Volume 76, Number 50 | May 9 -15, 2007

Photo by Mark Wintle

At the IFC Center’s monthly, midnight screening of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer Sing-A-Long,” the cult TV show gets the Rocky Horror treatment.

Doing the time warp again, this time with Buffy

Clinton McClung keeps the memory of his favorite show alive with singing, dancing and kazoos

By Michael Tedder

Like others, Clinton McClung watched the 1997 premiere episode of the television series “Buffy The Vampire Slayer.” It was cute, he thought, but not really worth his time.

Almost a decade later, he’s conducting theaters full of Buffy fans in rapturous sing-a-longs about love, friendship and the hidden evil of rabbits.

“The great thing about the Buffy sing-a-long is that … you don’t feel like everyone in the audience is mocking this, or mocking you,” McClung says. “You can tell they are there because they love this show.”

The “Buffy The Vampire Slayer Sing-A-Long” McClung organized has been selling out weekend shows since September at the IFC Center, capacity 200, and returns there this Friday and Saturday, May 11 and 12.

Supernatural Charm

“Buffy The Vampire Slayer,” which ran on The WB from 1997 to 2001 and The UPN from 2001 to 2003, is a show about Buffy Summers, a young woman destined to protect the world against demons, witches and, of course, vampires. It was loosely based on a 1992 movie of the same name, but the show hued closer to creator Joss Whedon’s original vision for a blend of horror, drama and dark humor. From this pulpy premise sprang a show that continues to resonate with fans.

“‘Buffy’ was a show that spoke to the alienation of adolescence,” says Entertainment Weekly Senior Editor Marc Bernardin. “It used the tropes of horror to weave a rich, rewarding tapestry that resonated with emotion and drama. And, at times, it was hysterical.”

One of the most well-known episodes was the 2001 Emmy-nominated musical, “Once More With Feeling.” A demon’s spell caused everyone in Buffy’s home of Sunnydale to reveal secrets by bursting into song, dance, and occasionally, flame. The songs, ranging from Who-like rock opera to Broadway-esque showstoppers, were a hit with fans. But it was an earlier milestone that drew McClung in.

“I just happened to be watching TV with a roommate one night, and we caught the finale for season two, where she gets kicked out of school and her mom throws her out of the house and she kills her boyfriend [the vampire, Angel] right when he gets his soul back,” McClung said. “Boom, we were hooked, like from that moment on.”

A sing-a-long is born

At that time, McClung, 36, was living in Brookline, Mass. He grew up in Colorado and moved to the Boston area to attend graduate school. He wasn’t sure where, but figured there were enough colleges in the area that he could decide later.

The former film major got a part-time job as a self-described popcorn-shoveler at the art house Coolidge Corner Theater. He was later promoted to programmer and never got around to picking a school.

When he wasn’t mailing schedules or writing blurbs to plug the theatre, the management occasionally let McClung organize midnight movie events. He showed a flair for combining beloved films with audience participation, such as a “Big Lebowksi” look-a-like contest and a shark-steak cookout before a screening of “Jaws.” But he found his greatest inspiration when a sing-a-long version of “The Sound Of Music” played at the Coolidge.

“(That) was a big hit, but it’s not really my favorite movie or anything,” he said.

“So I started thinking of ways to do something that I loved with a sing-a-long concept, because it was really fun. I lived with five girls at the time in a big house, and they all watched (‘Buffy’) incessantly and knew the lyrics to every song of the musical. I could just drop the title of a song and they’d start singing … and I said, ‘I bet other ‘Buffy’ fans are equally excitable.’”

McClung brainstormed with a theater troupe and ordered props, such as kazoos for fans to blow when ‘Buffy’ actress Sarah Michelle Gellar strains to hit a climatic high note. Finally, in October 2004, he stuffed goodie bags full of kazoos, red streamers and wax vampire teeth (later discarded as they make it hard to sing), and hosted the first sing-a-long at the Coolidge.

“The first one we threw, I thought it was just going to be a private party,” he said. “And 600 people showed up the first night. I thought, maybe [we’d get] 150. We ran out of goodie bags early because I didn’t make enough.”

After hosting five more sing-a-longs and helping theaters in Texas and Arizona start their own events, McClung decided it was time for a change. His former roommate took over his position at Coolidge, and last summer McClung moved to New York.

He had contacts at the IFC Center, and convinced programmer Harris Dew to host a weekend sing-a-long. Even with minimal advertising, save for flyers and website posts,100 people were turned away from the inaugural September shows. A November show was quickly scheduled, and it’s been a monthly event since.

Girl power

Judging by the number of fans at IFC who can sing the lyrics word for word, most of them must already own the musical episode on DVD. So why pay to see to it in theaters?

“Among a certain cohort of people, ‘Buffy’ is a well-regarded show, even though it didn’t have the highest ratings,” says Sarah D. Bunting, co-editor of the popular review website, Television Without Pity, which recapped ‘Buffy’ episodes during its initial run. “It wasn’t on the same level as ‘ER.’ But it created a community… [The fans are] keeping the flame alive.”

The Buffy community includes everyone from teenagers to college professors, McClung said, and its influence is still felt today. Buffy fan and volunteer for Americorp and Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network Justin Rosado said the show’s message of heroism and protecting the weak continues to inspire him.

“I have all the seasons on DVD and the board game, the monster book, some novels and some of the action figures. I got (to the first showing) at 7pm, just to make sure I was first,” Rosado said. “To me, ‘Buffy’ means everything that humans are supposed to be. It always made me think that… I can save the world if I have too.”

The show’s ability to be funny and heart-warming without being cheesy endeared it to fans, but it was also notable for its strong female characters. And respect for women is a message that still resonates with McClung. The sing-a-long features a running gag of yelling, “Shut up, Dawn!” at Buffy’s unpopular kid sister. But McClung once stopped a screening when an audience member yelled, “Shut up, bitch!” and said that anyone who didn’t respect women needed to leave the theater.

“I was raised by my mother, so I’m just more naturally inclined to like women and their attitudes,” he said. “I’m not like super-politically aggressive feminist or anything like that. But I’ve never thought women were any different than men.”

Staking Out The Future

McClung hasn’t found a new full-time job yet, but he’s not worried. He hopes to continue to host a ‘Buffy’ sing-a-long every month and said he wants to stage a sing-a-long for R & B singer R. Kelly’s absurdist multi-song opus “Trapped In The Closet.” He has also been promoting other IFC shows, including a zombie movie marathon. To promote the event, McClung covered his face in white makeup with fake bite marks on his arms and shaved head, and wrapped an “Ask Me About Zombies” sign around his stocky frame.

Ticket sales are divided among the show’s distributor, the IFC Center and McClung. He happily said he spends his share on props.

“My goal is not to make a lot of money,” he said. “I just want to keep up awareness of the show.”

The Buffy The Vampire Slayer Sing-A-Long plays at the IFC Center, 323 6th Ave, one weekend a month. Tickets are $15. For more information, call 212.924.7771 or go to www.ifccenter.com.

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