One of the loudest drums I’ve beaten for the longest is my steadfast belief that live theatre and horror are a match made in Heaven.
In fact, my Music Man-ness even led me to march up to Jason Blum — head honcho of Blumhouse Productions, the most lucrative horror brand in the world today — when I spotted him in a theatre last season to implore him to bring his sadistic talents to Broadway.
I only mentioned the Great White Way to him because of the blatant commerciality of his studio’s films; I’ve been critical of Blumhouse in the past, but they’ve led the brigade on proving that horror, particularly the experiential variety that’s best experienced communally, sells.
Blumhouse’s products often veer too far into derivative kitsch, and they also too often feel like corporate products instead of products of individual artists, both of which are fates any theatrical enterprise intended to scare would need to avoid. A part of me, a big part of me, believes horror’s been so scant on the theatrical boards, even in the more daring realm of off and off-off-Broadway, because the powers that be — producers and audiences alike — view the genre as a step below the requisite prestigiousness of the live arts. When these snobs hear horror and theatre combined together, they think “childish haunted mansion” and walk away.
And yet, runaway successes like Sleep No More and Then She Fell elevate, artistically and financially, the concept of the haunted house — what else is the McKittrick except a meticulously-designed haunted house to explore while Sleep No More’s story unfolds around you? — by grounding the theatrics in intellect, and recognizably-intellectual properties. They may not be intended to exclusively scare, but fear, and a tone of deliciously-eerie unease, are integral ingredients in their long-running recipes.
Though legions of immersive copycats have sprouted up left, right, and center — and, mostly, promptly withered — the trend has bred only horrific imitations, not horror imitations. Others took their style of immersive theatre and ran with it, too far and too often, and yet none of the horror elements have been borrowed for other, potentially equally-lucrative ventures.
Yet in my brainstorming of what horror theatre could look like, I never even considered the easiest — and cheapest, a Blumhouse speciality! — utilization of the form..until Clay McLeod Chapman beat me to it.
The latest incarnation in his cult The Pumpkin Pie show series, currently running at the suitably derelict-looking Under St. Marks, merges his signature storytelling, perpetually dabbling in the dark arts, with theatre for one. That’s right; the show is comprised exclusively of him, the orator, and you, the audience member. And only you.
I know the thought of a one-on-one show, performed for you and only for you, probably scares all of you audience-participation-phobes more than anything in Chapman’s stories will; admittedly, the actor being intensely aware of your presence, given the inherent intimacy between you two, unavoidably makes you feel a part of the show —anxiously so, which Chapman enhances with his decision to place you and he in chairs ON STAGE, under lights.
But I’ve already revealed too much. I can’t urge all of you brave souls enough to descend down Under St. Marks to experience Clay McLeod Chapman’s The Pumpkin Pie Show in person — extremely in-person — sight unseen. Everyone should experience theatre for one at least once, preferably knowing as little as possible going in; let the surprises actually surprise, because the opportunity doesn’t rear its delectably-ugly head very often.
If all horror takes is one dude, then more should be joining the fray!