Spooked at the Strand

October welcomes the return of one of our favorite philanthropic events, the American Conservatory Theater's Spooked at the Strand. In celebration of this festive Halloween costume party, we've sat down with A.C.T.  Conservatory Director Melissa Smith to learn more about what to expect during the night of festivities and A.C.T.'s M.F.A. Scholarship Fund. For more information and ticketing, please visit www. act-sf.org/spooked

What inspired A.C.T. to start this fantastic charity event?
Melissa Smith: In the spring of 2015, the M.F.A. Board of Directors was looking for a new take on our annual fundraiser for the M.F.A. Program. Previously, we had held sit down luncheons that were quite formal. In a discussion at a Board Meeting, members talked about how inspiring the new Strand space and how crucial it would be to the M.F.A. Program. And we talked about the desire to attract new people to the M.F.A., how to get the word out about this fantastic top ranked actor training program, and how to have an event that reflected the energy of the program itself. We knew our event would be in October and we knew the Strand was the place to do it and as I recall a board member then said, “What about a Halloween party?” And we all got excited at once!
What sets Spooked apart from A.C.T.'s other events and performances?
MS: The event itself is a really great costume party, often featuring costumes from A.C.T.’s extensive collection—and with so many people transformed by clothing, masks, and makeup, you might not recognize a friend or colleague, which adds to the high energy of the event! Spooked features M.F.A. actors in performance—both a formal performance and in surprise pop-ups—and the proceeds go only to the M.F.A. It’s a hugely fun evening and because people are not seated at tables but partying together, it’s a chance for guests, donors, M.F.A. actors and faculty to all meet one another.
Who selects the songs and acts that the students preform? 
MS: The show’s director, Domenique Lozano, and I invite all students in the program to audition with material early in September.  We view all that material, as well as considering material that has been performed in the past year, and then discuss our options. The final selection is something we both sign off on.   

Spooked is a fantastic opportunity for the M.F.A. students to get to interact with the donors. We learn about their lives, where they come from, and why they support A.C.T. It is an opportunity to create the bridge between the program and those who help our program thrive.
— Peter Fanone, A.C.T. M.F.A. Student
Spooked has a real sense of wonder, energy, and excitement. The pop-up performances during the cocktails come as a big surprise and keep guests on their toes. You never know when the costumed person next to you might turn out to be an M.F.A. actor who breaks into song or performance.
— Holly & Chris Hollenbeck, Co-Chairs

The Strand is an intimate venue rich with architectural and cultural history. Can you tell us a little more about the theater and what makes this space so unique and what it contributes to the event?
MS: The theater was formerly a film theater and was a Market Street destination in its heyday in the mid 20th century. We have pictures showing crowds entering the door! By the late 20th century, the theater hosted The Rocky Horror Picture Show and in its last days, pornographic films! Today, with the award-winning restoration by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the Strand is once again a destination. Its soaring lobby, complete with LED screen, café and bar, is a perfect gathering spot for parties like Spooked or special events.

Two theater spaces allow for different size audiences—the Rembe seats 275 and the flexible Rueff can seat up to 120—and can accommodate a wide range of performance—full length plays of course, but also dance, stand- up comedy, jazz and classical and hip hop music. Best of all, actors of all ages and levels of experience thrive on these stages. That’s made it a very popular space not only for our educational and training programs but for many organizations in the community. 
There is a wonderful flow from the lobby to the Rembe Mainstage and upstairs to the Rueff. It’s a pleasure to travel between these spaces and we at A.C.T. all feel that the building is at its best when the lobby, Rueff and Rembe—as well as the “diving boards”, which are landings at different levels in the lobby—are in use all at once. And that is exactly what is happening when Spooked is going on! The Rueff becomes a VIP room, with its own brand of cocktail and events,  there are pop-up performances on the landings, dancing in the lobby, and a fabulous cabaret performance on the Rembe. It’s a great party where people also happen to be raising money for a great cause!

Spooked is the best costume party I’ve ever been to! The Costume Shop designed my Ice Queen costume and it blew me away. Spooked is not only a fundraiser, but a moment for our community to come together amidst our hectic schedules and just have fun!
— Diana Gonzalez-Morett, A.C.T. M.F.A. Student