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Carroll's Research on Play Leads to Interactive Comedy About Saving the World

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Sandi Carroll as Top Secret Agent Karen

Imagine you have purchased tickets for a comedy performance about saving the world. Sounds intriguing, right? You settle into your seat in the theatre and the next thing you know, YOU are on stage. The play’s creator and star reveals that YOU, in fact, are the show’s hero, and will therefore determine its ending.

This isn’t just some hypothetical—and potentially nerve-wracking—situation. It’s what will happen at the Penn State Downtown Theatre Center on Feb. 11–13, when the Arts and Design Research Incubator presents Mission: Implausible!, an interactive comedy performance in which creator/star Sandi Carroll, as the character of Top Secret Agent Karen, proves her new co-star’s courage and humanity in surprising and hilarious ways (see the promo video here).

The comedy performance is an extension of Carroll’s own research, which focuses on the discipline of play and its impact on creative decision making, teaching and learning. She is currently a research fellow at ADRI, and is teaching a spring semester course for the College of Arts and Architecture, “The Discipline of Play: Building Resiliency, Igniting Innovation.”

“The class focuses on the discipline of play required for physical comedy, which is quite different than the free play we practice as children. We must learn how to have fun on cue in the most challenging circumstances in spite of our own fear of failure.   My students will then take this new discipline and apply it to their respective fields of study, asking, ‘how would my work change if it was a requirement that I have fun doing it in order to succeed?’”

Carroll, an actor and physical comedienne, has taught acting, clown and movement at institutions such as New York University, University of Virginia and Brown University. She has appeared on Broadway and off and in independent and major studio films, and has written, performed and produced her own shows on both coasts and internationally.

So with experience and education that could take her career in numerous directions, what led Carroll to develop a performance where a random audience member—yes, the audience member is truly chosen at random—becomes the star?

“It seemed like one of the most terrifying things I’d ever thought of doing onstage, but I wanted to share the experience of learning the discipline of play with the Average Joe. I’m condensing a semester-long class experience into a one-hour roller-coaster ride in which I take my Average Joe on a hero’s journey. It’s meant to be fun and liberating, while at the same time exploring what informs our sense of individual and community responsibility.”

Carroll’s mission to find “everyday heroes” is not limited to Mission: Implausible!, which she has performed in Pittsburgh, Pa., Charlottesville, Va., and Baltimore, Md. She also produces the “Heroes Next Door” video series, in which she proves to unsuspecting individuals that they are, in fact, heroes in their own way. She recently visited a communal living space in State College called the co.space (thecospace.com), where she discovered that heroes have all kinds of surprising things in their home, including intentional beehives and whiteboards in the shower. See videos of her visit to the co.space here.

Mission: Implausible!, free and appropriate for all ages, will be performed at 8 p.m. Feb. 11–13 at the Penn State Downtown Theatre Center. For more information, visit the event's Facebook page

A gallery of images from Carroll's open rehearsal in the Arts and Design Research Incubator is available here.