Archive for the ‘Theatre’ Category

10

I have been a scareactor for many different haunted houses over the past ten years.  It’s a form of acting that I find a great amount of joy in, and I also take a lot of pride in. That’s why when I’m told by people that it’s not “real acting” I get really defensive.

Often times the directors, actors, etc. who says things like that typically dislike haunts/horror or have never been on the production side of these types of shows. Look, I get it. I understand how someone can go into a haunt and think that the actors doing the scaring are just fooling around or how it doesn’t take any skill to pop out and say “boo.” I get that thought process because the rub is it doesn’t take a lot skill to just say boo; to just be able to do the minimal in a haunt. The skill comes from the planning, the prep, the ability to read the audience, and the overall craft that goes in to real scaring. It’s the same amount of prep I’d put in to any performance on screen or on stage, and it pisses me off when people just discount the work that I and so many other talented people put in.

I believe this is a sort of paradox that any off stage live theatre performer deals with. You’re told that there is no real place for performances like this to be on your resume, and that it doesn’t take any real talent. That’s such bull to me. You can tell a good scareactor from a bad one in an instant. The good ones put in the time and devotion to the characters that we create, and that effort shows. I also go to plenty of haunt events and the ones that scare me or entertain me the most are always the ones where you can tell that the actors believe in their characters and put in the time and passion to flesh them out in their own heads. One of the first things you lean in theatre is if you as an actor believe in the action taking place, it’s that much easier for the audience to believe it. That is true on stage/film, but it’s even more true I believe in more visceral performances like haunted houses, or these interactive experiences like ALONE, Delusion, or Fables.2

Along with the process of creating these characters from the ground up, the ability to hone in and read the audience is so important to performances in haunts. It’s something that you have to continually work on, and perfect and is unlike anything you’d ever experience in stage theatre and especially film. With stage theatre, yes, you need to be able to read your audience- sure. But that is nothing compared to the way you need to read your audience in a haunt environment. First and foremost there is safety. You need to protect yourself as well as make sure the audience is never in any real danger. People have different reactions to being scared. I’ve been punched, slapped, kicked, scratched. elbowed, and have also had to deal with people crawling away into a corner, running backwards, and crapping themselves. There are so many different ways people deal with fear, and you have to be able to read that and be able to react to that so that you can still give a performance while making sure your safe, not holding the line up, or making the guests destroy the set or themselves.

You also have to be able to read what scares your audience. Not everyone scares the same way or is afraid of the same thing. So you may get one person who is petrified after you burst through a doorway screaming, but the next person may think that it’s scarier to see you crawling on all fours towards them. You need to have your character and the given circumstances in your mind, but you also have to allow yourself to be malleable to what the audience wants to experience. Really- if you ever want a great improv experience, try working a haunted house for a season.

While there are plenty of scareactors who are ostracized in theatre, the same happens in film. An example is the actors who have played Michael Myers. There have been many different actors to don the mask, and it sounds like a really basic and simple role. But to me it’s much more. Those actors have to not only portray him physically but all they have to act with is tiny gestures and their eyes- that’s it. That, to me, takes a lot of skill but I know a lot of people who don’t think that it takes talent.

1There needs to be more acceptance for scareactors in the world of theatre as well as film.  I do understand that just because a person is able to create a character and scare others it doesn’t mean that they can memorize lines or do other basic things and interactions with others on stage, but it’s all still importance and working haunted houses teaches actors a lot about improv, staying in character through distractions, reading the audience, and so much more. It actually pains me that after the hours, and years of devotion to this art I’m actually told that I should add this work to my acting resume; that I’m told that essentially all the work I’ve put in doesn’t count. It does count, and it matters. Acting is about creating an experience for the audience, and you can ask any number of the thousands of “victims” I’ve had over the past ten years and they’d tell you that I along with my fellow cast member did indeed create an experience for them.

7

In less than five years the musical BatBoy has been produced twice in the Quad Cities. The first time was in 2012 by Augustana College’s Theatre Department, a production that I was actually a part of. The current production is being presented to the public by the QC Theatre Workshop in Davenport, IA. If you were worried about the same show being produced too soon in the same area, and actually involving several of Augustana’s original cast… don’t. Drop that thought into the trash, and burn it. Because the QC Workshop’s production is a completely different beast and, while using the same story, is so different than Augustana’s production that you’ll think you’re watching the show for the first time. And if you have never seen this “cult” play, do your self a favor- go out and see QC Workshop’s production this weekend. There will probably be no better way to spend Halloween weekend than by seeing this show (along with seeing ETU’s first performance this year at Augustana, of course!)

The play is inspired by the Weekly World News’ (a national enquirer magazine that was… I guess “popular” in the 90’s. I can still remember seeing it each week at the grocery store) story of a half human, half bat hybrid. When the “Bat Boy” (Calvin Vo) is found in the caves near Hope Falls, West Virginia, he is brought to the Parker’s house. Dr. Parker (Mike Shultz) is the local vet and the sheriff is sure he’ll know what to do with the creature. The town is in quite a panic since it appears that all of the local livestock is dying off, and they are ready to blame anyone… or anything! But Shelley (the Parker’s daughter, played by Becca Meumann Johnson) and Mrs. Meredith Parker (Jenny Winn) take a liking to the Bat Boy, whom Meredith names Edgar. The family keep the boy, and begin to teach him how to be civilized, though it seems like Meredith and Dr. Parker seem to know something that we don’t. But when the town finds out they don’t approve and insist that Edgar remain locked up, especially during the towns revival coming up. The good doctor gives his “word of honor” that Edgar will not attend but that doesn’t sit well with Meredith, Shelley, or Edgar for that matter. He wants to go badly. The three of them side against the doctor, causing something within the man to snap. He plans his revenge against Bat Boy as he begins to frame Edgar for murder and the killing of the local cattle! For the rest of the show we see Bat Boy being chased around by crazed towns people, while experiencing true love for the first time… (I’m really trying not to laugh while thinking about that.) It all leads to an big shock reveal about who Edgar really is and an operatic finale for the ages!

This play… is absolute lunacy. Just total, and utter hogwash. But that is what makes it so enjoyable. It’s the best of what makes dark comedy so great. It’s crazy, random, and out there while still keeping the tone dark and disturbing. This production really seemed to hone in on the ridiculousness of the concept and played it up to the utmost. At the same time, the QC Workshop is held in a really intimate black box like space- so while being over the top they knew how to handle levels during the show and really let those softer moments pop and reel you in.  It seemed like they had a really tight vision with this production, and it worked.

The choice of double casting worked in the absurdity’s favor, much like most of the shows decisions. There were only a few moments in the show that I felt like it was “too much” and it kind of took me out of the action taking place on stage, and that was usually when a quick change couldn’t be pulled off fast enough and the actors had to change on stage. But for the most part it was awesome, and the actors had some mad skills changing their persona’s for each character making each one unique in their own way.

This is actor Calvin Vo’s second outing at BatBoy, having portrayed the character before in Augustana’s production. I must say that acting opposite Calvin during the production is something I remember quite fondly. He’s a great actor with amazing skills, and watching him in this show strengthen’s that belief. He was able to take a character that he has portrayed before and make him entirely different. There is much more of a classic “Frankenstein monster” evolution with this Bat Boy I feel. The people view him as a monster no matter what he does, even when he is doing nothing. A prime example is a scene where Bat Boy is in a cage and the arrogant teen Rick (played by Aaron Lord) inspects him. Bat Boy only leans in slowly for a sniff and Rick freaks out. In Augustana’s version he was a lot more of a brutal, feral animal as Bat Boy from the get go. He lashed out at people every chance he got, and you really felt like that was who Bat Boy was deep down. In this production there is overwhelming humanity in the performance and Calvin plays him more like an injured dog, only lashing out when he feels threatened or protective. He’s less of a monster, and it’s really sad that he feels by the end that he needs to become a monster.

Mike Shultz’s performance as Dr. Parker is genuinely chilling and evil. A man driven by lust, love, and loss you do sympathize with the man on some level but… damn, what a creep. And Shultz plays it with such a Lector-esque relish that you can’t look away and your full attention is on the man almost every second he is on stage. Shultz is in it every step of the way, and his gradual decent into madness throughout the show is quite entertaining to watch.

Jenny Winn also gets a shout out as Meredith. Her passion for her family is genuinely felt through her portrayal of the character.  I feel like this character would walk through hell and back for her family, and do anything it takes to make them happy or to protect them. But then when all hell breaks loose she just has that slight touch of madness in her as well (you know, come to think of it… madness must just be a Parker family trait.)

Becca Maumann Johnson plays Shelly Parker with a sincere innocence that was enduring. She created a lovable character that really grew from being another towns person who hated Edgar to, really, the only person who loved him in the end. Aaron Lord did a great job as the “tough guy” Rick but I feel like he really shinned as Lorraine, one of the towns women who tends to like to gossip. Keenen Wilson was a joy every second of stage time no matter the character, but especially his super interactive and vibrant portrayal of  Rev. Hightower. Dat voice. Brant Peitersen really played a sheriff torn apart by his own morals and the towns people. Macy Hernandez and Ty Lane offered some very solid variety of characters ranging from Hernandez’s seemingly collected yet overly worried town mayor and Lane’s hickish rancher Bud. And then there is Kailey Ackermann and her exuberant and vivacious god of nature, Pan.

While we are on the subject of Pan, I do want to give kind of a fair warning that there are elements of this show that make it more of a “PG-13 nature.” It’s mostly due to the “Children, Children”/Pan scene in the second act of the show. But it also deals with (even though they are portrayed absurdly) very violent and adult elements, especially when dealing with Bat Boy’s origins.

The stage design was simplistic, yet really effective. Parts of the stage opened up and parts came out to form different set pieces utilized in various locations for different proposes. Also the use of the screen in the center of the stage was very effective especially during the flashback scenes at the end of the play. The way they were staged was fantastically hilarious.

While some of the cast defiantly were not always on pitch with the songs, they defiantly gave it their all and frankly I think it added to the hilarity of the overall show. This show isn’t your a-typical musical, and there fore I don’t think it should be held to the typical standards. I’m sure there are people who disagree but I think if the singing had been perfect it would have been kind of distracting to be. The rest of the show is supposed to be absurd so why shouldn’t the singing?

The musical accompaniment was awesome through and through though. I especially loved the use of guitar as the more sinister parts of the play. It was really belted and dark, and really added that layer of menace to the score.

All in all it was a fantastic show. Truth be told I feel like you really have to appreciate this type of dark comedy and absurdity to like the show, especially this production of it. It’s defiantly not for those who are looking for a “cultured” theatrical experience. It’s raunchy, dark, and gruesome. But I greatly encourage anybody even remotely interested to check it out. It’s such a blast to watch, especially with a good audience. QC Workshop has a great track record with it’s shows, and Bat Boy:The Musical continues that path, even though it’s wrong…. so wrong!

Show Dates and Times:

Friday, October 31: 7:30pm
Saturday, November 1: 7:30pm
Sunday, November 2: 3:00pm

Friday, November 7: 7:30pm
Saturday, November 8: 7:30pm
Sunday, November 9: 3:00pm

Run time: Two hours fifteen minutes, including intermission.

Price:

Pay What It’s Worth“. Patrons see the show first, then pay afterward based on what they feel the experience was worth and their own ability to pay.

Seats do sell out but you can make reservations by emailing

info@QCTheatreWorkshop.org and include the following information:

  • Your name
  • The date of the performance you would like to attend
  • Number of seats to be reserved
  • Your phone number

http://www.qctheatreworkshop.org/index.html