The events of a recent meal at Spiegelworld’s hot new restaurant, Superfrico, included but were not limited to: a man in cut-off denim shorts playing the saxophone to Beyonce’s “Love on Top” while standing on a table; a ballerina pirouetting en pointe through the dining room as she munched from a bag of Lay’s; and a contortionist quietly twisting herself into a human pretzel while a nearby diner pulled slices from a wood-fired pizza, seeming not to notice.
Before dining at Superfrico and witnessing the show firsthand, it’s easy to be skeptical. The acts have been documented across social media platforms, and on-screen they read as ridiculous — possibly annoying. But the in-person experience feels surprisingly nuanced. The acts are precisely, even deliberately, timed and mostly unintrusive. They seem to rise and fall with the energy of the dining room, never demanding energy from unwilling guests or intruding if they aren’t welcome. Much like the best restaurant service professionals, the entertainers seem to appear just as diners look for them, and know when to disappear into the dining room’s glowing background.
These acts are called Superfeats and are part of Opium, a show next door put on by Spiegelworld, the theater company known for immersive shows like Absinthe and Atomic Saloon. They were designed, for the most part, under the direction of Shannan Calcutt, an actor, comic act director, clown, and acting coach whose experiences include working as a lead clown in Cirque Du Soleil’s Zumanity for more than 15 years.
Calcutt says that when she was approached about working on the project, the concept was pretty amorphous. To build the experience, which had been broadly defined to her as an “interactive experience that connected Opium and the restaurant, but definitely wasn’t dinner theater” Calcutt and about a dozen cast members from Opium hid out for two weeks in the summer of 2021 in a house they lovingly referred to as the clown house.
“People would just go into different rooms, and then we would have a show-and-tell where people would present things,” Calcutt remembers. “These artists hadn’t been in front of an audience in a long time, and there was a great vulnerability in pitching an idea, so there was this strong sense of community and coming together as we worked out what this was really going to look like.”
By the time they got into the restaurant, before it opened, the cast had more than 60 ideas for Superfeats, Calcutt estimates. When they began rehearsing inside the space, around 30 percent were immediately dropped for logistical reasons — everything had to be able to happen during a busy restaurant service while a live show happened next door. The rest were slowly fine-tuned as the restaurant opened, in order to create a sense of connection and avoid a feeling of interruption.
The connection and integration with the dining room is the difference between dinner theater and whatever Superfrico really is. Rather than the dining room reacting to the acts, the acts react to the dining room. The effect is an experience that seems to naturally ebb and flow the way a great party does.
“I’ve worked with 1000s of audience members, intimately … but I don’t want to be brought on stage with the clown,” Calcutt said. “I think you’re hypersensitive as a clown to the audience’s needs, and we’ve worked with that a lot at Superfrico. There has to be attention to the energy of the room. These artists are highly skilled at what they do and they’re not just actors on the stage, doing dialogue or an act. They’re immersive. They know how to read a room, which is a huge skill.”
The room is read, or at least led, by stage managers who also serve as hosts on the floor of the restaurant. On any given night, one or both of them is behind the scenes, on a headset, making sure that, say, if the robot is spending time with a rambunctious table at Superfrico, he won’t miss his cue to be back on stage at Opium. “With Opium, there’s a pretty specific show order,” Calcutt explains. “With Superfrico, it’s a little looser. We’re always looking at, what’s the vibe, what’s the energy, what’s the need right now?”
The aim, ideally, is to have a loose outline of the evening, which then gets moved around according to the crowd on a given evening. Each night before service, one of the managers makes a call sheet according to the order of Superfeats that they have in mind. But once the restaurant gets going, that’s when the real action starts. “There are no wings to the stage, there is no backstage,” Calcutt says. “Artists are entering through the kitchen, and there are visual cues and subtle ways that people are communicating about where the artists need to be and when they need to move on, but it’s actually all happening around the guests.”
Today, Calcutt says there are somewhere between 20 and 30 acts being rotated through, and new ones are being fine-tuned all the time. Remember the ballerina who was last seen enjoying a bag of chips as she spun through the dining room? Calcutt said she had recently received an email from the dancer, asking whether Calcutt thought it would be better to be eating Lay’s or Cheetos while she danced through the dining room.
“I went with the Cheetos,” Calcutt said. “Because she’s in a beautiful white ballet costume, you know? The disgusting orange dyes all over herself, I thought would be more fun.”
This level of detail is, Calcutt says, what allows the whole experience to work. Like the operations of a great restaurant, the structure allows the experience to feel free-flowing. “I had a clown teacher who said the job of a performer is to lose yourself with great precision,” Calcutt said. “That’s what we try to do at Superfrico. We lose ourselves with great precision.”