Horror Takes a Bow: An Interview with Wildclaw Theatre’s Scott Barsotti!
Earlier this past week I highlighted my amazing experience seeing the play KILL ME (see story HERE) courtesy of Wildclaw Theatre! Afterwards I had an opportunity to chat with the young and talented playwright, Scott Barsotti, and I have no doubt you will find his as endearing to your horror hearts as I did…
DAVE: Tell us a bit about Wildclaw Theater and how it came to be.
SCOTT: Back in the early 90s, our founder Charley Sherman collaborated on an adaptation of Clive Barker’s IN THE FLESH with local artist Steve Pickering for the old Organic Theater. 15 years later, many of the same folks who had worked on IN THE FLESH (as well as some other successful adaptations in town) teamed up with other theatre artists with a passion for horror. In 2008, WildClaw was born and produced its first show, Sherman’s adaptation of Arthur Machen’s THE GREAT GOD PAN. The idea was to do serious, intelligent horror year round in prime time.
DAVE: What would you site as your inspirations in the genre (favorite movies, stage plays, books, etc)?
SCOTT: Going back to childhood, Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series got me hooked on horror, or more accurately, Stephen Gammell’s illustrations did. I just recently rediscovered these books and remembered instantly how excited I was as a kid by Gammell’s artwork. Those books got me writing scary stories and thinking about darkness, but not only monsters and ghosts, but darkness as a concept, something abstract that grows and changes. Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves is one of my favorite books of all time because it scared me in a way I couldn’t immediately explain, it just stuck with me. For films, going back to my youth I loved stuff like Phantasm, Hellraiser, Poltergeist…when I was a kid, I had no idea why these movies scared the crap out of me so badly. They all had creepy baddies stalking the main characters, sure, but there was something else about them, something that resonated on a deep level. That’s what I look for now, stories that rattle me on some primal psychic or visceral level, stories I need to figure out WHY they scared me and really think about it. I’m not into the obvious. All grown up now, simplicity goes a long way with me too, I’m inspired by films like The Haunting (the 1963 version, of course), Eyes Without a Face, and The Devil’s Backbone, that really use light and sound creatively more so than blood and gore. I love suspense and atmosphere.
DAVE: What experience had you had as a writer prior to KILL ME?
SCOTT: KILL ME is my 8th full-length play. I started writing plays in 2001 and went to grad school for playwriting. My plays have been done around the country and I have an upcoming production in Australia. I have a lot of shorter plays as well that have been produced in various festivals and such. My play that’s been the most produced is THE REVENANTS, a four-character play about two couples set during a zombie apocalypse. It’s in a world any Romero fan would recognize, but really it’s a story about love, betrayal, and heartbreak. WildClaw did the Midwest premiere in 2009, and we had couples leaving the theatre having the “if I became a zombie, would you shoot me in the head?” conversation. Not your average night at the theatre!
DAVE: Who is responsible for the incredible designs of the demons featured in KILL ME?
SCOTT: In the script, those characters are named “The Miseries.” Their design was the result of a collaboration between myself and WildClaw Artistic Director Aly Renee Amidei, who did the show’s costume and makeup design. The creature concept, their characterizations, how they move and behave, and how they communicate physically were part of my writing and movement design. The full realization of their physical appearance is Aly’s creation, she constructed each costume by hand, and our sound designers devised how they manipulate “Live” sound and provided the foley instruments. And we’re crazy lucky to have four incredibly talented, committed actors in those parts who made each role their own and interpreted our designs, brought their own ideas and choices to it, and created some truly rich characters. Those guys busted their asses in rehearsal, and their contribution to the realization of those demons was crucial.
DAVE: How do you feel a horror fan’s experience can be enhanced watching a “Live” performance versus the viewing of a film?
SCOTT: It’s right there in front of you. That’s the big thing. You can’t pause it. You can’t rewind it. It’s happening now, and you’re a part of it. Theatre invites the audience in, makes them part of the world. Sit in the front row and you might just get some blood on you. But really, it’s important to say that we aren’t trying to compete with film. We’re not trying to mimic horror films onstage, plays use a very different kind of storytelling than cinema, and each has its advantages when doing horror. Since you don’t have editing tricks and it’s harder to hide effects, you have to get creative, so from a creator’s standpoint that’s a lot of fun. And of course, when there are monsters, the monsters are 5 feet away. That’s pretty damn cool.
DAVE: Aside from incredible imagery, your play dealt heavily in psychological issues many of us in the audience could identify with. Do you have any experience in studying human psychology and how do you feel this enhances the horror aspect of any story?
SCOTT: I wasn’t a student of psychology, but human psychology has always been a source of inspiration for me, which is part of what drew me to theatre, it’s all about human behavior, action and reaction. So I never formally studied psychology, but I’ve done A LOT of my own research. For KILL ME, I had a technical consultant, an incredibly generous psychotherapist and social worker named Pamela Bell who read an early draft of the play and gave me feedback from a therapist’s perspective. Body horror is one of my favorite subgenres, because to me it’s all about psychology: whether changes in the body cause madness or whether madness causes changes in the body. It’s endlessly fascinating to me. Besides all of that, there’s nothing scarier to me than when someone’s mind turns on them. Mental illness has a profound impact on more than just the afflicted person; I think most of us probably have some experience with that. Sometimes our own thoughts and nightmares are the scariest thing out there, and they come from within.
DAVE: The acting in this play is truly superb and each character, particularly the main three women, really added to the believability of the story. Did you assist in the casting and what qualities in the actresses made you deem the ideal for the roles they played?
SCOTT: They’re magnificent, aren’t they? I’m so proud and amazed by this cast. It would be an overstatement to say I “assisted” with casting. I was in the room for auditions and chipped in my two cents, but the decisions about casting ultimately happened between our director, Jeff Christian, and WildClaw’s casting director, Casey Cunningham (who also played Wendy in the show). Casey and Michaela Petro (Grace) are newer additions to WildClaw, they’ve each acted with WildClaw many times and just joined the company in 2011. When I wrote the play, I was writing it with the idea that I wanted to work with both of them, but which role they’d play was, again, Jeff’s decision as director. And we saw a lot of terrific actresses in our auditions for the show, but Sasha Gioppo (Cam) just killed it. She was haunting, powerful, and totally unique. She blew us all away. It’s really exciting to watch because the play really shows off the individual talents of each of them, but the way they relate to each other is so strong at the same time.
DAVE: How has the play been received thus far?
SCOTT: People have been leaving the theatre excited, and in some cases really profoundly affected. We’ve had this really interesting thing happen where lights go down on the end of the play and there’s this deep silence and stillness for a moment or two before the applause starts. I’ve had some people come up to me afterward and say that the play affected them in a way they can’t verbalize, other have said that it articulates nightmares and reminds them of subconscious fears they’ve had since they were kids. So there’s this sense of fun in the response, but also I think people are genuinely creeped out by what we’re doing. It’s a totally different kind of horror experience. It gets under your skin; the show is only about 70 minutes, but those 70 minutes are pretty relentless.
DAVE: Can you share what future projects fans of Wildclaw Theater can look forward to?
SCOTT: We have another show coming up in the fall that’s still a little hush-hush for another month or so, but I can say it’s a Charley Sherman adaptation of a title by a major, living horror author. We’re all pumped for that! And the first Monday in December every year we do DEATHSCRIBE, which is a festival of 10-minute horror radio plays, performed live onstage with actors on mic and foley effects artists providing the soundscape. It’s our favorite night of the year, and ANYONE can submit a script for consideration in it. We’re going to be opening submissions a little earlier this year, probably April or May, and we get submissions from around the world (so all you writers out there, get to writing!) That’s what’s up for 2012, and we’re hard at work planning for 2013. No rest for the wicked, of course. There’s more info about everything we’re up to at www.wildclawtheatre.com!
Special thanks to Scott Barsotti for participating in this interview! Stay tuned for future Wildclaw Theatre productions on this very site!