Horror on Stage: Join Hands and Scream
I love the theatre.
I think there's still a certain stigma attached to it in Canada (albeit one that I hope we are weaning off slowly), that theatre must come with a degree of pretentiousness or artistic strangeness or a thick wanky British accent going THEATAHHHHH.
But the stigma is wrong. Theatre in Canada is at times challenging, accessible, entertaining, bizarre, wonderful, terrible, and everything in between. When people say to me "there's nothing to do in (insert Canadian city name here)" I challenge them to hop online, check their local arts listings, and tell me once again that their hometowns are boring.
Theatre is happening all over, and bringing stories to life in real time before your eyes in a way that you simply can't get at the movies.
Take, for instance, horror.
That horror is performed on stage with fair regularity these days probably comes as a shock to some people. These are not, however, the typical stories of Hollywood with hockey masks and chainsaws (with a few exceptions).
This is not to say that gore has no place in theatre. Indeed, violence on stage has its roots in the very heart of modern western plays: in Ancient Greece. Euripedes' Medea, even at its premiere in 431 BC in Athens, was considered shocking (though the reasons for the audience's dislike of the play likely lies in the titular Medea's murder of her children receiving a lack of divine comeuppance, as opposed to distaste for the murder of children in general). Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus remains to this day one of the most violent, unforgiving plays I have ever had the pleasure of being nauseated by. The French Théâtre du Grand Guignol flourished in the early 20th century by pissing on the boundaries of good taste. The Parisian audiences who dared pass through this tiny theatre's doors found themselves subjected to actors murdering, raping, and even, in some bizarre instances, decomposing. And, like modern fans of the "torture porn" genre of film, they loved it (until the experience of actual horror in two World Wars drove them away for good in the 50's and 60's).
Still, perhaps because of pure, animal instinct, gore on stage is difficult to handle, and all too often can stray into the comical. In some cases this works in the play's favour: the wildly successful Evil Dead: The Musical (a Canadian original, thank you very much) prides itself on its gallons of fake blood sprayed out into the audience (who happily and enthusiastically pay a premium for "splatter zone" seats).
Ultimately though, horror in the theatre is at its best and brightest in its restraint. The plays we see on stage are tales in the best vein of the psychological, the supernatural, and the suspenseful.
In a dark theatre, with the performers on stage, flesh and blood, breathing the same air the audience does, things become frighteningly real. At times during such shows, I am reminded of the fascination with seances and the other world in the Victorian era. Packed houses of well-dressed men and women of means, all leaning forward in their seats, eager to see if they could summon the spirits of the beyond. The medium would urge them all to join hands, for only through a group effort would they be able to succeed.
This is the promise of the theatre in its horror: a shared experience, not just with the people beside you, but the people in front of you. A well-acted, well-written, well-produced horror play draws the audience in completely, so that when the shoe does finally drop, and the ghosts start banging the windows and slamming the doors, the actors jump, and the audience jumps with them. I have been to plays where a scary moment will seize people in waves. First one person will shudder, then another will scream, and that sets off someone close by, on and on through the rows of the auditorium like the chill of a spectre passing by.
There really is no moment quite like it.
So won't you join me at the theatre tonight?