Pre-Cringe Profiles: There Once Was an Alien from Venus…

…and here we are, on All Hallows’ Eve’s Eve, and some of you are wondering: which shows in the upcoming Twin Cities Horror Festival should you plan on seeing? The correct answer, of course, is all of them. But for those of you uncomfortable charging recklessly down that darkened hallway, I’ve been conducting a series of Pre-Cringe Profiles, and four companies boldly swallowed their anxieties and plunged into the challenge of expressing their sentiments inverse in verse. Click on any of the limericks below to check out the show’s full profile. If you dare.

There once was a group that faced their fears
Even though they hadn’t seen each other in years.
They were all afraid of death
yet not addicted to meth.
At their gravesites were nothing but tears.

As a culture we haven’t forgotten
That we all have a taste for the rotten
We’ll still crawl through the mud-
even bile, puke, or blood-
And then celebrate how far we’ve gotten.

There once were 7 Brits
who tried to escape the pits
But stabbed, shot, or fried
one by one they died
for there was a Murderer in their midst

There once was a broken heart
It had been patched up and then torn apart
Some moments are tender
Some feel like a bender
There is horror within the art.

The festivities begin tomorrow night. See you at the Southern…if you dare.

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Pre-Cringe Profile: Tainted Love

CAVEAT: Courtney McLean (the storyteller) is a founding member of the Rockstar Storytellers, and I have worked *extensively* with her over the years.

SHOW TITLE: Tainted Love
PRODUCER: Erin Sheppard Presents
HAILING FROM: Minnesota
SHOW DESCRIPTION: From sirens of the sea, to toys that are tired of being played with, find out just how horrifying love can be. From the group that created last year’s Bump in the Night, Tainted Love uses cheeky story-telling and lively dance to delve into the horror that love can bring. Can you love yourself too much? Love of technology is a good thing, right? One thing is for certain, sometimes love can kill you.

INTERVIEWEE: Erin Sheppard

What makes you such an expert on the amygdala, anyway?

Hold on. I have to look up amygdala. J/K. I only know what scares me…but I assume that I am normal so that whatever scares me, scares others, right? Voila, expert!

My name is Erin Sheppard and I am a performer from Minneapolis. I perform improv regularly at HUGE Theater and teach hip hop at Zenon Dance School. I do theatre sometimes and choreograph for various people and shows as they come up.  I am thrilled to be back at the Twin Cities Horror Festival for it’s second year with another dance storytelling collaboration: Tainted Love.

What’s so spooky about your show?

Oh man. Love can be pretty creepy on its own, and if you’re looking at it from a horror-perspective, it can get REAL dark. We hit on a number of different kinds of love, so there are some sweet, tender moments as well as some truly horrifying ones. We have twelve different pieces of dance and storytelling combined so we get into an assortment of love stories.

Love is supposed to be a good thing, right? Why are you trying to corrupt it?

Ummm…you’ve been in love before, right?

Last year’s Bump in the Night was an homage to different kinds of horror movies. When the other choreographers and I were brainstorming dance ideas for this year’s show, we were most excited about pieces that explored some sort of deranged love. We thought that by narrowing the focus we could really dig into some fun, dark stuff. And Courtney’s generally on board with fun, dark stuff – especially in dealing with love, so Tainted Love came into being.

Reveal your greatest fear to me and the whole world.

Ahhh!!! Aside from centipedes and spiders I have a few deep irrational fears. Have you seen Gravity? That’s one of them. Floating alone in space would be TERRIFYING. I can’t even think about it without hyperventilating. Also I have a fear of being shot. I don’t know why. Please don’t shoot me.

Justify your show’s existence in the form of a macabre limerick.

There once was a broken heart
It had been patched up and then torn apart
Some moments are tender
Some feel like a bender
There is horror within the art.

Pre-Cringe Profile: The Murderer Did It!

SHOW TITLE: The Murderer Did It!
PRODUCER: Four Humors
HAILING FROM: Minnesota
SHOW DESCRIPTION: Seven strangers. A remote location. A web of lies. Unexplained deaths. Everyone is a suspect, but in the end you’ll be shocked to find… it was the murderer all along! An original murder mystery from the creators of last year’s Harold.

What makes you such an expert on the amygdala, anyway? (Tell us about yourself!)

Four Humors prides itself on being to tell stories in a way that connects with our audience. Part of that is deciding what you want the audience to feel based on what the story is and how it is told. That usually requires us to delve into how to get people to feel what we want, since just telling an audience “This is really, really serious/funny/scary” doesn’t work.

Last year, when the Twin Cities Horror Festival started, we did an original hour long horror show called Harold. When we were working on the piece, we saw a lot of the similarities between comedy and horror. Deciding what the audience doest/doesn’t know in the story is how you surprise them. Depending on what the surprise is, you can make people laugh or scream.

In The Murderer Did It, there will be laughs and screams aplenty.

What’s so spooky about your show?

The Murderer Did It is inspired by the British Parlor Mystery genre made famous by Agatha Christie. So we have seven archetype strangers in a remote location, and characters start being murdered one by one. Where it gets scary is when you start to realize just ho wlittle two people meeting for the first time actually know about each other. People are rarely just what they claim to be and everyone has secrets, but wheno ne of those secrets could be the desire and ability to kill everyone in the room, you have to really ask yourself how well you know someone. Accusations fly, and even people who are innocent can be dangerous if they feel backed into a corner.

Seven strangers? A remote location? Everyone is a suspect? Sounds like you’re exploiting the Agathie Christie formula. I hate Agatha Christie mysteries, because they presuppose that everyone is equally capable of every act. Now justify the moral position I’ve imposed upon you.

Well, it’s obvious you’ve been hurt by Agatha Christie in the past. Haven’t we all? Originally our plan was to just do an Agatha Christie play (The Mouse Trap, And Then There Were None, etc.) but as I read through some of the old plays, I started to have questions beyond “Whodunnit?” I started to wonder, “Why aren’t these people trying harder to get out of this death trap?”, “Why are they all so calm when there are three dead bodies in the parlor?”, and “Why do they think it is their job to solve the mystery?”

These questions became the seeds for making a new show where we’d tryt o find out what kind of people would behave like this in an emergency.

Is every character equally capable of every act? That’s up to the audience to decide based on the evidence they observe. Besides being entertained, we hope that you’ll enjoy the challenge of untangling the mysteyr along with our poor, trapped detectives.

Reveal your greatest fear to me and the whole world.

That my friends and family will die and I will be left alone. And drowning.

Justify your show’s existence in the form of a macabre limerick.

There once were 7 Brits
who tried to escape the pits
But stabbed, shot, or fried
one by one they died
for there was a Murderer in their midst

Pre-Cringe Profile: Hear No Evil

SHOW TITLE: Hear No Evil
PRODUCER: RawRedMeat Productions
HAILING FROM: Minnesota
SHOW DESCRIPTION: Seven women work here.
Do not ask what they do,
Nor why they do it.
Their business is blood,
And no one can stop its flowing.

(Photo by Soren Olsen)

What makes you such an expert on the amygdala, anyway?

I’m a writer, director, and producer of all kinds of performance events here in the Twin Cities. Dangerous Productions, the company I founded, has been around for almost 2 years now, and have created over a dozen original productions, from wild parties to Guerilla-Style ice cream socials, to ridiculous farces, to horror.

I first was introduced to horror theater when I learned about the Theatre du Grand Guignol in Paris- the self-proclaimed “Theater of Fear and Terror”. 13 years later and I’ve produced horror shows across the country, as well as in Canada, Germany, and Sweden. We’ve done shows about meth, retirement homes, rufies, plastic surgery, jealous lovers, and sexual dysfunction, and no matter where I’ve been, people love to get scared. I’m a big fan of high-suspense, high imagination horror, and I think HEAR NO EVIL really reflects that style.

What’s so spooky about your show?

HEAR NO EVIL is truly a descent into madness. It’s about a group of women (the cast is all women, as a matter of fact) who work for a company simply called “the agency.” They’re the “day shift”- essentially cleaners, but one of them needs to make more money, so they transfer to the night shift, which are the people that make the messes for the day shift to clean up. And its very messy work. It’s disorienting, bloody, really physical, and great fun.

“Do not ask what they do, nor why they do it.” I’m contrary. I’m asking. What do they do? Why do they do it?

If I told you that, I’d have to kill you. Let’s just say we mix up 2 gallons of blood for every show, and use every drop of it. Every rehearsal, the cast dies at least a dozen times, in just as many ways.

Reveal your greatest fear to me and the whole world.

Well, I’m not a big fan of centipedes, but I’ve got a really active imagination, so do a great job of really freaking myself out when I’m walking up stairs out of a dark basement. I walk faster and faster every step, convinced there’s something right behind me.

Justify your show’s existencein the form of a macabre limerick.

As a culture we haven’t forgotten
That we all have a taste for the rotten
We’ll still crawl through the mud-
even bile, puke, or blood-
And then celebrate how far we’ve gotten.

Pre-Cringe Profile: Spooky Town

CAVEAT: Mike Fotis (one of the writer/performers) is a founding member of the Rockstar Storytellers, and we have worked together on a handful of spoken-word events through the years.

SHOW TITLE: Spooky Town
PRODUCER: Ferrari McSpeedy
HAILING FROM: Minnesota
SHOW DESCRIPTION: Four adults return to the orphanage that scarred them for a chance at 1 million dollars. Little do they know, the money will be splattered in their blood!!!!!!!!!!

What makes you such an expert on the amygdala, anyway?

We don’t have enough time to dive as deeply as we should into the world of the amygdala, so I’ll just let you know that the amygdala is important. REALLY IMPORTANT. As for the show, it was written and produced by Ferrari McSpeedy. We’ve been around as long as the sand. We specialize in the genre of comedy and our shows reflect this specialization. Spooky Town is our first attempt at Horror, which breaks down into beats that are very similar to comedy. So that’s good, I guess.

What’s so spooky about your show?

Our show deals with 4 former orphans who return to their orphanage on the promise that if they survive the evening, they’ll each get 1 million dollars. It’s basically the plot structure of House on Haunted Hill. Our homage, if you will. From there, things break down in hilarious ways. It’s a straight up comedy horror play.

Adults returning to childhood trauma? Wait a minute…this is Stephen King’s “It”, isn’t it? Are there clowns and/or spiders involved?

I am not giving anything away, except to say that the show features many traumatic triggers.

Reveal your greatest fear to me and the whole world.

Bats? Heights? It’s a toss up between those two. I suppose my greatest fear would be encountering a bat on the edge of the Grand Canyon.

Justify your show’s existence in the form of a macabre limerick.

There once was a group that faced their fears
Even though they hadn’t seen each other in years.
They were all afraid of death
yet not addicted to meth.
At their gravesites were nothing but tears.

Twin Cities Horror Festival: Contemplating the Carotid

So, to my eternal (and by “eternal” I mean the exact opposite of that thing) chagrin, I managed to completely miss the first Twin Cities Horror Festival. My parenthetical is due to the fortunate fact that it survived and crawled its way into another year. I don’t plan to be so remiss again.

I’m particularly shamefaced because of my deep interest in the subject — I’m a horror writer myself, one who’s spilled some ink (and other fluids) on the nature of the medium. I’ve spent my fair share of time fumbling after ways to induce shock, nausea, and unease in an audience, and consequently have a very real, very technical interest in seeing how these six excellent companies (and they are all excellent — there’s not an obvious weak link in the clanking chain) tackle the same challenge.

(Astute readers will note that I said “six”, when there are seven companies in the Festival. Professional ethics dictate that I mention I have a small role in Trust and Obey, which I will of course not be covering in this space. I’m not aware of the various shows being in any kind of meaningful competition, but in the interests of full disclosure…)

Oh, but that’s insufficient, surely — surely insufficient for explaining why we devote so much time and energy and money to culturally agreed-upon perversion. And I suspect that both entertainment and criticism (at their best, natch) have less to do with tracking collective approval than they do with enriching our inner lives. Horror’s a lot like comedy, after all — they both revolve around provoking a visceral, physiological response. There’s no denying that fear can be physically pleasurable: the jolt of adrenalin, the contextually safe triggering of the fight-or-flight instinct…

But I Think It Goes Deeper Than That (TM). The horror that I find myself continually coming back to almost all has a deep moral dimension, as well, and that’s another respect in which it resembles comedy: both are mediums that present themselves as subversive forces but are suspiciously traditional. Horror is often stubbornly conservative: in an age of fashionable moral relativism, it’s one of the few straggling modern genres that maintains a keen consciousness of capital-e-Evil — both the ways that we make ourselves vulnerable to it and, occasionally, the ways that we can meaningfully resist it.

Not that I have any expectation that these shows are going to cater to my own specific tastes and prejudices, of course — I’ll cheerfully enjoy the milk of skillfully-executed entertainment, whether there’s much in the way of quivering meat for my pompous analysis or not. I love the genre and I love the companies. Strap in, folks: we’re goin’ for a ride.