Barbara Carlson, clad in a demure plaid flannel nightgown and a three-strand string of pearls, nibbled crustless tea sandwiches and mini-tostadas as she lounged in a white upholstered loveseat at the Lab Theater in Minneapolis’ Warehouse District.
“Let’s play ‘Have You Ever?’ ” shouted someone from the stage. “Have you ever … gone out wearing nothing but a trench coat?”
“Well, I once went to the airport wearing nothing but a fur coat,” volunteered the flamboyant media personality to a swell of approving laughter from the other 100 or so women in the audience, also sporting various exemplars of sleepwear.
Such was the confessional-sleepover atmosphere on opening night of “The Ultimate Pajama Party,” a new experiment in interactive theater that combines variety-show skits and banter with contests and games.
It’s long been a given that women purchase 70 percent of theater tickets — a fact also not lost on those behind such female-focused shows as “Girls Only: The Secret Comedy of Women,” “Menopause, the Musical” and “Church Basement Ladies.”
And plays by and/or about women make money. While men write 80 percent of produced theatrical work, Broadway plays written by women earn on average 18 percent more than those written by men, according to a recent Princeton study.
Marketers of other types of events are also zeroing in on female ticket buyers, such as “Fire of Hope: A Girlfriends’ Getaway for God,” a weekend event held earlier this month at the State Theatre.
“Pajama Party” also targets packs of middle-aged women. But it amps up the girlfriend experience by getting the audience in on the action while encouraging tweeting, photo-taking and strolls to the bar mid-performance. Tickets are $69 for regular seating, and $99 for a “VIP” lounge up front, including cabana-boy — yes, you heard right — table service and, if you’re so inclined, foot massages.
Broadcast personality Kevyn Burger, slated for an upcoming cameo at the show, notes what she calls the hyper-segmenting of entertainment by generation.
“Look at radio,” she said. “It’s not just classic rock, but classic rock or country from a certain period. You get in your demo and you work it. As baby boomers, we’re used to everything being for us, and when you age out of the demo, it’s not so much fun. This show is for a woman who’s thinking, ‘Do I want to go to the theater or do I want to stay home and watch “Downton Abbey”?’ ”
Conceived by Wayzata entrepreneur Tammy Hauser, “The Ultimate Pajama Party” is an outgrowth of an annual charity event she’s thrown the past three years at area hotels. She hit on the slumber-party idea while relaxing in the hot tub at the Marsh spa one day.
“I was floating there and had this vision in my head of a time in my life when I felt most connected to other women,” she said. “I thought, why not a grown-up girl party with pajamas instead of black cocktail dresses? It’s a grown-up way of revisiting those joyful connections of youth.”
Cindy Oliverius, who came with her grown daughter, Chelsea, carefully transported a pair of pink cocktails back to her table. The two had bought adult-sized footie PJs for the occasion.
“It seemed like a fun mom-and-daughter thing to do, something different,” she said.
During many of the skits, only two-thirds of the audience seemed to be giving full attention to the cast, while the rest texted, chatted or fetched “Pink Slipper” cocktails between glances stageward.
“That’s OK,” Hauser said, “As long as everyone’s having fun.”
Audience/cast camaraderie is encouraged with amusing self-deprecation from the stage. “I’m the only one here who could have a pedicure and mammogram at the same time,” quipped cast member Janet Paone, referencing a certain sag factor. Audience members, who fill out questionnaires beforehand, also get onstage and share stories from their lives, à la reality TV.
So what about the women who show up in slinky nighties and heels?
“Oh, there are always a few who show up in teddies and 8-inch stilettos,” Hauser said. “It’s all about celebrating whoever you are.”
On opening night, the audience was speckled with several men, some of them spouses and/or investors in the show, others upcoming “celebrity hosts” who came to find out what they were in for.
One supportive hubby, Jim Boyer, sported red silk PJs and a pipe, channeling Hugh Hefner. “Have you seen my new bride?” he asked. “Probably not. She’s not old enough to get in here.”
Would cabana cutie Ryan Prohaska be rubbing any weary tootsies tonight?
“Maybe, it depends what their toes look like,” he said, laughing.
Pop-culture references include the Kardashians, “Fifty Shades of Grey” and “diet bingo.” The finale is a 45-minute dance party with live music by the triple-blonde-fronted Belladiva, who belted out predictable rallying cries like “All the Single Ladies” and “I Will Survive.”
The show is co-produced by veteran Sandy Hey, the woman behind the long-running “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding” franchise at Hey City Stages. Asked why she came out of retirement to bank on Hauser’s new project, she had a brief and ready answer.
“Two reasons,” she said. “One, women, and two, pajamas. We all secretly want to put them on at the end of a hard day. This show is about just getting away from whatever your life is to come play in a sandbox for adult women.”
Asked why this show for women was written and directed by men — James Detmar and Ross Young, respectively — Hauser and Hey said their experience with interactive theater, including “Tony n’ Tina,” made them ideal for the job. The women in the cast contributed material as well.
Hauser, who has a theater degree, says she’s a businesswoman first. She hopes the PJ party concept will pay off for investors with merchandising (including pajamas, naturally) and, eventually, multiple venues across the country, even on cruise ships.
“Clear the pool decks!” she said. “It’s low-cost, easily transportable and cheaper than putting on, say, ‘Jersey Boys.’ ”