Friday, February 15, 2008

Take Back Genre

I've been working the past couple days with an interesting fellow named Charley Sherman, who's been around the Chicago scene for a long time and spent 8 years in London as well, before returning to the states 5 years ago. He worked a bunch with Steve Pickering as a director and adapter with Organic Theatre and Next, and now runs a company called Wild Claw with a show opening next week at the Athenaeum. We've been talking a lot about horror in specific, something that is very interesting to me lately. It seems that in the glory days of horror (film particularly), atmosphere was much more important than effects. It didn't matter if you saw the violence, saw the apparition, saw anything at all, as long as the suspense was palpable and the story probed some facet of human fear. Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Exorcist, Halloween, all classic horror films with very little blood on screen, everything is implied. Your imagination fills the gaps.

I think the scariest stories are not about death and dying, or being harmed by someone, but about one's own weaknesses being exposed in the presence of danger. The fear of being lost, or abandoned, or failing miserably (certainly death and harm can be a consequence of these things and often is, especially in horror). Fear drives people to cowardice as well as heroism, to light as well as to dark. These are not things that rely on effects and sensation, but on storytelling. Atmosphere is what sets up horror, so why is it (as an example of genre) virtually absent from stage?

Horror, when done well, is full of subtext, truly a writer's canvas and an actor's medium. So why does film dominate the genre (and most sub-genres) while most stage horror is campy parody or tongue-in-cheek midnight riffs? Not just horror though, why is their such a lack of good, well-crafted genre stories onstage?

Or am I just missing it?

7 comments:

Devilvet said...

Well first off, can it be true there is a post on this blog? Wow! I am so glad.

Secondly, about Horror.

Horror can be about whatever you want it to be. It can be about characters strentgh or weakness, it can be a mediation on archetypal predator motifs, it can be merely about high degrees of adrenaline due to primal response...Horror is wide open...

I believe fewer people attempt horror becuase of the stigma of genre...the same way in which many people avoid sci-fi or fantasy...
the paradox is that even as these genres proof to be finacially viable in a wealth of media...there is still the stigmatism that like sticks,snails and puppy dog tails...it's what little boys...and disturbed little girls (Who should instead be playing with tea sets to ease their mother's fears..jkidding) are made of.

For the record my company, the Mammals, our mission is Horror, Sci-Fi, and Phantasmagoria for the stage... and we have a honest to goodness horror show we're in rehearsals for right now

chicagomammals.com or themammals.blogspot.com

Devilvet said...

Well first off, can it be true there is a post on this blog? Wow! I am so glad.

Secondly, about Horror.

Horror can be about whatever you want it to be. It can be about characters strentgh or weakness, it can be a mediation on archetypal predator motifs, it can be merely about high degrees of adrenaline due to primal response...Horror is wide open...

I believe fewer people attempt horror becuase of the stigma of genre...the same way in which many people avoid sci-fi or fantasy...
the paradox is that even as these genres proof to be finacially viable in a wealth of media...there is still the stigmatism that like sticks,snails and puppy dog tails...it's what little boys...and disturbed little girls (Who should instead be playing with tea sets to ease their mother's fears..jkidding) are made of.

For the record my company, the Mammals, our mission is Horror, Sci-Fi, and Phantasmagoria for the stage... and we have a honest to goodness horror show we're in rehearsals for right now

chicagomammals.com or themammals.blogspot.com

Chas Belov said...

I'm writing a science fiction play right now, although it's going to be a while before you see it. No special effects; it's just an environment for the characters.

Scott Barsotti said...

devilvet...are you bob fisher by any chance?

Devilvet said...

Scott...

bingo!

GreyZelda Land said...

"I think the scariest stories are not about death and dying, or being harmed by someone, but about one's own weaknesses being exposed in the presence of danger. The fear of being lost, or abandoned, or failing miserably (certainly death and harm can be a consequence of these things and often is, especially in horror). Fear drives people to cowardice as well as heroism, to light as well as to dark. These are not things that rely on effects and sensation, but on storytelling. Atmosphere is what sets up horror, so why is it (as an example of genre) virtually absent from stage?"

We're currently rehearsing for The Skriker by Caryl Churchill which opens on April 17th ... I think this play inhabits the psychological/atmospheric dark vs. light that you mentioned in your post. It's incredibly disarming, scary and written beautifully without ever being horrifically cliche.

RZ

GreyZelda Land said...

"I think the scariest stories are not about death and dying, or being harmed by someone, but about one's own weaknesses being exposed in the presence of danger. The fear of being lost, or abandoned, or failing miserably (certainly death and harm can be a consequence of these things and often is, especially in horror). Fear drives people to cowardice as well as heroism, to light as well as to dark. These are not things that rely on effects and sensation, but on storytelling. Atmosphere is what sets up horror, so why is it (as an example of genre) virtually absent from stage?"

We're currently rehearsing for The Skriker by Caryl Churchill which opens on April 17th ... I think this play inhabits the psychological/atmospheric dark vs. light that you mentioned in your post. It's incredibly disarming, scary and written beautifully without ever being horrifically cliche.

RZ