It's been a long time since I've been to aFreak Engineshow at TheatreWorks. Years, in fact. That makes this news extra sad. After 18 years of comedy, audience participation, performance art, and all manner of late night weirdness, The Freak Engine, Memphis' longest continuously-running improv show, is folding up its freak flag and calling, "scene." Which is to say, following a farewell performance on Friday, July 3, the party's over.
"This wasn't a crash and burn situation," says Michael Entman, who joined the show in its earliest days, and has steered the ever-evolving company through its last. "The entire group wanted to do different things.We're all getting older. You grow up, you know? You get too old to stay up till midnight," he says.
When The Freak Engine launched Memphis had no regular midnight theater scene. And, other than The Freak Engine, it still doesn't. The show was instantly popular and has continued to be a solid draw, attracting audiences that range in size from 70 to the 200+ that turned out for founder Tom Kirby's last performance. "The Fire Marshall doesn't come out at Midnight," Entman says, remembering the SRO crowd for Kirby's last freakout.
Tradition isn't the only one reason why The Freak Engine has held onto its late night time slot. The other reason: It's much less expensive than renting a venue during prime time.
The most sadistic theater game ever.
"We've been doing one show a month for 18 years," Entman says, searching for a calculator. After figuring in additional one-off performances and anniversary shows he determines Freak Engine will have done its thing a minimum of 220 times by the time it closes up shop for good. Based on an rough average of 70 audience members per show, that's 15,400 people who've visited TheatreWorks at the witching hour to observe some of the more sadistic games in the history of Memphis comedy.
Entman, who will continue to produce midnight screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with Absent Friends at the Evergreen Theatre, says the last show will be action packed. He plans to break out all the classic Freak Engine games and invite alumni still living in the region to come back and participate one last time.
I talk about Freak Engine's 15th Birthday Show starting at 6:09
"We'll definately do 'Moustraps'," he says, teasing the company's most infamous creation. "Mousetraps" blends elements of Blind Man's Buff and Marco Polo, forcing two barefoot participants to walk across a stage filled with 80 mousetraps, all set and ready to snap.
Entman says he would consider bringing The Freak Engine back for anniversary shows, but only time will tell.