There are universal challenges faced by those who produce live entertainment, especially those who do so in New York City. The rising cost of performance space. The financial commitment involved in facilitating a rehearsal process. Audiences with ever-shrinking disposable income and a myriad of alternate entertainment options. The psychological exhaustion of encouraging communication and mediating disputes in an art form defined by the necessity of collaboration.
Indie and amateur producers face yet more challenges - first and foremost, the question of how to keep actors, directors, and technicians motivated when no one is being paid for their time and talent. How to find, borrow, make, or steal that which the company needs, but which the company cannot afford to buy. How to walk the line between imitating professional theatre and presenting yourself as the cheap and fun alternative to same.
The past two years have given me plenty of time to reflect on the challenges of producing, but I found myself motivated to share with you some observations about the challenges that are unique to the production of live horror in NYC. Here are some of the reasons I've noticed why being Executive Producer at La Petite Morgue is the hardest job I've ever loved:
The Special Effects...
Sure, lots of shows use special effects, but I would argue that special effects are uniquely crucial in the horror genre. Hitchcock said, "There is no horror in the bang - only in the anticipation of it." Creating suspense depends on the writing, directing, and acting, and if those elements aren't top-notch, all the fake blood and squibs money can buy won't make a play scary. But, I would argue that what Aristotle referred to as spectacle is more important in this genre than any other. The dramatic climax of a play needs to be satisfying for the audience. If the dramatic climax of a play is a violent murder, then the audience is likely going to want to see that murder - usually with as much detail and realism as possible. The Greeks may have been fans of off-stage violence and gore, but most modern audiences feel they need to see it to believe it.
|Universally acknowledged masterpiece? Yes. But some kid in the 4th row |
is rolling his eyes because he thinks that blood looks like Kool-Aid.
Pretend you're directing a play. And that play ends with a brutal stabbing. You want your actor holding a knife that looks sharp enough to cut through human flesh. But if you ask an actor to hold a knife that is actually sharp enough to cut through human flesh, you run the risk of it actually doing that. Directors and producers have a responsibility to ensure that their actors are 100% safe - while simultaneously making the audience believe that those same actors are in terrible danger. Stage combat is complicated enough in the average play, but in horror, we add a variety of weapons, sometimes even guns, into the mix. For example, this year's festival shows featured the following weapons: a knife, a box cutter, a letter opener, and a phone (bashed over someone's head to knock him unconscious). You'd be surprised how much time I personally spent trying to add just enough foam padding to the bottom of the phone so that Blayne didn't accidentally slip one night and give Ryan a concussion, but not so much that the audience would find themselves wondering, "Why does the bottom of that phone look like a giant marshmallow?"
Everyone in the audience knows, intellectually, that one actor is not actually slitting the throat of the other actor with a box cutter, in a room full of witnesses. They know it. And yet... when the stars align, and the effect works perfectly, they still see that happen. Intellectually, they know that what they are watching is not real. But seeing something happen has an effect on you, separate from the intellectual reaction your brain is aware of. And, if everyone has done their job properly, then with a little bit of blind luck, someone sitting in the audience can have a real, visceral, emotional reaction to something that they simultaneously know is make-believe.