Last spring, I found myself sitting in an alley with two of my friends, huddled around a laptop computer and watching an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD. It was the Halloween episode from the second season – when the kids transform into their costumes – and while it was a good episode and all, I knew that this was only the pre-game. We were here to sing. And judging from the huge line that we were sitting in – the one that began forming hours before show time – we weren’t alone. Area Buffy fans, myself and my friends among them, were descending upon the Coolidge Corner Theater, a not-for-profit Art Deco movie house in Brookline, MA, for a midnight showing of “Once More with Feeling!,” the musical episode of the now-defunct cult series. A few hours later we would stumble out the theater, bits of confetti and streamers clinging to our hair, tired from singing and shouting but also quietly, geekily content.
The first of the Buffy sing-a-longs was staged in October 2004 and built enough word-of-mouth buzz among vampire slayer enthusiasts to be a surprise sell-out of the Coolidge’s largest auditorium, a 600-seater with an enormous screen, and warrant an encore in May 2005. Now two more return engagements are planned for the sing-a-long on the night of April 27, the first starting at seven-thirty and the second beginning at ten. One can only imagine how early the line will start forming for Buffy’s makeshift return to primetime.
While the musical episode itself is a gem, crammed with all the wit that made the series great and featuring a slate of catchy original songs (and great lyrics like the classic, “I think this line’s mostly filler”) by series creator Joss Whedon, the drawing card here is audience participation and the resulting sense of camaraderie between happily rabid fans. In addition to screening the episode with the subtitles rather needlessly turned on (most everyone in the attendance knows the all words by heart), the sing-a-long features crowd ad-libs, planned call-backs (like shouting “Shut up Dawn!” at Buffy’s bratty kid sister), and goodie bags filled with helpful props like plastic vampire teeth.
The event was the brainchild of departing Coolidge program director Clinton McClung, a self-confessed “huge Buffy geek” looking to combine his love for the series with his job at the theater.
“I started working on doing some sort of movie event,” McClung recalled, “I tried booking the original film, but was told by the distributor that it never really brings people in. Understandable, I suppose, as it’s the show that really kicks butt.”
Eventually, the inspiration needed to bring TV’s beloved Buffy to the big screen came in the unlikely form of the von Trapp family.
“A few years ago we presented a sing-a-long version of The Sound of Music, a touring program where the audience interacts with the film with goodie bags and, of course, singing along,” McClung said, “It isn’t quite like Rocky Horror, because the irony isn’t there – it’s all about the love. Anyway, it was a huge hit, and since I for one don’t really dig The Sound of Music, I started thinking about how I could adapt that program to something I love. And then the musical episode of Buffy came to mind.”
Collaborating with local theater group Queer Soup, McClung came up with the plans for audience participation. It of course became a big hit with audiences who – perhaps decked in homemade Buffy T-shirts, fake blood, black leather, or full zombie make-up – may not seem to share an affinity with Sound of Music aficionados, but are similarly “all about the love,” genuinely appreciative of the all-singing, all-dancing version of their favorite demon-battling superhero.
Yet as successful as the program has been, it faces an uncertain future in Brookline after the next set of sing-a-longs. McClung is soon to move to New York City, and admits that for the Buffy love to continue at the Coolidge, “Someone else will have to pick up the torch. So far, nobody has jumped on that.”
Even so, the sing-a-longs have begun to spread to fan conventions and other movie theaters. The famous Texas-based Alamo Drafthouse theater chain has already picked up the torch, having already staged seven Buffy sing-a-longs with two more shows on their schedule at separate locations on May 25th and 30th, and still more in the works for October. McClung also doesn’t discount the possibility of Buffy invading the Big Apple, saying, “I would love to see it spread around the country.” Buffy nuts with a yen for song and dance can only hope.