous windfall, especially since the show runs only on weekends (barring special corporate events, which happen on weekdays and have higher ticket prices.)
However, the profits add up. “Accomplice: New York” has sold out consistently since it bowed in 2005, and “The Village” has done similarly well since its first season opened in March.
That’s noteworthy because the show’s reliance on secrecy makes it incredibly difficult to market. Even if word of mouth does drive most sales — as it has done in Gotham, where “Accomplice” has bought almost no traditional advertising — getting the word out in a new hub like Los Angeles will be tricky.
Enter Harris, who gave an enormous boost to the original “Accomplice” by praising it on “Live With Regis and Kelly.” His name will likely drive awareness when the L.A. version opens next year.
Another tricky aspect of an L.A. incarnation is finding actual pedestrians in a city whose residents are known more for hitting the gas than pounding the pavement.
Harris emphasizes how much thought has been put into finding a pedestrian-friendly route where actors could blend in with other denizens of the car-centric city.
An avowed fan of “cryptic puzzles,” Harris will also help devise clues for the Los Angeles iteration. His exact financial commitment is still being negotiated.
“I’m surprised there aren’t more interactive experiences like this in L.A.,” says Harris. “Hollywood is known for being so theatrical, but when you come here, there aren’t many options for this kind of unique, structured experience.”
Harris’ involvement also offsets the stigma that interactive theater — think “Tony ‘n’ Tina’s Wedding” and “The Awesome 80s Prom” — is not a home for serious actors.
Lauren Potter, who has been in all three New York seasons of the original show, says interactive work deserves a better reputation.
“I used to look at this kind of theater as cheesy, but when you’re doing it, you realize what a challenge it is,” she says. “With every group that comes in, you have to change what you say and do.”
Potter notes that the improvised element of the show also means it can be tailored to any group of audience members. With a small audience group of smart-alecky adults — like the one this reporter was in for a recent performance — the actors can make pop-culture references and use off-color language. But if the next pack has children in it, the cast can immediately become family friendly.
The ability to court almost any demographic could make producers salivate, but co-creators (and siblings) Tom Salamon and Betsy Salamon-Suffott won’t let their property expand too quickly.
For instance, a planned production of “Accomplice: San Francisco” was recently put on hold.
“To go bicoastal, it just made more sense to go with Los Angeles first, especially with New York being where we started,” Salamon says. “L.A. is an entertainment town, and in many ways, it’s a more important market.”
Plus, any city that wants “Accomplice” will need to meet the brother-and-sister’s artistic standards. “We’re not just going to license it to anyone,” Salamon continues. “We only want to partner with people who let us keep our voices and perspectives involved.”