Producing House uncovers 'Employee of the Year'

​Starting this week, the Bunker Hills Golf Club will be getting into the theater business. The facility, nestled in Bunker Hills Regional Park in Coon Rapids, will see the opening of Employee of the Year, the latest audience-participation piece created by the Producing House.

It's an arrangement that has been long in the making, says Michael Todaro, one of the creators of the show. The golf course has been developing a new clubhouse for several years and was looking to offer entertainment as well as meals and other activities. After looking over the space, Todaro -- whose previous efforts include several years with Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding -- envisioned a new participatory show. "I thought we could have an interactive office party show," he says.

[jump] The company started working on the piece last fall, and it will be presented through June. Like other plays of its ilk, Employee of the Year doesn't just bypass the fourth wall, it completely demolishes it, merging the audience and the actors into a single whole. Here, the evening is set up as part of the end-of-the-year activities for the business. Most of the employees have been out on the links, but slowly come in during the first part of the evening.

Personalities will emerge, from the nervous event planner to the cocksure salesmen. "Things go wrong along the way and the crowd gets to know people during dinner and karaoke and other events. It ends with the audience voting for the employee of the year," Todaro says.

"There are a lot of scripted moments, but -- and this is what I love about interactive theater -- it's always riding the fine line between where the audience wants to take it and staying focused enough to take the show through to the end. There is definitely an arc to it, but you want to be as flexible as you can," Todaro says.

Cast wise, Todaro brought in actors with experience in many of the various interactive shows that have run in the Twin Cities in recent years, from Tony 'n' Tina to We Gotta Bingo
There are also names fans of the Minnesota Fringe festival and smaller theaters will find familiar, like Joseph Scrimshaw, Tim Uren, and Shanan Custer.

"They're extraordinary actors who know how to work a room and give it focus. They help make everyone feel like they are a part of the show," he says.

Opening a space can always be a bit scary, but Todaro believes they've found a good home for the piece. "They've done an extraordinary job and they have all of the amenities of a really wonderful event space," he says.

Todaro also sees an audience for theater in Coon Rapids. "I think that anyone who really enjoys laughing or has worked in an office will respond to it. These characters go across the spectrum. Their insecurities are things that everyone can relate to," he says.

Employee of the Year runs through July 10.