In “Cutting Room Floor,” a haunted house-like experience from Control Group Productions, you won’t find evil clowns or chainsaw-wielding murderers. Instead, something far scarier lurks between the walls of the Aurora Fox Theater — regret.
“One of the most terrifying ideas we could come up with was the idea of being stuck in a regretful place,” said Nicholas Caputo, one of the associate directors of the show.
Agreed, said Patrick Mueller, the show’s lead director.
“It’s definitely not like jump scares, guys with axes, you know haunted house fare,” Mueller said. of “Cutting Room Floor” “If that’s like the fun kid stuff, what’s sort of the adult version of that? What is honestly scary?”
This experimental, immersive show was born after the city of Aurora invited Control Group to collaborate on a project with its arts center. The idea was always to create something in the vein of a haunted attraction but with Control Group’s signature flavor: a piece that really makes you think.
The result? An unsettling ghost tour through the entire Aurora Fox Theater — one of the city’s historical landmarks. The disjointed narrative follows a theater troupe rehearsing a play, but from the very first moments of “orientation” held in the venue’s lobby, it’s clear something is seriously off about this cast of characters.
The show blends real parts of the building’s history with outlandish fiction like aliens running a black box theater program on the roof. And Control Group leans into the zany with this one, a tone that’s not always present in their work.
“There’s just so much gooney humor,” Mueller said. “I’m excited about that for our work because I think it still has the complexity and the strangeness, all of that sort of depth without needing to just be entirely serious the whole time.”
“Cutting Room Floor” also incorporates a fair amount of dance, which has always been somewhat of a through line for Control Group, said Bailey Harper. She’s another associate director and shows off her own dancing chops in a trippy scene where the inner-workings of her character’s mind are exposed.
“It’s funny, actually, when we were first conceiving of the piece we were really stuck in 'actorly' world,” she said. “And then dance just arrived because we have this stage and we have a lot of other things. You can tell so much without words and the dance can do all of that for you.”
Having a stage might not seem like a novel thing for most theater companies, but for Control Group this is their first production in a traditional theater venue in three years. And it hasn’t come together without some bumps. In line with the show’s fictional storyline, unexplained mishaps have occurred during production, according to the four-person director team.
“It’s a show about a theater show being rehearsed and not going particularly well and that has been the experience of the last several weeks,” Mueller laughed.
“Like this projector flickering red all night,” associate director Christine Woods added while gesturing to the giant screen that was hanging in front of the stage displaying an eerie red glow. “We have no idea why it’s doing that. That’s new.”
Haunted or not, audiences get to see all parts of the Aurora Fox over the course of the show. Small groups travel from scene to scene, at one point, ending up in a maze of disturbing props and set pieces in the theater’s deep storage area.
Cast members of the fictional stage play pop in and out, slowly revealing the likelihood that everyone in the theater may in fact be possessed. But possessed by what? That’s up to the audience to determine.
“I hope that people walk out of here and wonder a little bit if everyone around them and maybe they themselves are possessed,” Mueller said. “I feel like there is a core question on the topic of possession, of human agency, is anyone normal or unfiltered by something else? So hopefully the world keeps feeling weird and surreal as they leave.”
“Cutting Room Floor” runs at the Aurora Fox Theater on select dates until Oct. 30, 2019.