Every night, the audience throws things at actor Steven Michael Kennedy. And it’s not just the theater audience: The cast and crew throw things, too.
They’re not attacking Kennedy with rotten tomatoes, though.
They’re throwing Peeps — marshmallow, candy Peeps.
“It can be crazy,” Kennedy says. “Some people are tossing them very lightly. But others are trying to, like — a baseball at 90 miles per hour, thrown at your face. …
“It’s wild experience, because they’re coming from everywhere.”
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It’s not like the audience hates Kennedy’s performance at Lab Theater (at least, judging from the laughter he hears every night). It’s all part of the show: A silly, raunchy parody of the Alfred Hitchcock movie “The Birds,” packed with sex jokes, gender-bending performances and lots and lots of Peeps.
“It’s hundreds and hundreds of Peeps that are being used and being thrown,” says the show’s writer and director, Annette Trossbach. “Maybe some audiences members are eating them as well. But mostly they’re just getting chucked at the stage.”
Trossbach thought it would be hilarious.
In Hitchcock’s 1963 horror movie, birds attack and kill people in the village of Bodega Bay, California. But Trossbach’s parody is meant to get laughs, not terrified shrieks, from the audience.
So the show’s characters are attacked by a fake seagull dangling from a fishing pole. And actors flap around in bird costumes and say “Caw! Caw!” And, yes, people throw chick-shaped, marshmallow candy Peeps from the audience and the sides of the stage — plus an entire box of 340 Peeps dumped on Kennedy during the famous telephone-booth scene.
In all, there are at least 500 Peeps used in every show, Trossbach says. And sometimes as many as or more, since the audience is the lobby 700 to buy Peeps in and throw them at the stage (see details in the box below).
“We’ve had just this incredible volley of Peeps from the audience,” Trossbach says. “It’s just fun.”
‘The Birds’ world record attempt with Peeps
It’s not just good, goofy fun, though. Lab Theater hopes to set a world record for the most Peeps used during a theatrical production.
It’s not a hard record to beat, mind you. The current record is 12 and involved an actor balancing 12 Peeps on a child’s head during a variety show, Trossbach says.
“We are gonna get it,” she says about that world record. “But I don’t want to stop at 500. If the audience can help us get to more than 1,000, that would be incredible.”
They’ll be setting that record through RecordSetter, one of several companies that have risen over the last 15 years as competitors to the longstanding Guinness World Records. Guinness was simply too expensive, Trossbach says: $13,000 for a representative to visit Fort Myers and verify the number of Peeps used.
RecordSetter is free, Trossbach says. Lab Theater just needs to provide videos, photos and other documentation providing the number of Peeps used during the production. Just in case, they’re also bagging all the Peeps used during each show and storing them.
“So we’ve got freezers full of Peeps at this point,” Trossbach says. “I just want to be able to prove it. I don’t want anything to get in the way of us proving it and winning this thing.”
Lab Theater’s campy summer tradition
This isn’t Lab Theater’s first parody, of course. It’s the latest installment in a summer tradition: A campy movie parody every June during Pride Month.
It’s a tradition that started in 2017 with Lab’s parody of “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”
“It was just so popular,” Trossbach says. “And so much fun.”
The shows are naughty, funny and, above all else, campy. That’s why they always happen during Pride Month. Camp has long been a part of LGBTQ culture, along with drag queens — something featured frequently in Lab’s parodies, including Kennedy’s bullet-bra-wearing, Katharine Hepburn-voiced main character in “The Birds” (and no, Hepburn didn’t star in “The Birds.” Kennedy just thought it would be funnier).
Lab Theater might be known for more serious theater, Trossbach says. But sometimes she just wants to laugh.
“I think we’re fairly known for doing some edgy material and really thought-provoking dramas,” Trossbach says. “And while I love that, I also have the sense of humor of a 13-year-old boy (laughs). And so I like to blow off steam with these parodies.”
The Peeps, of course, takes that annual tradition to a new level.
And they’re a lot messier, too.
Just ask Adrian McCloud, who plays several roles in “The Birds,” but also serves as the show’s stage manager. That job includes handling and organizing all the Peeps and other props, making her what you might call the show’s “Peepmaster.”
Sugar from the Peeps gets everywhere during each performance — in the theater seats and aisles, on the costumes and definitely all over the stage. That’s why the show is sponsored by pest-control company Hulett Environmental Services. They spray every week to help prevent roaches and sugar ants.
On top of that, the show’s crew sweeps and mops the stage multiple times each day, McCloud says. “That’s the main concern, trying to keep the stage from getting sticky, to the best of our abilities. There’s sugar all over the place.”
Still, it’s totally worth it for the audience’s reaction every night, she says. They howl with laughter throughout the show, especially that over-the-top phone-booth scene.
“Oh, it’s hilarious!” McCloud says,
Kennedy feels the same way. The actor has appeared in audience-participation shows before with audiences throwing things at the stage (including “The Rocky Horror Show”). But nothing compares to the Peeps attacks in “The Birds.”
“The aftermath of the Peeps all over the floor is ridiculous,” he says and laughs. “This is an outrageous show… It’s just been a blast to be a part of.”
Connect with this reporter: Charles Runnels is an arts and entertainment reporter for The News-Press and the Naples Daily News. Email him at email@example.com or connect on Facebook (facebook.com/charles.runnells.7), Twitter (@charlesrunnells) and Instagram (@crunnells1).
If you go
What: “The Birds: A Parody”
When: Now through July 2
Where: The Laboratory Theater of Florida, 1634 Woodford Ave., downtown Fort Myers
Take part in the world record attempt: Audience members can buy Peeps and throw them at the stage when cued by the onstage screen (wait for the slide that says “Throw your Peeps now!”). Each package of five Peeps costs $3.
Info: 218-0481 or laboratorytheaterflorida.com