If phone calls give you anxiety, then Lightning Rod Special’s new audio experience, SUPERHOST, comes with a major content warning. And even if you don’t have phone fears, stream this bite-sized yet immersive gem for a spooky getaway right at home.
The creators of Underground Railroad Game, Sans Everything, and 2019’s The Appointment had planned to premiere their latest live work in the 2020 Fringe, but pivoted quickly over the summer. Working remotely, the large artistic team, helmed by director Alex Bechtel, tackled their “first audio project dare,” a devised recording finished before Halloween and streaming for free on the company’s website.
SUPERHOST audiences eavesdrop on voicemails from contractors and Airbnb guests at a remote house in Maine. They’re all trying to contact Adrian, their host. Adrian may not be picking up the phone, but as the messages from various vacationers pile up, it’s clear he’s been listening—a little too closely.
The piece is less than 30 minutes long, but voice performances from co-creators nicHi douglas, Katie Gould, Justin Jain, Jaime Maseda, Bailey Roper, Mason Rosenthal, Scott R. Sheppard, Chinaza Uche, and Alice Yorke capture compelling shifts from start to finish. Utterly believable mundanities like WIFI issues morph seamlessly into increasingly unsettling scenarios (“Is there someone else in the house?”).
Original music by Bechtel, from shivery plucking to surging strings to the ghostly whistles of faraway trains, weaves in and out of the human voices for guaranteed goosebumps. Sound designer and engineer Twi McCallum puts us inside the house, with every perfectly calibrated knock and closing door bringing extra chills as things get weirder for Adrian’s guests. Stitched together with ringing phones, dial tones, and voice-mail beeps, the story’s presentation as a series of voice messages has an instant, involving realism.
Who you gonna call?
SUPERHOST, like Die-Cast’s Fringe offering Temporary Occupancy (also about anxious travelers), is another piece of theater that’s not only made in a COVID world, but takes place there. The devised voicemail monologues allude to people who need an escape from quarantine—hungry for nature, a change of scene, or a friendly ear. And the guests’ attempts to remedy their creepy Airbnb experience may hit a note familiar to anyone who’s riding out our political and public health crises.
At what point is something merely irritating or unnerving, versus just plain dangerous? What is a fair and realistic expectation, and what do we do when we suspect or know someone isn’t meeting it? Life in a pandemic asks us to decide this a hundred times a day, and listening to the characters on this recording touches the same nerve.
“I’ll be faced with no choice but to report this to Airbnb and seek some kind of reimbursement,” one traveler huffs. That angry, impotent feeling is a familiar one. Who do you call when things go improbably wrong? What can you do if they don’t answer? Who else is listening?
If Lightning Rod Special had been able to hold their planned Fringe show, I would’ve been there. But productions like this are a bright spot in the pandemic—artists coming together (remotely) to create a uniquely accessible theater experience that would never have existed otherwise. I hope anyone who meets these creators by streaming SUPERHOST will join the audience in the future, whatever it looks like in a post-COVID world.
Image description: The logo for the show SUPERHOST. It’s a black square, with the simple shape of an upside-down house in the middle. The house is pink. Its roof points to a yellow circle below it.
What, When, Where
SUPERHOST. Conceived and directed by Alex Bechtel. Lightning Rod Special. Streaming for free via SoundCloud. Lightningrodspecial.com/superhost.