Friday, Feb. 19, 2021 | 6 a.m.
When multiple Las Vegas shows reopened in the fall, many adjustments were made to each production to maintain a memorable live performance experience while keeping audience, cast and crew safe. Creative changes were also part of the comeback, but few shows changed as much as Tape Face. Now that the Tape Face crew has performed more than 100 times, we checked in with the character’s creator and the star of the show, Sam Wills, for a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the process that powers one of the most intriguing entertainment options on the Las Vegas Strip.
What was the most challenging element of reopening the show in a different space at Harrah’s when you got back onstage in November?
The first hurdle we had to overcome was the … audience being 25 feet from performers at all times. So I ordered 1,000 polystyrene (mannequin) heads and 1,000 wigs, and then it was talking with the cast and crew and friends to go, right, who can donate a T-shirt? That’s how we built that fake audience to (sit in the first few rows). And then once we were doing it, we started refining it, what’s helping us, what’s holding us back, where can we improve, where can we speed up and where can we cut.
How does the real audience react when people walk in and see these mannequins sitting in the front rows?
The dummies are pretty funny. But we’ve evolved the show even more and become even more relaxed. We do the meet-and-greet thing but I’m onstage hanging out from the moment the audience comes in now. It’s a chance for me to host and introduce the other characters and I get a chance to tell people how it’s different now, and get a feel for what the audience will be like. And it gives me a chance to subliminally program a few people in certain ways to help the show go better. (Laughs.) Everything has a purpose.
You’ve been performing as Tape Face all over the world for more than a decade now. What’s it like to be speaking onstage again during this meet-and-greet portion of the show?
It’s so much fun that my stage manager occasionally has to tell me to tighten things up and stop talking. I end up having too much fun chatting away and talking to the audience and enjoying the conversation, and I have to remember they’ve come to see me not talk. (Laughs.) But I’m enjoying it. It’s really nice to have a voice again to play around and refine that style of storytelling. On America’s Got Talent I never spoke, nobody knew the backstory of Tape Face or where he came from, so it’s nice to go in front of these small audiences and say, here are the reasons I do the things I do.
How has the show benefited from the additional characters?
I’ve been very much a solo performer for many years. I use the audience members essentially as props to come and play my games. In this situation, we’ve got a chance to really script it and play with things. The second Tape Face character we have, we’ve kept him on and he’s created a new character, Harry Harrahs, the owner of Harrah’s. He’s this old man that sits off to the side of the stage and he’s almost like the narrative train of thought I genuinely have while performing. And he vocalizes that, which is really, really funny. We can take it further than I’ve ever been table to take it with a volunteer.
If we could flip a switch and go right back to no pandemic circumstances, packed houses and everything normal, would you revert back to the show you were doing before all this?
One hundred percent. This is very much a COVID show. We have taken these conditions and made a bespoke item for this. This is not the ideal condition of performing. From a creative point of view, it’s like a creative corner. You’re backed into this situation and you have to make something out of it. But under the conditions, Vegas can be enjoyable. Just wash your hands.
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