|Illustration by Kaelin Richardson|
"Be excellent to each other." For 26 years the Wyld Stallyns brought a most triumphant party to the world's premier Halloween event at Universal Studios Florida, providing an escape from the blood, guts, and gore of the park's haunted houses and scarezones. This "trick or treat through time" premiered onstage as part of the event in 1992 and was based on a franchise that boasted two hit films, an animated series, comic book, video game, and breakfast cereal. Universal Creative Director Julie Zimmerman would be responsible for rebranding 1991's Fright Nights as Halloween Horror Nights and would introduce a live comedy with "bodacious stunts and awesome surprises," eventually tagging writer Jason Surrell to type up a fresh new take on the show who would expand upon the cultural parody element and add an SNL-esque touch to the proceedings. Strange things were afoot at Universal as The Wild Wild Wild West Stunt Show stage became home to scantily clad dancers, pop culture icons spewing adult language, and explosive rock 'n roll with pyrotechnics to match. The show would acquire many die-hard fans for whom the experience would become a time-honored Halloween tradition, present company included.
My first HHN outing was Sweet 16: Horror Comes Home in 2006 where I was introduced to icons Jack the Clown, The Caretaker, The Director, and The Storyteller, confronted a fire-breathing Robosaurus roaming the city streets of New York, walked a Psycho Path to the Bates Motel, experienced a prequel to The People Under the Stairs, descended into a Dungeon of Terror, and attended an All Nite Die-In. Most importantly, however, I would experience for the very first time a stage show based on two of my favorite childhood movies, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989) and Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (1991). Queen's "We Will Rock You" signaled the start of the show, and in a puff of smoke Bill and Ted's phone booth appeared on stage and the crowd roared as Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted Theodore Logan (in all of their air guitar glory) faced that year's most heinous foes: Lex Luthor, Howie Mandel, and Mr. Clean, all swelling to an incendiary finale involving Jay and Silent Bob! Sweet 16 was an incredible bonding experience for the group of co-workers I attended with from my new job, and the howls of laughter were the perfect contrast to the screams of terror surrounding Amity's Fear Factor Live stage. I would attend the show every year from that night forward, eventually going on to work the event.
As Bill & Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure ultimately drew to a close with its Farewell Tour in 2017, we all knew that Halloween Horror Nights would never be the same. We didn't, however, imagine that we would ever experience a year without HHN altogether. With the painful absence of our beloved Halloween party, in the middle of a pandemic and during a devastating year for the theme park industry as a whole, we decided to look back and celebrate all of the excellent adventures by talking with the incredible talents that took us on those journeys throughout the years. The show that brought so many of us together with endlessly quotable lines of dialogue, unforgettable film and TV crossovers, and beautiful moments like watching Rosie O'Donnell beat the crap out of Donald Trump. What follows are the recollections of just some of the countless hundreds of Universal Orlando Team Members who brought Bill & Ted to life for 26 years - who made us laugh, cheer, and (in my case with the Farewell Tour) cry. Most importantly, this was a show with a message, one that is needed now more than ever... "Be excellent to each other."
Jason Anders: Were any of you fans of Bill & Ted before becoming part of the show?
|Jason Anders at Bill & Ted's Farewell Tour (2017)|
Julie Zimmerman (creator): I had seen the movies and fell in love with them. The premise was fabulous - who wouldn't want to travel to any time and place? Bringing historical figures to present time is something I have always dreamed of. Joan of Arc leading an aerobics class while Napoleon chills at Wet 'n Wild? How could this not be a stellar film?!
Jason Surrell (writer/director): The ironic thing is that I wasn't a big fan of the films, at least at first. I saw the original as a freshman in college in 1989, and I honestly thought it was kind of silly. I was entering a snobby phase in terms of film, and I think I wrote it off as a "dumb stoner movie," which of course it wasn't. So because of that I passed on Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey in 1991, which came out shortly after I moved to Orlando. It was the original Halloween Horror Nights show that got me to appreciate the characters a bit more, and then when I got the chance to write the second show in 1994, I revisited both films over and over again on home video to prepare. That's when I got a new appreciation for both the characters and the movies and fell in love with them. Sometimes you never get there in terms of "drinking the Kool-Aid" where an IP is concerned. I've definitely experienced that since then, but with Bill and Ted it was love at second sight.
Chris Leps (Bill): The original film came out the same year I graduated high school. I saw it in the theater and genuinely enjoyed it. The writing had a lot of wit and the dialogue was highly quotable - especially since, like Bill and Ted, I was a high school senior. The characters are goodhearted and I loved the overall theme of "be excellent to each other." I only saw a few episodes of the animated series, but it was awesome that Alex Winter, Keanu Reeves, and George Carlin came back to voice their characters for the first season.
Jason Ryan Perry (Ted): I was born in 1985, so I didn't see the movies in theaters. In fact, I think I saw Point Break before I saw Keanu play Ted. One day I went over to a friend's house after school and her sister had Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure on. I think we missed half of the movie, but we were so infatuated by the characters that we just sat there and watched the rest of it. Then we rewound the VHS tape and watched the whole thing again.
At the time I was heavily influenced by surf culture due to T&C Surf Designs on Nintendo, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and a solid collection of matching Ocean Pacific shirt and shorts combos. So Bill & Ted was exactly what I needed in my life. Thus the term "dude" was born and would become a regular part of my vocabulary.
Erin Cline (performer): I was always familiar with the films, I was eight when it released (feel free to do the math yourself) and I'm quite sure I saw it in its early years. Of course I loved it. I was a huge fan of the The Lost Boys (1987) and, as we all know, Alex Winter portrayed Marko in that film. I remember being excited to see him in other projects. Keanu is such an interesting and unique performer - pair those two with the endearing dedication of William Sadler as Death and it's a match made in Heaven... and Hell.
|Paul Joseph Gajda II and Jason Ryan Perry in 2017's Farewell Tour|
Brett Waldon (performer): Strangely I don't remember seeing the movies as a kid, but I definitely remember the animated series. I was a bit of a cartoon buff (still am) so it makes sense that it would have been on my radar at the time. Every time someone says "Bill & Ted" my brain immediately responds with, "It's a party, that's for sure!"
Kari Ringer (performer): My earliest memory of Bill & Ted was watching Excellent Adventure with my dad when I was nine or ten. I really loved the word "bodacious" and used it a lot. I had a ginormous crush on Keanu - who doesn't?
Megan Boetto (performer): I was not familiar with the movies or animated series. I really only knew who Bill and Ted were because of HHN.
Jillian Gizzi (performer): I am a 90s baby, so I actually didn't really know anything about Bill & Ted except for it being a show at HHN!
Sharon Joy Yost (performer/ writer): My earliest memories of the characters were from the cereal and cartoon, as I was a toddler when the movies came out; however, my cousins and I loved to recreate movies and television shows and would sometimes choose our favorite characters and create something new. Bill and Ted were definitely in our arsenal of characters, oftentimes intertwined with Wayne and Garth for the ultimate battle of the bands play.
Do you remember the moment in life when you knew you wanted to go into the arts, and who or what inspired you?
Jason Surrell (writer/director): The funny thing is that I don't know that I ever wanted to be a writer. As early as elementary school I knew I wanted to be in show business, and I may have known that I wanted to be a filmmaker, but I don't think I wanted to be a writer even though I was writing at a very early age. I started typing up my own guide to Walt Disney World when I was eleven or twelve, and I wrote a few horror short stories around that time, one of which I actually submitted to Twilight Zone Magazine. I was too focused on wanting to be a film director or a Walt Disney Imagineer, which I figured meant becoming an artist, architect, or engineer - none of which I was - but becoming a writer never occurred to me. It was only when a colleague asked me to collaborate on a concept for a character Christmas show at EPCOT in 1991 that I realized, "Oh, yeah, I'm kind of a writer." And then some of my earliest experiences with Imagineering taught me that, as a writer, I had just as much to contribute to the art of themed design as, wait for it, an artist, architect, or engineer. And it was around then that I said, "I'm a writer."
Chris Leps (Bill): Like many kids, I was always doing impressions. Being born in 1971, I saw most of the classic pop culture films of the '70s and '80s in the theater, so I would pretend to be a number of those protagonists. A cardboard packing tube became Luke's lightsaber, a rope tied to a tree branch became Indy's whip, and I would race my bike through the neighborhood as if E.T.'s life depended on it.
Harrison Ford, Kurt Russell, and Jeff Bridges were early inspirations, but in general I was influenced more by films themselves. Jim Henson also energized me at a young age through the overall imagination of his work. The Dark Crystal (1982) and Labyrinth (1986) remain two of my favorite films to this day.
Jason Ryan Perry (Ted): When I got to high school I knew I wanted to be a performer, but at the same time I wasn't into musical theater or drama class. Luckily, I found my love for performing in TV Production. My teacher, Mike Scheele, was funny, smart, and most importantly, had a zero fucks attitude.
My guidance counselor at the time gave me a sheet of paper with a list of careers and asked me to pick one. I think I wrote "Jim Carrey" at the bottom of the sheet, so she threw it away and gave me another one. One of the jobs said "TV Repairman," so I crossed out "Repairman" and circled "TV." So I'd say I was inspired not only by Jim Carrey, but by my teacher Mike Scheele, as well.
|Julie Zimmerman, Co-creator of Halloween Horror Nights|
Erin Cline (performer): I was sixteen and had been scouted by a team of filmmakers from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts to play various roles in a series of student films. I was standing in a soundstage on campus, surrounded by lights and cameras, performing in a dark musical comedy about the Salem witch trials. I was dressed in Puritan threads with a long witchy wig, standing on the pulpit pleading guilty to my crimes. I was to be burned at the stake. Little did the viewer know that I would rip off that clothing to reveal a purple sequined gown, and we would all break out into choreographed song and dance. It was gloriously cheesy. That's when I knew and set out on a lifelong quest to be an actor. I am still on that quest.
Gary Oldman as Drexel in True Romance (1993) stole my young little actor heart. He has continued to steal it in all of his roles with his steadfast dedication to the art.
Brett Waldon (performer): I saw a play performed by my peers in seventh grade and thought, "Well, if they can do it so can I." I auditioned the next year and was cast in Playing the Palace as the head developer who wants to tear down the titular palace. I caught the bug and started auditioning for everything after that. I was, like many boys at the time, inspired by Jim Carrey exclusively. While I have gone on to admire the work of many actors and artists since, I can't shake the "you kind of remind me of Jim Carrey" response I inevitably get from the audience after my shows.
Kari Ringer (performer): The first movie I can clearly remember watching was The Wizard of Oz (1939) when I was three. When I saw Judy Garland acting, singing, and dancing, all while wearing the prettiest costumes, I decided that was the path for me!
Megan Boetto (performer): As a kid I was always trying to entertain people. I sang and danced around to every Disney classic, as well as movies like The Wizard of Oz. I loved anything with Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, and Jim Carrey.
Michael Thibodeau (performer): My parents owned a dance studio growing up, so I was sort of thrown into performing at a young age with various recitals, musicals, and tap dancing. Other than that, I grew up in a household where Saturday Night Live was cherished and we owned a lot of "Best of" SNL DVDs. Adam Sandler, David Spade, and Chris Farley always inspired me in their sketches.
Jillian Gizzi (performer): I was always a theatrical child and pursued the arts at a young age. I specifically always wanted to be a Pink Power Ranger.
Sharon Joy Yost (performer/writer): I have been involved with music, acting, and the creative arts since I can remember. I always knew performing would be a part of my life to some capacity, but I really fell in love with it going into high school. The idea of making it my career, however, was a surprising plot twist to my college plans. I was originally in school thinking I would be a teacher, keeping my summers free to pursue acting. I suppose it was in my schooling when I could have pursued something seemingly certain, but chose known risk instead.
As for the actors I was inspired by, there were so many, but none more pivotal and personally profound than Robin Williams. As a '90s baby, he was the quintessential representation of our childhood - there's a familiarity and nostalgia there. His work, and his heart, withstand the test of time in his versatility and authentic nature. What inspired me most was his ability to make anyone feel seen and known, and his great compassion for people in his personal time outside of the big screen. Yes, he was naturally quick-witted and hysterical, but even his humor came from a deep and bittersweet place. On and offscreen, his heart and humor as an actor and fellow man was most inspiring to me.
Julie - Being the "The Mother of Bill & Ted", what initially sparked the idea of bringing a live stage comedy to Halloween Horror Nights?
Julie Zimmerman (creator): I was Project Manager for 1991's Fright Nights. Fortunately, I was part of the pioneer team that designed, developed, and built Universal Studios Florida. I started working for Universal Studios Hollywood on the Florida project in 1987, so the Universal 'big house' knew me. I was asked a simple question, "What would you do for Fright Nights II?" I did a treatment for the entire event, including a show that utilized The Wild Wild Wild West Stunt Show arena. No one knew if Universal would invest the money into another Halloween event. When Rich Costales called me months later saying we were going with all of it, I said, "Even Bill & Ted?" He said, "All of it." I panicked, for I was going to produce all of Halloween Horror Nights. They wanted a show and they didn't specify what kind, so I thought, "What the hell, I am going to write something fun that involves time travel... I am going to write Bill & Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure."
Tell me about your first viewing experience of Bill & Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure.
Jason Ryan Perry (Ted): I got my start at Universal in 2003 as a scareactor in the Jungle of Doom house. I remember I was on a break in the Jurassic Park Café and they had the show on one of the TVs - I couldn't believe what I was seeing. It was ridiculous in all the right ways. Although I never got the chance to see it again that year, during rehearsals the following year they let us see the show and I was hooked. From that point, it was my goal to be part of the show in some way.
Erin Cline (performer): I moved back to America from London in 2007. I am originally from North Carolina so I had not seen the show, nor had I ever been to Halloween Horror Nights until I worked it in 2006. In 2007 I played a sweet little clown psycho killer in Jack's Carnival of Carnage, and I don't remember seeing the show then. In 2008 I auditioned for it, and that would begin a series of excellent years with Bill & Ted.
Brett Waldon (performer): I first became aware of the show during my first year as a Team Member. It would have probably been 2012 because I remember Obama and Romney were characters in it, and I just couldn't believe that Universal was doing something so topical and edgy. This is not to say that it was inappropriate, I just couldn't imagine being a company lawyer for a show like this one. Similar to my seventh grade experience, I immediately started formulating plans on how to be a part of the show in 2013. It took me a few years of auditioning before I got my foot in the door.
|2017's Farewell Tour|
Kari Ringer (performer): The first year I saw the show was 2015. I had started working for Universal in January in Beetlejuice's Graveyard Revue, and by October I was chomping at the bit to experience this famous Halloween event that all my friends and colleagues gushed about. I thought Bill & Ted was great fun, an awesome nod to all the newsworthy pop culture shenanigans that happened throughout the year!
Megan Boetto (performer): My first viewing experience was back in 2001. I thought it was a fun show - mind you, I was only eleven. I didn't quite grasp what was going on at that age, but I knew it was something I thought would be a fun job to do!
Michael Thibodeau (performer): My first year seeing the show was 2013, which was set in Camp Morningwood and featured Taylor Swift as the villain. It was such a blast and unlike anything I had seen. Little did I know that I'd be performing in the show a year later and having even more fun on stage.
Jillian Gizzi (performer): I saw it while attending HHN as a high schooler. I didn't know much about the show, but one of my friends in the group was persistent about seeing it. After that, I loved it and made it a staple to always watch the show.
Sharon Joy Yost (performer/writer): The only way to see Bill & Ted was to go through Halloween Horror Nights. Admittedly, I am not the biggest fan of scary things. I appreciate the storytelling and creativity that goes into all of it, but I have a very active imagination and I am definitely a scaredy cat.
My first time seeing it was 2007 and it was so much fun! It was a nice break from the houses where you could rest, catch your breath, and be thoroughly entertained. I remember being so enthralled while watching it because it was like the Super Bowl halftime show and a long-form SNL skit had a baby! I remember after the show, in a wheelchair from having knee surgery, being the last audience member to exit. I looked at the stage with an unexplainable knowing confidence and said, "I am going to do this show one day,"... and I did. The following year was my first time performing in Bill & Ted, and I did it every year until its end; five years, six shows.
|Chris Leps (Bill), Jason Surrell (writer/director), James Keaton (Ted)|
Walk me through your experience of becoming part of the show.
Jason Surrell (writer/director): The moment Julie Zimmerman offered me Bill & Ted remains one of the seminal (insert guitar riff and Bill and Ted chuckle here) moments of my career. My first assignments for her were for a number of other live shows for Halloween Horror Nights in 1994 - one of them actually got produced: The Price is Fright starring Beetlejuice. Others, like A Shadow in the Night which tied into one of Universal's big releases for that summer, The Shadow - she wisely passed on. I think it was our second meeting, after she seemed happy with what I had done during round one, when Julie said, "Okay, now let's see what you can do with Bill & Ted." I was like, "Wait, what?" Because Bill & Ted had already become hugely popular after the inaugural show that had run in 1992 and '93, it felt like a daunting assignment from the get-go. I was just as concerned about not screwing up as I was trying to build on it and do something new.
That first show was essentially the existing Wild Wild Wild West Stunt Show with Bill, Ted, and some scary characters - this is not to take anything away from it, mind you. I basically pitched a twenty-five minute Saturday Night Live sketch with stunts and pyrotechnics that would incorporate some of the biggest news and pop culture personalities of the year into a format that would then change every year in order to remain fresh. One of the other big releases for the year was a sci-fi action film starring Jean-Claude Van Damme... and that's how the show became Bill & Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure II: Bill and Ted Meet Timecop.
As for other big news and pop cultural figures, the show wound up featuring "Nancy Kerrigan" and "Tonya Harding" and, after a very tentative and almost sheepish pitch to Julie, "O.J. Simpson." I'll never forget that day. A twenty-four year-old kid nervously asking, "Do you think we could have "O.J." drive out in the Bronco?" Julie thought about it for a second and just said, "Sure, why not?" In my mind I was thinking, "Well, I can think of any number of reasons 'why not,' but she said 'yes' so I'm gonna get the hell out of here and go put it in the script!"
|1996 Cast and Crew for The Final Frontier at HHN VI: Journey Into Fear|
Chris Leps (Bill): I didn't fully understand what I was getting myself into at the time. I was hired at Universal in the Spring of '93 as a part-time Felix Cassidy in The Wild Wild Wild West Stunt Show. My goal was to land a full-time contract, so I was trying to be involved with as many Universal productions as I could in the hopes of becoming more valued by management. I saw the casting notice and went in doing my best Bill S. Preston, Esq. impression. The movie was still relatively fresh and "dude" was already a staple of my vocabulary, so I found the role very relatable.
I'm ever grateful to Adrian LePeltier and Julie Zimmerman for casting me that year, because it was the beginning of a really great chapter in my life and career.
Jason Ryan Perry (Ted): It was rough. After seeing the show in 2004, I auditioned in 2005 and I think I was part of the first group to get cut. Then in 2006 I got a callback for Ted and I couldn't believe it. I remember being excited on my way to the callback, but incredibly nervous because I didn't even know what a callback consisted of. So I get to the rehearsal hall and there had to be at least fifty people in there.
They lined us up in groups and we read a quick side as the character chosen for us. Then they taught us some choreography. Now, I had never learned choreography like that so I was already out of my element, and it's pretty difficult trying to learn something like that with fifty other people crammed into the same room. I did what I could, but it just wasn't in the cards for me that year.
I came back again in 2007 and it was a similar situation. This time I think they had me read a side for Superman, which gave me a boost of confidence because the guy that had played Ted the few years before was back. He was great as Ted, so I knew he was practically a shoo-in. Everything so far was going well, until it came time to dance. I remember attempting to warm up by moving my arms in circles and then squatting down like some sort of professional athlete. Then I heard a rip. I completely split my jeans in front of everyone. Needless to say I was humiliated. My dancing was terrible and I got cut again.
That year I became an Assistant Stage Manager for PsychoScareapy: Home for the Holidays. I remember hearing rehearsals for the show, then getting to see the final show that year from the very top of the bleachers. If you've ever seen a final showing of Bill & Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure then you know there's something magical about it. The show ended and I just stood there while everyone started to leave the stadium when I whispered to myself, "I'm going to do this show."
Then the next year, I got it.
|Smaug puppet from 2014's Frat House at HHN 24|
Erin Cline (performer): The audition process with a theme park is already vastly different from auditions for theatre, film, television, or commercials - but the audition process for Bill & Ted year after year was uniquely its own. It was equal parts reunion, reminiscing, playtime with friends, and working your ass off in that dance choreography. Once you combine all those ingredients, mix and shake and serve over ice, you would have yourself one of the hardest and most rewarding theatre experiences of your life. We all truly felt like rockstars... or, at least, what we think that feels like.
Brett Waldon (performer): I had auditioned for four years before finally getting cast, and even then my first official role was "Mouth of Trump." I wasn't actually in the show even though I was technically there every night.
Auditioning for Bill & Ted was tricky because I wanted to bring something into the room that I felt was topical and that I could put an interesting and comedic spin on, but if I don't look like anyone making headlines that year it doesn't matter how funny my monologue is. I remember being called back for "Seth Rogen" one year and thinking to myself, "Oh, this isn't happening for me this time," but I kept going because I knew it would eventually happen.
Kari Ringer (performer): I first auditioned in 2016. However, that year I was cast as Chance in the Scareactor Dinner Experience. By 2017 I was super excited to audition again. The callback was a political scene with Trump and Melania. I just acted a fool and had a permanent Botox scowl on my face. That must have done the trick for Jason Horne because he cast me as Moana! You never know what the characters are going to be until the script is revealed. Basically the casting team picks a scene for the callbacks that shows whether actors can work together, appreciate the fine art of comedic timing, and can believably portray notable characters.
Megan Boetto (performer): The audition process was fun and a bit intimidating after hearing stories of the show. I had only been working at Universal for two years and remember dancing with so many people who I looked up to or had danced with at Beetlejuice's Graveyard Revue. My first year performing in the show was 2014, the frat house year. My expectations were high just from watching the show every year at HHN and after hearing people talk about their previous experiences.
|1995 Cast and Crew at HHN V: The Curse of the Cryptkeeper|
Michael Thibodeau (performer): The audition process was always a good time. You got to go in there and read some hilarious sides with the funniest people in town, try your best to comprehend an insanely difficult dance combination, and leave sweating bullets. It was great. The first year I got cast was a huge eye-opener. A lot of times in the theatre industry the roles you are cast in have a preconceived idea of what the script wants you to do - with Bill & Ted you are given an opportunity to show as much of yourself in the characters as you can. I loved that aspect of the process.
Jillian Gizzi (performer): It was actually my first job at Universal - I had just worked on a show with a previous Bill & Ted director who told me to audition. Besides having seen it, I didn't know much about it. Little did I know I would be playing the villain that year!
Sharon Joy Yost (performer/writer): Every year I auditioned I wrote my own monologue as the main character I ended up playing. The audition process was always so much fun because you really just had the opportunity to play and be ridiculous. Seeing the hundreds of people go through in their costumes and sharing their creative ideas was so surreal. I typically have the worst nerves going into an audition, but never with this show. It was unique in every sense of the word.
I had worked for Universal before as a Who for Grinchmas and in Streetmosphere, but I hadn't planned on auditioning in 2012. I hate auditioning and didn't want to get my hopes up. In my head I wasn't ready, even though I had been a professional performer since 2007. I hadn't done any performing in almost a year because of my knee surgery. Also, I had seen the people who got to be in the show and I didn't look anything like any of them. None of this stopped several friends insisting that I go, though. That year, one of the characters the show was looking for was Toddlers & Tiaras child star, "Honey Boo Boo Child" - in their minds I had to go! I pushed through my fear and excuses and got the gig!
|Raphael Barges as "Seal" and Chelsea McLean as "Barb Holland" in 2017's Farewell Tour|
What was your first year in the show like?
Julie Zimmerman (creator): The show debuted at an employee preview. I remember sitting there thinking, "Oh God, what if they hate it?" They loved it and cheered, I was beside myself with joy. Audiences loved Bill and Ted. The Vice President of Operations came over to me and remarked, "Well, Julie, you have given us Bill & Ted - where are you going from here?" Like a Super Bowl commercial I said, "I'm going to Walt Disney World!" He looked at me and said, "You are too much for them."
Jason Surrell (writer/director): The rehearsals for my first Bill & Ted were surreal, if for no other reason than I was still working as a Disney character while taking these freelance writing gigs. So it was weird to be on the other side - the creative side - watching the show come to life.
My first director was Paul Vroom, a Universal Entertainment veteran, and we had a great relationship - still do! I'll never forget the day Julie took me out to The Wild Wild Wild West Stunt Show stage and he said, "Jason, with your writing and my directing, this show can't miss." And he was right. Even today you don't quite get over seeing your ideas come to life, no matter how old you are or how much experience you have - but that first time, seeing Bill and Ted come out and say my words, or watching Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan go at it, or... wow... the first time that white Ford Bronco drove onto the stage and "O.J." stepped out. It remains one of the thrills of my career. They say you never forget your first time, and that's certainly true in show business.
Chris Leps (Bill): It was evident that the show was a crowd favorite at HHN, so that in itself made it a special experience. '92 and '93 were the same show, so I was fortunate to work with several people who had done the show the year prior. I asked a lot of questions because I wanted to make sure my performance was on par with the show's tone. I quickly felt right at home and it was such a fun time with an amazingly talented group of people. That era is especially dear to me because between my time at Disney and Universal I made a number of lifetime friends. Plus, it was a real honor to be a part of it all because there were only so many roles available. It felt like a family.
|Sharon Joy Yost as "Sean Spicer" in 2017's Farewell Tour|
Jason Ryan Perry (Ted): Lots of excitement. And anxiety. Rehearsals started and I was overwhelmed by everything going on. Trying to learn choreography, blocking, and not to mention an entire script in a matter of a few weeks. Luckily, it was Patrick Flanagan's first year doing the show as Bill as well. We vaguely knew each other beforehand through mutual friends and we hit it off from the start. Still, I wasn't a professional performer like the rest of the cast. It all became very real, very quickly, when I stepped onstage and saw such a massive, intricate set followed by costumes and makeup for characters like "Hellboy," "Predator," and "Hulk Hogan."
Overall, it was a pretty incredible experience. The entire cast was full of talent and, even if we had to do seven shows a night, we made sure to give the audience a spectacular experience every time. The real Hulk Hogan even came to see us one night and we got a photo with him afterwards. There was no other feeling like doing that show. From that point on, I was hooked.
Sharon Joy Yost (performer/writer): The first year got me hooked. It was just a blast, onstage and off! The camaraderie with the performers, the thrill from the stage, and the energy of every cheering audience member was enough to know I never wanted to stop doing something so special. To this day I say that there is no audience like a Bill & Ted audience; they were a huge part of my happy feels and in gaining confidence back in my performing, having been away from it for almost a year prior.
Julie - What did you see in Jason Surrell that prompted you to give him the keys to the phone booth as the writer?
Julie Zimmerman (creator): Jason is Jason. He is his own attraction. He is a gifted and brilliant writer who understood the HHN audience perfectly. He is funny, loves situational comedies, and does an amazing George W. Bush impersonation - he is perfect in every way. I knew he would bring the show to new heights, and he did.
|Paul Joseph Gajda II, Brett Waldon, Jason Ryan Perry in 2017's Farewell Tour|
What is it like seeing the audience reactions for the first time?
Jason Surrell (writer/director): This may sound obvious, but the audience reaction is why you do the show. I will never forget the way the Team Member Preview audience went absolutely nuts for that first show. And since it was essentially the first time I was seeing an audience respond to something I wrote on that scale, it was overwhelming. The Universal Entertainment and Events executives were coming up to me, hugging me, pumping my hand, slapping me on the back, and saying things like, "Do you have any idea what you've done, what this means?" I didn't have any idea then, but quickly would as the show shot to number one in the ratings, a position the show held for its entire run, if I'm not mistaken.
Every year after that I would giggle as I would write or direct certain moments thinking, "They're gonna love this, they're gonna go nuts." Because at the end of the day, Bill & Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure was all about "them", the audience. Even 26 years later there's been nothing so gratifying as a big Bill & Ted reaction - whether it be a laugh, a roar, a cheer, or a standing ovation. To this day it's hard to top.
Do you have a favorite year of the show?
Julie Zimmerman (creator): Yes, I am going to say it. The "O.J. Simpson" year.
Jason Surrell (writer/director): My favorite show was and remains 1997's Bill & Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure V: The Final Frontier. The show was just firing on all cylinders at that point. 1996, the first year I wrote and directed the show, was huge. I'll never forget the call I received from the Director of Events who said, "Your show is number one!" I was like, "Great, my directing didn't make it drop from last year!" He went on to say, "No, I mean it's scoring higher than T2-3D: Battle Across Time," which had opened earlier that year and was the park's number one rated attraction. The show was always number one in the HHN ratings, but I don't think it ever topped 1996, when it even beat the Park's most popular daily attractions.
I approached 1997 with a little trepidation, but decided to just put everything in that I loved and thought the audience would love - from the biggest movie hits of the year to personal loves like the Seinfeld gang. I can remember the VP of Entertainment at one point questioning something I wanted to do, and the Director of Events, Wayne Gagne - God bless him - said, "Well, after last year I would suggest we let the young man do anything he wants!" So I did, but always kept the audience in the forefront of my mind.
I just loved everything about the show, from the Star Trek framing device and Dan Johnson's spot-on send-up of William Shatner, to the chance to play with life-sized Batman action figures and the Seinfeld gang emerging from the DeLorean and absolutely bringing the house down. Our "Jerry" had won a national lookalike contest and appeared on Oprah - so many guests did a double-take thinking we had actually landed the Jerry for the show! Plus, due to an actor's commitment to an out-of-town wedding, I actually got to appear in the show for the first time as "George Costanza," because, you know, typecasting. To this day it remains my favorite Bill & Ted show, and one of the highlights of my career.
|2017's Farewell Tour|
Chris Leps (Bill): Wow. It is really tough to name a favorite because every one of the five years I did the show is special to me for various reasons. 1995 does tend to stand out because I really felt like a regular by then. I had gotten a full-time Felix contract the year before and truly felt at home. Also, James Keaton (Ted) and I were involved with a lot of the HHN special events that year, so in addition to the show we did a lot of promotion throughout the Park. We occasionally took it upon ourselves to crash a few other events in the Park as well. But really, every year was unique in its own way.
In 1997 I broke tradition and played the Robin character. That was at the height of Joel Schumacher's Batman era and the hype was especially high. In the show that year, Robin had a slide-rappel entrance and some cool fight action, so it was a fun change from the Bill character. But again, every year had its moments.
Jason Ryan Perry (Ted): That's always the hardest question to answer because each year was completely different and special in their own way. I will say this though, my favorite entrance was in 2015 when Bill and Ted rode onto the stage in the DeLorean with Doc Brown. Especially on Back to the Future Day, October 21, 2015 - the day Marty went to the future in Back to the Future: Part II. Two of my favorite movies crossing over like that - it was beautiful. Plus, this was my original "final year" playing Ted. So, I guess that may be my favorite year after all.
Erin Cline (performer): Each year was a favorite for different reasons, and I categorize them by the characters I played.
1.) "Lindsay Lohan" - It was Mike Aiello's last year directing and that was so special.
2.) "Smurfette" - The makeup was incredible and so challenging. I loved the character and the team, I was working with some of my closest friends.
3.) Swing - This was the hardest for me as an actor. I learned and performed, as relief for the hard cast actors, the roles of "Justin Bieber," "Selena Gomez," "Paula Deen," "Miley Cyrus," "Samara," and "Taylor Swift." What a great premise year. Camp Morningwood, I hold you in my heart.
4.) "Frozen" - This year was my dear friend Jason Horne shaking his head at me every time I put a sexual innuendo into the "Megan Fox" scene. It was also the debut of the musical parody of "Anna" and "Elsa" - man, that was well received! Side note: I am not a good rapper. There, I said it.
|Jillian Gizzi's "Zombie Taylor Swift" wig and mask from 2013's Camp Morningwood.|
Brett Waldon (performer): My year, 2017. The last show. I mean, if you have to have a first show to be truly cast in, what better time than the very last one when everyone is watching? It was emotional, hilarious, and bittersweet. It provided me with some of the most cherished moments I have of being onstage. The cast was so tight and supportive, and that by itself was incredible. But then, on top of that, we would have the input and support from the cast from years past, and I truly did feel like I was a tiny, insignificant part of HHN history.
Kari Ringer (performer): My favorite year is obviously 2017!
Megan Boetto (performer): Oh man. It's hard to pick a favorite year, but I still think my first year in 2014 holds a special place in my heart. I kind of just sat back and watched the veterans a lot so I could learn and try and keep up with everyone. Experiencing my first last show was the icing on the cake for that year.
Michael Thibodeau (performer): It's extremely hard to choose, and a lot of it blends together, but I really enjoyed 2015. "Kanye West" was a great villain, and rocking out as "Kurt Cobain" in the finale was pretty rad.
Jillian Gizzi (performer): It's a toss-up between 2013 and 2016.
Sharon Joy Yost (performer/ writer): God, that's like asking which one of your kids is your favorite. Conceptually, of the years I was a part of, I'd have to say 2013: Camp Morningwood. The opening alone was genius, having the scantily-clad lady versions of all the classic horror film icons. Everything about that year was perfection.
On a personal level, though, it would have to be 2014: Frat House. This year might be tied for first in concept as well. Even though it was completely different from the year prior, there was still a sense of perfect synergy in the whole show. I wasn't going to audition that year, but I'm so glad I did! This was the year I auditioned as full-figured "Elsa." My song parody ended up in the show, and it paved the way for me being the Bill & Ted co-writer for three years.
Walk me through the experience of writing a new Bill & Ted.
Jason Surrell (writer/director): Bill & Ted was always a writer's show in my mind, more so than a director's show, in that it was where most of the difficult choices had to be made. I would say that as a director as well, and that's not to take anything away from Paul who directed my first two scripts. As a writer you spend the year watching pop culture, the news - everything - to start to build up the cast list, who you want to include, and how. Because how we satirized something was almost more important than who we satirized. In 1995 we had a "Stallone" character who came out in a "Judge Dredd" helmet and "Rocky" boxing shorts - so that was a broad send-up of Stallone himself rather than one specific character. And then for two years in a row Dan Johnson did a number on William Shatner and we just changed out the costume: a "Starfleet" uniform one year and a police uniform the next - because it didn't matter if it was supposed to be "James T. Kirk" or "T.J. Hooker" - the point was that we were making a commentary on Shatner.
All that said, I was nervous when I began directing the show in 1996 because it was one of my very first directing jobs, so it was like jumping into the deep end while the pool was drained. But I found that my main focus was on successfully translating everything that works on the page to the stage without messing up a good thing. And Bill & Ted was always a very collaborative show for me. I'd open the first rehearsal by saying, "Your active, creative participation in this show is not encouraged... it's expected." We had the pick of the litter in terms of local talent, and you'd be an idiot not to tap into that. Now, you shouldn't take advantage and rely on them to do the work for you, but as long as I went into the first night of rehearsals with a strong script, I knew my cast was only going to make it better and funnier - not only through the course of rehearsals, but throughout the course of the run. They would find things and try them, and since I tried to be at the stage every night of the run, we could approve it and put it in right then and there. I knew I had to get it right as a writer and then not screw it up as a director. If I got into a disagreement with the writer, I could just throw myself off the set!
Sharon Joy Yost (performer/writer): As mentioned earlier, each year I would write my own monologues to audition with. A few days after auditioning for "Elsa" I had received a call from the writer and director, Jason Horne, saying, "So we had a "Frozen" section in the show already written, but we really like what you came up with. Can we use what you wrote, and, do you want to play "Elsa?" Of course the answer was "yes and yes." After the success of that year I was then asked to come on as a seasonal writer with Jason Horne.
The writing process meant my getting to work behind-the-scenes in Universal Orlando Creative with some of the most incredible people I looked up to and admired throughout the years, which is still so surreal to think about. Oftentimes Jason would already have the theme and general blueprint for the show and I would help fill in the holes. We would dialogue and, oftentimes in just joking around playing with ideas, would come up with solid material. We had a whiteboard where we'd write out popular shows, musicians, movies, and scandals throughout the year, and we were constantly adding and deleting. I just remember being so impressed with Jason's creative solutions and I feel that the success of the show is truly the genius of Jason Horne, and the writers that went before him. I'm glad I was able to contribute, but he was definitely the mastermind.
What did you love most about performing in the show?
Chris Leps (Bill): Aside from getting to perform with so many friends and talented people, what made it all so great was being a performer in the show was basically a front row seat. We all had our lines and choreography down pat, so we were able to really take in and enjoy what everyone was doing in their respective moments, and every night was slightly different. As with all live show settings, you got instant feedback from the audience and that level of energy really fueled our desire to make the most of all those beats. It really allowed for a fluid, organic performance within the structure of the dialogue and pacing.
Jason Ryan Perry (Ted): The audience. It's one of those shows that becomes more of a celebration and, most importantly, everyone is in on it. It's not one of those cheesy theme park shows where they press for audience participation, and it certainly wasn't the type of show to exclude the audience altogether. Though not as many shout-outs and such, it reminded me of something like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. If you've seen the final show of the run, then you know exactly what I mean.
Brett Waldon (performer): I love that I was given an opportunity to play a character from the movies that no one had seen or done before in this capacity. It was definitely nerve-racking knowing that fans hold the Grim Reaper close to their hearts, and rightfully so given how iconic William Sadler's performance is. The accent, the look, the personality - it was a fun challenge to honor the character while also imbuing him with my own energy and motivations. There was one show where a co-worker of mine - who definitely knew what I looked like - texted me afterwards and said, "I guess you weren't in that show. Sorry I missed you." Which, I guess if you want a compliment as an actor, that's a pretty good one.
Kari Ringer (performer): My boyfriend (now husband), Casey Tregeagle, was in Bill & Ted with me. Being able to perform such an iconic show with your significant other was such a memorable experience.
|2017's Farewell Tour|
Megan Boetto (performer): What I love most is how much fun we would all have, both onstage and off. We could play around but also give a stellar show. I would get butterflies every time "We Will Rock You" would come on, and hearing the crowd do the stomps in the stadium would get me pumped! The camaraderie between the performers and crew was a refreshing and family-like vibe, and was essentially what kept me coming back year after year.
Michael Thibodeau (performer): The best part about performing in this show has to be the audience. I know that sounds cheesy, but hear me out. We would perform seven shows a night and people would come back over and over again. It really felt like they were part of the show. They would say a lot of the lines with us and we really fed off of each other's energy. Also, whenever we would break onstage - it was so hard for me to not die laughing at some of the shit that would happen in the middle of a show. Finally, the costumes, lighting, and set designs always blew me away and lifted all of us up.
Jillian Gizzi (performer): My time, onstage and off, with the cast. Performing in this show is unlike anything else I've ever done, and it's fun to share the rush with a bunch of people who are being goofy right next to you.
Sharon Joy Yost (performer/writer): It was seeing the whole process come to fruition - from the creativity and excitement of auditioning, to getting the highly anticipated "congratulations" email, to all the hard work and possibilities thereafter. Every cast and crew member had such a love and appreciation for the show, and just being a part of everyone's skill set as a whole made for something so special.
The hours of rehearsals, learning choreography (which I loved), collaboration of ideas, set and light design, script re-writes, and the like - seeing all of it come together as a cohesive whole, in combination with the energy and 'good times' vibe from the crowd, is just freaking magical! It's the full circle experience of a job well done.
|Sharon Joy Yost, Paul Joseph Gajda II, Jason Ryan Perry in 2014's Frat House|
What are your fondest memories from the show?
Julie Zimmerman (creator): Watching the audience. Listening to the laughter. My most distinct memories are the mosquitos. One night I was out at the venue around midnight with the Art Director, John Paul Geurts, and he said, "Julie, call tech services or the audience will be eaten alive."
I loved seeing Jason Surrell excited about the script each year. He loved writing this show. The Tech Director would constantly shake his head at me because the venue still had to be used during the day for the stunt show. I remember the look on his face when I told him I wanted the Back to the Future DeLorean to come crashing out of the horse barn - he looked at me and said, "Where do I put the horses?" I said, "Anywhere but here."
Jason Surrell (writer/director): My fondest memories over the years boils down to the people, and by that I mean the actors and the audience. Late night rehearsals collaborating with "Bills" like Chris Leps and Joey Wolf, and Teds like James Keaton and Brian Skala to polish every moment we could into a gem. Wandering over to the adjacent Jaws: The Ride to watch them raise the animatronic sharks out of the water late at night - even knowing it was fake, we made sure not to go anywhere near the water.
Moments of transcendence in auditions like when Tyler Cravens came in and knocked it out of the park as "Fox Mulder" in front of British acting legend Miriam Margolyes, who happened to be sitting in on the auditions and leaned over to me and whispered, "He's very good." Or when Gina Galasso strolled into the room and was "Elaine Benes." And of course any moment in which the audience positively erupted as one, such as when "Bruce Willis", "Sylvester Stallone", and "Arnold Schwarzenegger" surrounded "John Travolta" and "Samuel L. Jackson" and "Sam" says, "What planet are you guys from?" "Arnold" takes just the right pause and answers, "Planet Hollywood," in a monotonous Terminator voice and the crowd goes wild. That's what it was all about.
|1996's The Final Frontier|
Chris Leps (Bill): So many memories and so much laughter, both onstage and backstage. It really was some of the most fun I ever had in my time as a live show performer.
One memory from 1997 stands out. Even though I auditioned for and was cast as Robin, I knew the Bill dialogue and staging from observation throughout rehearsals. For as fun as it was to play Robin, I missed performing Bill alongside my partner in crime, James Keaton. The show's writer and director, Jason Surrell, was and still is one of my closest friends, and he asked if I wanted to do one show as Bill, which of course I did!
The audiences always got bigger and more pumped up as Halloween drew closer, and this was one of those shows. Knowing it would be our only show together that year as Bill and Ted, James and I literally gave it everything we had. Our energy was through the roof and it felt like the audience went equally ballistic. It was truly awesome to be a part of that type of connection with the crowd and to perform at that level once again alongside James.
Jason Ryan Perry (Ted): This show has given me so many wonderful memories that hold a special place in my heart. One of my favorites was towards the end of the Farewell Tour, when Bill was talking to Death. Death says, "All of this will seem like a dream, but one you were lucky enough to have." I then came over to Bill and told him, "This has been a most excellent adventure." It's got to be one of my favorite, most heartbreaking scenes of all time.
Erin Cline (performer): Last year I built a Spotify playlist of songs from previous Bill & Ted shows that I have been a part of. I listen to that playlist often. To reminisce, to smile with happiness (and sometimes sadness), to attempt to remember portions of the choreography, and to reference my youth and the energy that is felt every time I think back on those years is what I'm most fond of.
Brett Waldon (performer): Every day held something memorable because we were all aware how limited our time together was. But I would have to say, hands down, my fondest memory is of the last few shows on the final night. Having the honor to stand next to P.J. and Jason (icons in their own right) as they delivered their final lines to an audience that adored them was absolutely incredible. I felt like I was cheating a bit being brand new to the show and getting to stand front and center amongst all the heavyweights and fan favorites from the last couple of years. The energy and love from those crowds was unforgettable.
Kari Ringer (performer): My favorite memory was the final show for two reasons. During my last "Moana" song, the entire amphitheater sang the words with me and I've never felt more like a rockstar. I broke character on mic and said, "This is so freaking cool." The second reason is for when every single cast member portrayed either Bill or Ted at the end. The audience didn't know we had added that element, and the amount of iPhone flashbulbs that went off was like the paparazzi on steroids. It felt so great to stand in unity with our cast in the same costumes and pay homage to the Bill & Ted legacy.
Megan Boetto (performer): Definitely the Farewell Tour. The last show especially, with half the cast dressed as Bill and the other half dressed as Ted. I think that the show will stay forever imprinted in my mind. The whole stadium on their feet cheering us on. Hugging the boys goodbye before our final bows and exiting through the phone booth. I will never forget that exact moment and how it all ended.
Michael Thibodeau (performer): The final night of the Farewell Tour was a whirlwind of emotions. I'm really honored to have been a part of that final year and I will cherish that night forever.
Jillian Gizzi (performer): Definitely my time with the cast and crew. I hate to say that it's fun when things go wrong, but... it's fun when things go wrong. It's nice knowing that the actors and techs around you will always help out and make sure the show resumes.
Sharon Joy Yost (performer/writer): Being a part of Bill & Ted made me face things I never thought I could do, or at least didn't feel qualified to do. I started off as a fan of the show and then was lucky enough to be in it. I got to sing, act, dance, and be a part of writing it. One year I even wrote all of the a cappella charts for the Pitch Perfect portions. My first year was Jason Horne's first year in charge - to be able to close out the show with him along with so many of the hardworking, talented, fun-loving people involved is something I hold close to my heart.
The culmination of my experience came during our last shows in the Farewell Tour. Every year, our last show would have a solid twenty minutes added because it was a time, as cast and audience, where we could go completely wild! The crowd would say every line with the actor speaking and be pleasantly surprised when a new line or joke was added. My journey came full circle when I got to surprise the audience by coming out as "Elsa" one last time. It had been three years since that role originated. Growing up, I wanted to be the female version of Weird Al - doing that role made it possible. I knew bringing her back would go over well, but I didn't expect what happened.
Kari Ringer was singing that year as "Moana" and as she implied my entrance the crowd started freaking out. Everyone shot out of their seats chanting, "Sing. Sing. Sing," to which I replied, "Oh, it's happening," and proceeded to sing. It had been three years since I sang that song and the audience remembered, singing back every word with me.
I will never forget that. All the years of hard work, building friendships, creating memories, growing in my craft, facing fears, working alongside some of the best of the best in Orlando (onstage and off), and having thousands of people acknowledge and appreciate your efforts and creativity was just something I can't fully put into words. I suppose my fondest memory is that of culmination, and the glory of our last show, in that moment.
|Props from the show on display at the HHN 25 Preview in 2015|
Chris - Which year was your final performance as Bill?
Chris Leps (Bill): 1997 was to be my last year, but at the time I didn't know it. I had been a live show performer for nearly eight years, and as enjoyable as it all was, it had run its course. My sights were set on a transition into television and film which had begun a few years earlier.
That October, I had the opportunity to be a lead stunt double on a feature film. It was the break I was looking for, so I had to take it. It was a gamble because it meant quitting my full-time job at Universal, but it paid off because I've been working in film and television ever since.
Having said that, I don't think I would have done anything different for my last Bill & Ted show. I always gave 110% regardless. Every October 31st, after the final show, we were always sad to say goodbye to it because we never wanted it to end. One aspect of youth, at least for me, is a more natural ability to live in the moment.
Jason, your return for the final year was so wonderful and bittersweet...
Jason Ryan Perry (Ted): I was lucky enough to be a part of the writing team for the show that final year along with Katie Ford, Joel Warren, and of course, Jason Horne. Unfortunately, when we first started writing the show in the spring, we had no idea that this year would be the last. So, in my mind, I was still "retired" as Ted, and I would just be there to help put some ideas on paper. The script ends up going through rewrites for various reasons, even after the run begins. A few months before rehearsals started I came in to do a script read for execs when Jason broke the news to me. I was already on the fence, but at that point I knew I had to come back.
At first it was rather difficult coming to terms with the fact that it was all coming to an end. Ultimately, I was just so proud to be a small part of something so big. To go from being cut from multiple auditions for the show I dreamed about, to eventually performing in it for nine years was just so surreal to me.
The last night of shows went by fast. I took a walk around the park after we did our mic checks and saw the line of people getting wristbands for our final performances. I silently sat in the stands for a few minutes before I got dressed and I could hear people waiting in the courtyard. I can't even remember how many shows we did that night, but I think I just smiled the entire time. I could probably talk about the last night of our run for hours, but I'll just say that it was really something extraordinary. I don't think there will ever be anything like it.
What do you think it was about that show that brought so many passionate fans back every year?
Julie Zimmerman (creator): Who doesn't love Bill & Ted? The show is pure satire. It's like watching Saturday Night Live with stunts and a brilliant musical finale. Nothing is off limits! It's pure gold.
Jason Surrell (writer/director): I think the reason the show endured and kept fans coming back comes down to two things: Bill and Ted themselves, and the show's format. These characters have always been inherently lovable and by virtue of their voices and physical appearances weren't too hard for other actors to capture, so the audience eagerly bought into it and went along for the ride. That's why it was always so important to keep Bill and Ted centerstage, literally and figuratively, and not allow them to get lost in the noise or shown up by colorful cameos.
We also made sure they had story, something to do, so that all the extra fun stuff was in context and made sense. The format, which we introduced in that second show and established as the formula that would remain for most of the run, was the "who's who" cast and how they would be incorporated into the story. The audience never knew who we would choose from the year in news and pop culture or how we might use them, so knowing the show was going to be different and, as it turned out, bigger and progressively more outrageous year after year kept people coming back and making it the number one offering at Halloween Horror Nights.
Chris Leps (Bill): A number of elements, I think. People were excited and curious to see what new storyline the show would offer each year and, along with it, what new characters would be involved. Unlike standard "lookalike" shows, it really was an "adventure" and an actual story about what Bill and Ted were experiencing at that time. It was a great canvas to paint on and create valid reasons for new characters to be brought in from their respective worlds.
Also, it was an immersive experience for the audience. They were, in many ways, an extension of the performance. I feel that aspect kept them coming back for more. Lastly, it was another medium in which to see so many iconic characters come together outside the realms of TV and film, so in that regard it was the ultimate mash-up!
Jason Ryan Perry (Ted): There were a lot of elements that came together to really make this particular show stand out. There's certainly not a lot of theme park shows that could get away with actors cussing onstage or half-naked dancers. Halloween Horror Nights itself has such a passionate fan base, and there are various reasons why people love the event. I think the same could be said for our show. It's a spectacle unlike anything they've ever seen. Some people enjoy the improv moments, some like the dancing, and others may be there just to rest their feet for a while. Either way, we're so incredibly grateful for all of the support that people have shown us over the years. It really meant everything, to all of us.
Erin Cline (performer): I think watching the show was a release for people - an opportunity to make fun of what scares us, excites us, and frightens us; which itself is an opportunity to unite us.
We Will Rock You. That is a promise, and a threat.
|Merchandise for 2017's Farewell Tour|
Brett Waldon (performer): This show was a release valve for all the pent-up anxiety we felt during the year. No matter what awful, annoying, and unbelievable headlines were being generated, we could always respond with, "I can't wait to see what Bill & Ted do with that this year," and it made people feel better. Then, for a magical shining few weeks every year, we could all laugh and be in on the jokes together.
Bill & Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure was cathartic, silly, mindless, biting, sexy, dopey, sneezy, and bashful. I think the Farewell Tour did everything right. It managed to be relevant and observe what was happening at present during that time while also acknowledging its past without being maudlin about it. Of course, Grim was written into the show before anyone knew it was the Farewell Tour, but it just seemed completely fitting that it worked out that way. I would always joke that I was the Ted McGinley of the show, coming into a successful series and having it end immediately upon my arrival. The joke never landed, but that's because my references aren't as timely as they should be.
The Farewell Tour, above all else, paid homage to the fans and to every performer that's ever been in a Bill & Ted show, past and present. It was a love letter to itself, but one that ends with the word 'sike!'
Kari Ringer (performer): I think Bill & Ted gave its audiences an outlet to collectively laugh off the craziness of the year. Whether it was political, musical, entertainment, or pop culture, we could call out their flaws and all have a laugh together. It helped us to not take ourselves too seriously. It was also nostalgic, as Bill and Ted are these likable iconic teens, and we get to see world events through their unique perspectives. The Farewell Tour gave audiences and cast members a chance to say a final goodbye to those icons and feel a sense of community with their fellow fans.
Megan Boetto (performer): It was the amount of things people could relate to through pop culture and current times. If something big happened, we would change minor parts of the show to stay relevant. The energy on the stage trickled into the stands, leaving audiences fully engaged with what we were giving to them. Fans would remember lines and recite them with the actors, we knew they were right there with us. The Farewell Tour was a perfect send-off for the Wyld Stallyns.
Michael Thibodeau (performer): I don't think there are many shows like Bill & Ted. The show is designed to be an escape from all the horror in the park. It doesn't take itself too seriously and the embodiment of the whole franchise is "be excellent to each other," and "party on" - you would have to truly go out of your way to not have a good time in that audience.
Jillian Gizzi (performer): I think Bill & Ted is a show you see just to have a good time, which is exactly why people like it. The Farewell Tour was bittersweet; I loved being a part of it, of course, but it was sad to see it go.
Sharon Joy Yost (performer/writer): As a cast, we had input. As the audience, we considered them an extension of the show; they played a character and a relationship was formed of mutual appreciation. There was a level of personal touch and interaction that you just don't get anywhere else. It was special because it was irreverent, silly, and relevant but it didn't take itself too seriously.
Perry and P.J. were just so lovable as Bill and Ted. Their portrayal had a way of making everyone feel at home and in on the jokes. We could break the fourth wall. There was structure, but also some liberties that could be taken that added a personal touch and an anticipation of "what are they going to do this time?!"
It's incredible to look at the evolution of Universal Studios and Halloween Horror Nights and how this show remained part of it for 26 years...
Julie Zimmerman (creator): I love Universal Studios Florida. Having helped build the place, there is a great deal of my DNA under all that concrete. I knew Universal would always own Halloween - Universal Pictures was all about Horror films from the 1920s to the 1950s. Horror films saved that studio. Halloween Horror Nights was created in an empty trailer on a borrowed computer, and a TV tray table served as my desk. I knew the event would be a success - for in a world of dancing mice and mermaids, you need a place to scream and cry out for your mother to save you.
I am proud of Halloween Horror Nights. I am amazed at the thousands upon thousands who adore the event. I had no idea the event was adored across the globe. HHN lives in my heart. I still watch Horror films, visit haunted locations, and design haunted houses in my mind.
Jason Surrell (writer/director): The show's personality changed over the years, right along with the folks who were creating it, and that's how it should be. It was always a little jarring to come back during the random years and see different iterations of Bill and Ted, and perhaps a different tone to their adventures, but the show changed with the times.
Being there for the last show of the night during the Farewell Tour in 2017 was actually pretty emotional for me. My father had passed away earlier that year and The Great Movie Ride had recently closed at Disney's Hollywood Studios - that attraction used my script for over half its run - so it felt like a year of goodbyes to powerful forces that had been in my life for a long time. I was just praying they wouldn't announce the closure of A Day in the Park with Barney anytime soon or I would have had to be committed. But it was an honor to be there with the audience to say goodbye to Bill and Ted and know that I had a little something to do with all the love and goodwill that filled The Wild Wild Wild West Stunt Show stage that night.
Sharon Joy Yost (performer/writer): We can always live in the "what if" of a reunion tour. The likelihood of that happening is slim at best, but hearing people's ideas and seeing their faces light up with the possibility is most excellent indeed.
On a more serious note, the Farewell Tour needed major adjustments at the beginning of the run. The show had its debut in late September and was reworked when the tragedy of the Las Vegas shooting occurred; just one year after the horrific Pulse shooting that devastated our community. With the content of our show that year we changed the entire premise and added extra rehearsals to implement it. People wanted a safe place to escape the real world - to forget, to laugh, and to feel something other than the weight of the world on their shoulders. It was our goal to provide that. That relationship and understanding between cast, crew, and audience lent itself to the healing process. To live life celebrating what was good, and honoring what no longer was. Cast and audiences coped together. The old adage of "the show must go on" rang true. Each night we got to see people regain their strength and get some semblance of normalcy back, all leading up to the final farewell shows.
Our last shows were just something special; a time you wish you got to stay in forever. I mean, we had Greg Faucette as Rufus, we had every performer dressed as Bill and Ted for the finale, we had the most sentimental lines from the movie delivered by Death himself. We all celebrated each other in the bittersweet knowing that we got to be a part of something so special in our lifetime, something that quite possibly can't be topped. We felt the deep truth of the words uttered in the show that, "All of this will seem like a dream, but one [we] were lucky enough to have." It was a joy and privilege being a part of Universal's legacy and cult classic showtime history. It was more than a show. It was more than an experience. I have nothing less than a fond appreciation and deep level of gratitude having been part of something that truly made people's day a little brighter.
What were your thoughts on the new movie, Bill & Ted Face the Music?
Jason Surrell (writer/director): The absence of Halloween Horror Nights leaves an awful hole in a year filled with awful holes, cancelations, and postponements. It's not Fall or Halloween in Orlando without that event, even though we'd now be on year three without the boys.
It seems only fitting that Bill and Ted are back on the big screen in Face the Music, which probably not coincidentally deals with aging and the passage of time in a world when you theoretically have all the time in the world. Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves are around my age, maybe a little older, and roughly the same age as all the actors who played Bill and Ted for me, so the movie did have a slight "Twilight of Generation X" vibe to it. But unlike the first two films, this one came along after I had built up thirty years of love and affection for the characters in a film that felt very much like the first two, creating a narratively and emotionally cohesive trilogy, which gets harder to do the more time that passes, so in addition to being sweet, innocent, fun, and funny - all things we desperately need right now. The film was incredibly poignant for me for all those reasons. I absolutely loved it.
|Strange things are afoot at the Circle K.|
If you had to sum up Bill & Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure with only three words, what would they be?
Julie Zimmerman (creator): Excellent party, dudes!
Jason Surrell (writer/director): Oh, that's easy. "Party on, dudes!"
Chris Leps (Bill): Jubilation. Extraordinary. Nostalgic.
Jason Ryan Perry (Ted): "Excellent. Halloween. Adventure." Everyone involved from the cast, crew, and especially the fans truly made this a most excellent adventure.
Erin Cline (performer): Strange. Things. Afoot. #2020
Brett Waldon (performer): Party on, dudes!
Kari Ringer (performer): Be. Excellent. Always.
Megan Boetto (performer): Most. Excellent. Adventure.
Michael Thibodeau (performer): Bodacious one-of-a-kind experience.
Jillian Gizzi (performer): Best. Time. Ever.
Sharon Joy Yost (performer/writer): Party on, dudes!
Catch ya later, audience dudes!