Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Why Horror is HARD...

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.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

We Survived!

On behalf of LA PETITE MORGUE, I'd like to once again thank everyone who made this year's Best of Fresh Blood Festival possible:

  • The Board
  • The festival directors, who went above and beyond to bring these pieces to life with no budget to speak of, and hardly any production support 
  • The Sanguine Society 
  • The festival actors who always behaved like professionals (despite not being paid) - especially Vito Trigo, my fight choreographer, and Amanda White, my unofficial PA 
  • Everyone who donated to the fundraising campaign, and all our other donors 
  • The super-supportive festival playwrights (3/4 of whom were at EVERY performance!) 
  • All the actors who have performed at all the Fresh Blood events 
  • Our wonderful volunteer PSM, Claire Fishman 
  • Our volunteer SM, Joe Brofcak 
  • Our wonderful makeup and special effects designer, Margaret Donahue
  • All the lovely playwrights who have submitted their bloody awesome horror plays in the past two years 
  • Steve Barrett, for the awesome photography, and the desk! 
And finally, thank you to everyone who supported the festival by buying a ticket! Without an audience to terrify, it's not theatre, it's just a bunch of weirdos playing make-believe - so thank you for playing with us! 

The BOFB 2014 Photo Album is on facebook. If you want to see more photos, or if you have photos to share, just leave a comment, or e-mail them to:

If you didn't get a copy of the program, you can download a PDF program - and if you didn't have a chance to buy a sweet LPM T-shirt, you'll have another chance at our next event. Just give us a month or two to recover first. This live horror thing is exhausting.

With Undying Love From One of Your Semi-Fearless Leaders,
Kellie Powell

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Meet Christopher Krovatin: Fighting the Good Fight Against Boredom

Tiperary Explores Horror Movie Tropes in an Original Context 

In just fifteen pages, Christopher Krovatin's play Tiperary touches on kink negotiation, suspension of disbelief, the fetishization of virginity, and sexualized violence against women in the horror genre. Artistic Director Chelsea Holland chose this play to direct for the Best of Fresh Blood festival, and the first performance is Thursday, July 17 at 7:00pm.

The play centers on Nick and Diana, a married couple, who are attempting to navigate the intersection of sex and violence as they role-play a slasher-movie fantasy scenario. And, just as some horror movies (or plays) can be inadvertently hilarious when things go wrong, Diana's sexual fantasy is continually interrupted by hilarious failures. It seems reality just can't compete with the idealized scene the couple is trying, at times desperately, to create. We interviewed playwright Christopher Krovatin to ask him about his inspiration for the play, his greatest fears, and the challenges of writing horror.

The scenario that Diana describes is fairly specific, but it also hints at some familiar horror movie genre tropes. Early slasher movies established the convention - now more of a cliché than a rule - that if someone has sex in a horror movie, they'll be dead by the credits. Only the virginal female (the "Final Girl") has any hope of escaping the killer. Diana's fantasy casts her as the virginal female, and her husband as a hungry-for-revenge murderer. The specific motive she gives the killer is actually rather similar to Mrs. Voorhees' motive in the original Friday the 13th. By exploring horror movie tropes and exploiting audience expectations, Christopher Krovatin has created a thoroughly original, thought-provoking, and frequently hysterical play.

See Tiperary by Christopher Krovatin for yourself - along with four other terrifying plays at The Best of Fresh Blood, July 17-19 at Stage Left Studio.

-- Claire Fishman

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Meet Devlin Giroux: Bucking the Trend

JESTER Explores the Ambiguity Between Reality and Imagination

My first introduction to Devlin Giroux's play Jester was in the audition room. Stephen Cedars, Jester's director, asked actors to perform an impromptu dance. He asked them to evoke fear indirectly - to be creepy and unsettling, rather than aggressive, towards the person they were tasked with "entertaining". That's where I came in. Stephen needed someone for the auditioners to scare, so as the reader, I sat across from each of them, while they attempted to terrify me with their portrayals of the Jester. And terrify they did! 

Later, when I read the full script, I further understood why the Jester is so eerie. Marie, the character whom the Jester haunts, may or may not actually be seeing the Jester. The ambiguity in Giroux's play between what is real and what is imagined adds to the overall uneasiness that the play provokes. This is especially evident in that Marie is being held in a mental health facility, and everyone there seems to believe she's hallucinating. 

Devlin Giroux lives in Michigan, so I couldn't interview him in person, but he was kind enough to answer some questions about his play, his fears, and the challenges of writing horror:

Distinguishing between reality and imagination is a concept that has often appeared in psychological horror films. One example that comes to mind is the 1968 classic, Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby. Throughout the film, Rosemary's paranoia grows as she fears that her child has been promised as a Satanic sacrifice. For viewers, a large part of what makes this film scary is that we don't know whether what Rosemary believes is the truth or a delusion. 

Uncertainty about reality continues to show up in more recent psychological horror films, touching on a wide array of topics. The Others (2001) features a woman who fears there are ghosts living in her house. In Flightplan (2005), a woman on an airplane is convinced her daughter was kidnapped, but everyone on the flight claims they never saw the child. Black Swan (2010) explores the gradual mental decline of a ballet dancer as she becomes increasingly paranoid and competitive.

Despite different portrayals of psychological horror, all of these films and Jester explore what happens when the truth isn't easily discernible. While zombies and vampires and ghosts are certainly scary in their own right, there's something particularly frightening about being unsure of what is real and what is not. This is especially scary when coupled with a disbelief on the part of others, like in Jester. Only Marie sees the Jester, and so she essentially has to confront her fear on her own, in the face of skepticism. In doing so, she also has to face herself, which might be the most frightening thing of all. 

--Claire Fishman

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Faces of Fear: Meet the Cast

The faces in this photograph might SEEM like the faces of two relatively typical, moderately attractive, perfectly happy young performers. But don't let that fool you! These are only two of the doomed souls who have wandered into a labyrinth of terror from which there is no escape.

They thought they were auditioning for another evening of new one-act plays by another Off-Off-Broadway production company - but what they found themselves involved in was much, much worse!

Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to introduce to you to the latest of La Petite Morgue's helpless victims: The Cast of The Best of Fresh Blood!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Meet Eric LaRocca: The Playwright Prodigy

Some of you may already know that when we choose the plays we want to read at Fresh Blood, we contact the playwrights to give them the good news, and invite them to the reading. Many of our submitting playwrights live in other states, and sometimes even other countries, so I've grown accustomed to having playwrights decline because of distance. But when I contacted Eric LaRocca, to tell him that we wanted to read his submission Parasite at the November 2013 edition of Fresh Blood, I received a response I had never received before. He asked if he would be able to get into the Dressing Room Boutique & Bar - because he wasn't 21 yet. 

If you haven't read or seen Parasite, you won't understand how truly shocked I was by this response. First of all, it is a very mature play. Subtle, sophisticated, provocative, gritty... (filthy, actually...) and it was written by someone who couldn't legally drink alcohol?!? My mind was blown. Second, it seemed unfair somehow that someone so young could write something so good. Personally, I started writing plays when I was sixteen. But my plays... - how should I put this? - they sucked. I think most writers would freely admit to being at least a little embarrassed by our early work. But Parasite had none of the trademarks of an "early" play. I had to conclude that: 1.) Eric must have gotten a very early start as a writer. Obviously much earlier than me. And 2.) that La Petite Morgue was very fortunate that such an insightful, intellectual, and acerbic young writer had decided to write horror for the stage. 

Subsequently, we chose Parasite as one of the plays we would fully produce for the Best of Fresh Blood festival. Eric took the time to answer some questions about his play, fear, horror, and the phenomenon of decay. 

"Humans can learn a lot from parasites. Their size doesn’t work against them the way you might think it would. It actually inspires a creativity and a perseverance that’s unparalleled in any other species. They’re a lot like humans in their nature. More than you’d imagine. You see, the propagation of the species is imperative to the growth of the genus. But, they have to be very precise with where they deposit their eggs."
-- Anna in Parasite
Parasite is a play with two characters: Anna (played by Amanda White), a deeply troubled doctoral candidate who mutilates herself after becoming convinced that her infected tattoo is the key to winning back her lover, Lucie (played by Lillian Ancheta). The play touches on several absolutely horrifying phenomena, from the everyday (exploitative relationships), to the psychological (delusional parasitosis), to the inexplicable (and the incredibly gross). If you want to get a taste of how horrifying this play will be to watch, I've been compiling a collection of photographs of infected flesh, self-inflicted wounds, DIY tattoo removal, and other really gross things that you probably shouldn't look at if you are at all squeamish, or ever want to enjoy food again. The examples are extreme, but the everyday horrors of decay (and exploitation) are an omnipresent force - as Eric so vividly reminds us. 

PARASITE by Eric LaRocca

Check back soon for more interviews with the Best of Fresh Blood playwrights, and don't miss The Best of Fresh Blood festival, July 17-19 at Stage Left Studio.