Sockdolager, a new comedic murder mystery will turn the historic house and museum into a giant stage.
Going from sketch comedy to writing a site-specific, period murder mystery may not seem like the most natural transition, but for Gwynne Phillips and Briana Templeton—collectively known in sketch comedy circles as the Templeton Philharmonic—it was actually a fairly logical move. Their new production, Sockdolager, takes place in 1920s Toronto, and will be staged at the Campbell House Museum. It’s a dark comedy about a decadent party that quickly turns bad.
“We’ve always had a fascination with the ’20s, and in our sketch comedy, we always try to incorporate Edwardian costumes and things like that,” said Templeton. “We got in our heads that it would be interesting to do something in a museum or a historical house, and the people at Campbell House were kind enough to let us run around it.”
Sockdolager isn’t just site specific. It also has a unique structure. The audience will be split into three groups, each of which will be guided through the house separately, seeing the scenes in a slightly different order.
“There are a few scenes that are in different orders, depending on who you follow through the house,” said Phillips. “Let’s say you and I went to the show together, but got put in different groups. We may not see the exact same show.”
“While it’s a large grand house, some of the rooms are smaller, and we love the idea of making it a different experience for each person,” added Templeton.
According to Jess Grant, one of the play’s co-directors, the play’s unusual setup presented some challenges in the blocking process.
“What’s tricky [is] trying to maximize the experience for each audience member,” Grant said. “’Will they be able to see this? Will they miss this? Which corner should we stand in?’ It’s kind of making me go ‘Argh!’”
Jess Beaulieu, the play’s other director, says that timing the play has also been difficult.
“It’s challenging because we need to communicate to the audience so they know where they’re going, while also maintaining a sense of mystery,” said Beaulieu. “We’re also trying to time out the individual scenes, so that when each one ends the next one starts. Some of the scenes are a little short right now, so we’re working on adding some lines, improvising a little.”
Templeton and Phillips say the play’s two directors, who are both comedians with a theatre background, bring unique perspectives to the show.
“Jessica Beaulieu has been really involved in stand-up comedy, where Jess Grant has a really strong background in improvisation,” said Templeton.
For Phillips, handing her project over to a director was a new experience.
“I tend to want to direct and write and everything,” she said. “I have an image of how I want things to go. This was the first time I’ve ever written something and handed over to the director. It’s actually been surprisingly easy.”
In addition to having two directors and two writers, the cast of Sockdolager also contributed a lot to the show.
“The show is a collaborative effort, and we also wanted to incorporate an improvisational element into the show,” said Phillips. “Everyone in the cast are great sketch comedians and great actors.”
This post originally omitted a credit to the creator of its lead image, photographer Caterina Buhoci. Torontoist regrets the error.