Two More Shows From the Twin Cities Horror Festival

Night two of this years TCHF and I took in the two remaining shows, Dogwatch Productions Channel and The Creepy Boys’ The Creepy Boys. The Festival runs through Halloween, with the five shows rotating. To purchase tickets to any or all performances go to https://www.tchorrorfestival.com/ On the site you will find descriptions of each show as well as each shows ratings for Language, Violence, and Blood. Below I’ve copied the schedule for the final two days. There is still time to see all five.

Saturday, Oct 30
1:00pm Channel / Dogwatch Productions
2:30pm Blood Nocturne / Winding Sheet
4:00pm Creepy Boys / Creepy Boys
5:30pm Splinter / Dangerous Productions
7:00pm Blackout in a Blackout / Blackout Improv
8:30pm Channel / Dogwatch Productions
10:00pm Blood Nocturne / Winding Sheet 

Sunday, October 31
1:00pm Blackout in a Blackout / Blackout Improv
2:30pm Creepy Boys / Creepy Boys
4:00pm Blood Nocturne / Winding Sheet 
5:30pm Channel / Dogwatch Productions
7:00pm Splinter / Dangerous Productions

Photo by Dan Norman

First up was Channel about a lighting designer working alone at night in an old theatre. The Designer is played by Elizabeth Efteland, I think, I’m going off of info I found from it’s run at the Minnesota Fringe Festival*. She is under pressure to solve certain lighting issues the show is having but is also trying to care for her mother who has some sort of health issue and needs her. She tries to juggle all of these things including talking to her old roommate who has a job for her in Chicago if she can get away and her sister who leaves her to deal with their mother. Meanwhile, the house audio keeps coming on and the lights keep going out. I want to say, and then terror ensues but unfortunately, it’s more like tedium ensues. Channel felt like an SNL skit that they didn’t know how to start, the inverse of their usual trouble. It ends rather well, though the resolution, which I followed, was really in need of some clarity. This felt like a 30 minute show stretched to an hour. There were also a lot of decisions that took one out of the show. I don’t know how the phones these characters have operate, but it isn’t like any phone I’ve ever used in real life. She is struggling to get her work done and get home to her mother and I wanted to tell her to stay off her phone and concentrate. It’s hard to have sympathy for a character who is feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work to be done, yet seems to spend all of her time on her phone. When it gets creepy, it is well done. Lighting and sound effects are very effective. And Efteland is a good performer, she does her best to keep us interested, her performance and her emotions ring true. I just wish she had a better script to work with. This was the weak link of this years festival, but to be fair it’s a strong year.

Photo by Dan Norman

Thankfully, the evening and the festival for me ended on a high note. The Creepy Boys isn’t scary, but it is a bit creepy, very energetic, and really funny. The Creepy Boys are identical twins played by S.E. Grummett and Sam Kruger, no relation, and this is their birthday party. Like several of the shows at this years festival, the performances begin as soon as the house opens. The performers play ushers and engage with the audience until the lights go down and they become The Creepy Boys! This show has everything, singing, dancing, laughs, shocks, even a dash of nudity. I don’t know what I was expecting but it’s safe to say it wasn’t what we got. It’s a mix of backstory, future fantasies, broken homes and of course Satan. There was a manic and engaging energy to the show that just about wears you out. Grummett and Kruger are wildly talented switching gears from moment to moment, you never know where this ride is going and that’s a lot of the fun and therefore, I’ll say no more. It’s definitely one of the must sees of the festival.

*Quick note to the Festival runners, make each show handout programs or put the casts and creatives info on the TCHF webpage. As a reviewer that information really helps and as an audience member, I always like to know who was responsible so I know the next time I saw their name to take notice.

Three From Opening Night of the Twin Cities Horror Festival

Artwork by Emily Michaels King

It’s Monster Month and that means watching scary movies, reading ghost stories, and of course the Twin Cities Horror Festival. TCHF is in it’s 10th season and I for one am grateful that many of the shows this year are in-person. I didn’t get access to the virtual shows that opened the festival last week but I will be reviewing all five of the in-person productions. Opening night I attended the first three shows. Splinter from Dangerous Productions, Blood Nocturne from The Winding Sheet Outfit, and Blackout in a Blackout from Blackout Improve. The Festival runs through Halloween, with the five shows rotating to purchase tickets to any or all performances go to https://www.tchorrorfestival.com/ On the site you will find descriptions of each show as well as each shows ratings for Language, Violence, and Blood. Below I’ve copied the schedule for the remainder of the run.

Friday, October 29
6:00pm Channel / Dogwatch Productions
7:30pm Creepy Boys / Creepy Boys
9:00pm Splinter / Dangerous Productions
10:30pm Blackout in a Blackout / Blackout Improv

Saturday, Oct 30
1:00pm Channel / Dogwatch Productions
2:30pm Blood Nocturne / Winding Sheet
4:00pm Creepy Boys / Creepy Boys
5:30pm Splinter / Dangerous Productions
7:00pm Blackout in a Blackout / Blackout Improv
8:30pm Channel / Dogwatch Productions
10:00pm Blood Nocturne / Winding Sheet 

Sunday, October 31
1:00pm Blackout in a Blackout / Blackout Improv
2:30pm Creepy Boys / Creepy Boys
4:00pm Blood Nocturne / Winding Sheet 
5:30pm Channel / Dogwatch Productions
7:00pm Splinter / Dangerous Productions

First up was Dangerous Productions Splinter, easily the scariest show of the night. Pay attention to the ratings on this one, there will be blood. Just as they did my first year reviewing the TCHF Dangerous Productions has delivered the most intense and genuinely disturbing experience. Always effective on the technical side of things, the violence feels and looks real. There will also be several moments of “how did they do that?” for the observant audience member. Hats off to the production team on this one led by Director and Production Designer Tyler Olsem-Highness. The play really begins as soon as the house doors open with Laura Mahler on stage clearly going through some hard times. It’s a wordless performance before the play properly starts but for me, it set the mood perfectly and I felt I had a handle on the emotion she was experiencing – it created a sense of sympathy from the beginning. Mahler gives a riveting performance as a woman who has lost her memory due to a traumatic event and is being experimented on by Forensic Psychologist whose experimental techniques won’t intentionally hurt her. To say much more about the plot would rob it of it’s tricks and treats. I was impressed with all the performances but a special shout out to Jay Kistler as the other guinea pig who finds just the right balance between finding the humor in a scene and then alternating to somewhere darker.

Emily Dussault Photo by Scott Pakudaitis with Graphic design by Kris Heding

The second show of the evening was The Winding Sheet Outfits Blood Nocturne. This tells the story of Erzsebet Bathory whom I knew of as the basis of the 1971 Hammer film, Countess Dracula. This version is very different. First off, it’s a musical. Secondly, it attempts to be much more truthful in it’s telling of the real life Countess. The program tells us that Blood Nocturne was created and composed by the ensemble with quotes from actual letters and testimony. While trying to set the record straight they also challenge our societies default to print the legend as it makes a better story. Even as Emily Dussault as Bathory attempts to point out the truths behind the stories, she’s at odds with the rest of the cast who insist the horrific details that have been attributed to her make for a better story. While all three shows I took in tonight were very good, this was my favorite. I loved everything about it. It’s cast deserves to be singled out. I wish the program listed the performers with their character names since they were uniformly talented, I’ll simply list them all. Amber Bjork (also the Director), Kayla Dvorak Feld, Derek Lee Miller, Boo Segersin, Joshua Swantz, and the aforementioned Emily Dussault as the Countess. All of them are adept and find the darkest shades of humor within this gruesome biography. The cast plays the period instruments that accompany the songs and they are quite accomplished musically. The Orchestrations are simple, but haunting.

The third and final show of the evening for me was Blackout in a Blackout by Blackout Improv. The only thing of value I can say about this is to praise the performers. Let’s face it, this is improv, it’s going to be different with every performance, and if it isn’t, well you don’t really want to know that do you? So the less said about the storyline that emerged, the better. What I can tell you is that I’m already thinking of trying to catch this improv troupe again sometime. The group worked really well together and found a way to keep the laughs coming while also managing to try and add a touch of the supernatural to the proceedings. Find out more about them here https://www.blackoutcomedy.org/.

3 + 1 = 4 More From the Twin Cities Horror Festival

This will likely be the last of my reviews from the TCHF. I’d love to catch the last three shows I need to see on Saturday, if my schedule will allow for it I will and be sure I’ll post reviews. This was my first experience with this festival and I strongly recommend that people get out and see the shows. Everyone of them still as at least one performance left, most two and some three. I have found something rewarding in each of the shows. As delighted as I was with the first five shows I reviewed I was blown away by this second batch. I expected more of the shows to be genuinely scary, most have not been, but they have been fascinating all the same. The one Play that actually delivered in spades on the scares was also my favorite of the Festival and the first up for this review and it is.

Frankenstein

Frankenstein by Dangerous Productions Photo by Dan Norman

Dangerous Productions’ Frankenstein by Tyler Olsen-Highness is not your father’s Frankenstein. This is a modern story told in a nonlinear fever dream, Mary Shelly’s book is referenced by the characters and they all have the names of characters from the book. Victor is still the creator of the horrors, but he is more of a sociopathic obsessive than a misguided genius. The cast is uniformly effective and intense. Much of the play is played in the dark with lighting effects and flashlights used to startle, misdirect and create uneasiness. The play progresses from creepy lighting effects to ever more startling moments. Our eyes temporary blinded by lights being pointed directly at us are not prepared for the movements of the characters. Frankenstein is also by far the bloodiest of the festival. There are some extremely effective moments of violence and gore. This is not the show to bring the tweens or younger too, but everyone else should be sure to make this the top of your “to see” list. Frankenstein puts the Horror in TCHF!

The Rule of Three

The Rule of Three by Four Humors Photo by Dan Norman

The Rule of Three is a trip-tech of an anthology of anthology shows. It’s not that scary but it’s still dead brilliant. Presented by Four Humors Theater and written by Matt Spring, who is also one of the three performers along with Ryan Lear and Brant Miller. The show presents three different stories each reminding me of a different anthology TV show. The first act plays like an episode of Black Mirror, it is set in the future and involves the evolution of Deepfake technology. The show makes extensive use of video footage is a very clever indication of the ways in which technology has become even more enmeshed in our society in the future. Smart and funny as it begins, it grows darker ending as a cautionary what if. The second act is entirely video, it is a pastiche of the 1990’s TV series Are you Afraid of the Dark? Even going so far as to replicate that series campfire set up. This Act is about as scary as one of those episodes but it makes up for a lack of frights by being hysterically funny. The final act is completely humorless and the darkest of the three. It tells the story of an group of settlers making the trek to the west coast who are stranded as winter sets in and have to do whatever they can to stay alive through the winter. It is told by jumping back and forth in time, revealing new pieces of information with each change in the timeline, slowly revealing what lengths they have resorted to. This act reminded me, as did the entire production in a way of a great British anthology show called Inside No. 9. For sheer entertainment The Rule of Three is the show to see.

AMP

Amp photo by Hunter Canning

Amp written and performed by Jody Christopherson is easily the most political and serious minded of the productions I’ve seen at the TCHF. Christopherson plays Mary Shelley and tells the story of the woman who created one of the most enduring mythologies of the last 200 (ok actually 201 years). The productions main thrust is not the story of Frankenstein’s creation but of the creator herself. We learn a tremendous amount about Shelley during the course of the play a woman very much ahead of her time, a feminist from a patriarchal era. Brought up to be a free thinker and follow her heart, she was let down by a society that did not give women the same rights as men or allow them the same humanity even. Throughout her story we see details that will work their way into her immortal story. The script and performance have been honed to a T. There does not seem to be any padding, every line of the script either contributes essential details or helps to convey the emotions of this fiery woman. The performance of Christopherson is passionate and intense, being the only performer she has a lot to carry a lot of information to convey while still informing us of Shelley’s emotional states as well. There are horrific elements on the production, but to my mind this is a “me too” story, timely and important as we look back all those years ago and see that many of those same shadows still hang over us today. More of an think piece than an entertainment, but that is what is so fascinating about this festival, the variety of what is presented.

…And What Alice Found There

…And What Alice Found There by The Winding Sheet Outfit Photo by Dan Norman

The Winding Sheet Outfit’s production of …And What Alice Found There explores the relationship between Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll and Alice Pleasance Liddell, the basis for Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass? The question mark reflects the nature of the show which asks questions but doesn’t provide answers. Does that sound like a cheat? Well it isn’t, because there are no answers to the questions it raises. The production is seemingly a meeting between Dodgson and Alice when she is older, but the meeting seems to be taking place in Wonderland and Alice is accompanied by the denizens of that place…or other children who were friends of Dodgsons. While never actually scary in itself this show finds it’s horror in the possibilities it suggests, and they are much more disturbing than what my son used to refer to as poppy outies. There is a dreamlike quality to much of the proceedings with an edge of creepiness on two fronts. The relationship being examined has sinister overtones but is discussed with an almost whimsical tone. The children at times amusing can also be creepy such as when they parade about wearing masks of animals or when their silliness dips into mania. The production makes great use of silhouettes to create visuals illustrating ideas such as a poetic passage from a book. The sound design is also very effective in amplifying the discordant tones and suggestions. Creative use of various instruments for creating these sounds like using a violin bow on a metal bowl to create a sound that seems almost normal but not quite right, just as Dodgson’s relationship with Alice comes off. The point is to present this unknowable relationship and question it, while essentially admitting that we don’t know. It seems odd, and if it were happening today there would probably be an investigation…but we don’t really know.

you can find the schedule for all shows and purchase tickets at http://www.tchorrorfestival.com/ . The festival runs through Sunday Nov. 3rd. The wonderful thing about covering this festival has been to see the variety of work. Everything from truly scary stories to shadow puppets and science fiction. Also the creative ways in which the artists have found to share their ideas. This festival reminds us of all the talent and creativity out there and theaters ability to bring those things together to entertain, teach and yes, frighten us.

5 from the Twin Cities Horror Festival

As you may remember from my feature preview of the Twin Cities Horror Festival’s (TCHF) 8th season there are basically 13 one hourish shows rotating throughout the festival. I am scheduled at this point to take in 9 of the shows, after today I’m going to try and get to three of the others if I can. If that works out the only show I will not have been able to fit in is the Horror Show Hot Dog, which are showcases for horror short films. My first love was film, so it was hard to pass those up, but a man has to sleep, eat, and write. Rather than write 5 separate reviews for today’s shows and risk some of them not getting seen or lost in an avalanche of posts, I’ll be writing one review with all 5 shows and another review with the 3 scheduled for tomorrow and the 1 scheduled for Tuesday. Do not adjust your computer screens, the format below, while not the usual, is correct.

This was my first visit to the Southern Theater in Minneapolis and I have to say I really like this theater. It is perfect for TCHF, inside the performance space it has the look of a haunted castle. They have a nice selection of beverages (including Lemonade) and snacks for sale in the lobby. One word of warning before indulging into too many local brews or lemonades, the mens bathroom urinal is broken, so there is one stall available. As anyone who goes to the theater often knows Bathrooms are always in short supply, even more so here. If you need to go between shows, hustle out of the theater and get in line, or if you are having dinner at a nearby restaurant, go there before heading over. Two fun additional sidelines on the second level they have Living Embalming Sessions by Funerals for Life, where you get a death certificate and a Polaroid picture of yourself, after they have embalmed you of course. There is also a table selling merchandise such as Beanies, Hoodies, T-shirts, Leggings, purses and even soaps. There were some very tempting items and I shouldn’t be surprised if I head home one of these nights with a t-shirt or a Beanie.

Feminine Inhuman

Feminine Inhuman by Erin Sheppard Presents/Monster Science Photo by Dan Norman

The first show of the day was Feminine Inhuman which takes the form of a lecture by Reverend Matt about female monsters in folktales and mythologies throughout the world. Reverend Matt’s lecture is about seven different creatures: the Acheri, Qalupalik, Encantado, Banshee. Kuchisake-Onna, Harpy, and the Nightmare. The lectures are humorous and well delivered if a bit rushed, likely due to time constraints, by the writer of the piece Matthew Kessen. Each monster’s story is then accompanied by a dance sequence. This seems like an odd marriage, a humorous fo-lecture combined with dance sequences but it really works well. The dancing is top-notch, only in the first sequence did it seem like the synchronization was a bit off between the Acheri and her Shadow at times. This was one of my favorite productions of the day.

Geminae

Geminae by Oncoming Productions. Photo by Alex Wohlhueter.

The second show of the day Geminae was a science fiction piece by Becky Wilkinson Hauser. It concerns an astronaut in orbit above earth who is losing oxygen and the mission control team who are trying to figure out how to save her. This shows highlights were the production design and performances. The astronaut Cassie played by Leslie Vincent is shown floating through space to check different areas of the ship from the outside. This is accomplished by the actress being supported and carried by Rob Ward who is listed in the program as The Void. This was a very creative and fun way to create the illusion of weightlessness. Dressed all in black so that he mostly blends into the background, I thought it a poor choice that he did not wear a black mask and gloves as that would have completed the illusion more effectively. But later The Void takes on another role, which perhaps explains that costume choice. On the other hand that other role, is also the weak point of the play. It’s unclear what that role is and the play ends without really explaining what The Void is. It would have been better to have Ward simply function as the tool for creating the illusion of weightlessness and find a more understandable resolution to the play. I wanted to give shout outs here to three actors that created very real feeling performances, Sean Dillon, Erik Nielsen and Gurayn Sylte. This play contained the best acting of the day, with those three being the standouts.

Charcoal Moon

Charcoal Moon by Rogues Gallery Arts Photo by Dan Norman

Third up was like the second show on a science fiction double feature. Charcoal Moon tells the story of two spaceships who have spent 6 years to reach a moon of a dwarf planet in our solar system to extract a mineral that can change the world. Something goes very wrong though and the ships crews find themselves at odds with each other. This is almost the reverse of Geminae. Whereas that show used a very low tech tool to create the illusion of zero gravity, this show relied heavily on video footage of messages between earth and the spaceships to illustrates it’s science, but both worked well with their stories. Their strengths and weaknesses were also swapped. Charcoal Moon had a much more satisfying script but the actors were not able to bring the same depth and realism to their roles. I think these contrasts reflect the differences in the plays themselves, whereas Geminae is more of a drama, Charcoal Moon is more of an action adventure piece. Charcoal Moon was written and directed by Duck Washington

Incarnate

Incarnate by Special When Lit Photo by Dan Norman

Incarnate by Nissa Nordland Morgan was the best show of the day. From the moment we were let into the theater the discomfort began. They asked us to write our names on a piece of paper and put it in the basket to be considered for a part in the harvest. Everyone knows this is code for pulling you up on stage to be a part of the show. After that while you sit in your seats waiting for the show to start, people come around and thank you for coming and being a part of the Oasis. You never really get to relax from that point on. When the show starts you realize you are at a somewhat christian, somewhat pagan service. This is the show that gives Geminae a run for it’s money in the acting category. The standout here is Lauren Anderson who plays Marigold, the charismatic Herald of The Oasis which is basically a cult led by her and Caretaker Dan. Adding to the discomfort for me personally was the fact that within the schedules handed out when the doors opened was a program for the Oasis service. I didn’t take one as I didn’t realize there was a program inside the Festival schedule, which I already had a copy of. So the entire service I had to stand there pretending I knew what to say when it came time for the congregation to join it. I don’t want to give anything away but trust me this is not a show for the wee ones. There is a scene of nudity that seems odd and unnecessary, but that is really the only misstep in a powerful play, and it’s a minor one.

Bug Girl

Bug Girl by LIZ howls Photo by Dan Norman

Bug Girl was the final show and lasted about 30 minutes. This was the most unusual production as it was a shadow puppet performance. I am not very familiar with Shadow puppetry and there were some really interesting elements to the show. It is a performance style that incorporates puppets and drawings with live action movement creating in effect a cartoon that is performed live. There are illustrations projected in coordination with other elements using overhead projectors onto three panels. There is a live performer wearing a mask that appears on the screens in silhouette and handheld puppets that are moved across the overhead projectors. I liked the technique quite a bit, there were some very striking visuals. The one issue I had was that it seemed to rest on that too much. The show established it’s visuals and then didn’t do much to raise the bar. It was the shortest show of the day but also the one that felt a bit long. The visuals went from striking to repetitive, once the style had been established very few new elements were added. It seems like a style of story telling where you should be figuring out ways to keep wowing the viewer with new techniques. Bug Girl is the creation of Liz Howls.

Tickets for the TCHF which runs through Sunday November 3rd as well as synopsis and content ratings for the shows can be found at http://www.tchorrorfestival.com/ .

Plan ahead for Halloween Fun at the 8th season of the Twin Cities Horror Festival

Picture

In my household everyone knows there is no such thing as the month of October. When listing months it goes August, September, Monster Month November, December. So being the theater fan I am and having an affection for celebrating bumpities and spookables during the month which must not be named, I was intrigued to discover the Twin Cities Horror Festival (TCHF). The TCHF is Eleven days of onstage horror and more. It’s eighth season runs from October 24th thru November 3rd at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis. The festival consists of 12 stage shows, The Horror Show Hot Dog Short Film Festival, and a Lobby sensory experience called Living Embalming Sessions that will send you home with a death certificate.

With basically 14 different shows to experience how can you possibly see everything? Well it’s even trickier than that because The Horror Show Hot Dog Short Film Festival shows a different selection of short films at each screening, of which there are 5. The good news is each of the shows runs just under an hour, so there are multiple shows on any given day, and you can easily catch 4 to 5 on a weeknight, don’t worry about getting too sleepy, remember these are horror shows. Up to 8 shows can be taken in on a weekend. Appointment’s to be embalmed can be made in the lobby, in case that is a service you need. With all but one show having 5 performances throughout the 11 days of the festival, there are many opportunities to see as many as you’d like. Be Warned as you make your schedule there is one show, Sara’s FUNeral: An Open Casket Cabaret that has a single performance on Saturday Nov.2nd at 11:30 AM, so if you are a completest plan accordingly.

The complete schedule and descriptions of each show can be found at www.tchorrorfestival.com. For families looking for some good clean scares read the full descriptions on the website Click on SHOWS –> LINEUP AND TICKETS scroll down to the individual show descriptions, when you click on More you will get a fuller description, scroll to the bottom of the page and each show has a rating, here is an example from Frankenstein

Ratings (1-5)
Language – 4
Violence – 5
Blood – 5

​Suggested Age 16+

Tickets can be purchased for individual shows or you can buy multi-show passes. There is the Four Horsemen Pass which gets you 4 tickets at a discount which you can use to see 4 different shows or to take a group of 4 to 1 show, you can purchase as many of those as you want. They also the Skeleton Key, which is basically unlimited access to all the shows. This is the route to go if you intend to see everything at least once and multiple sessions of The Horror Show Hot Dog Short Film Festival. I plan to take in as many as my schedule allows for. I would like to point out that the TCHF officially became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit this year. This ensures that they are able to pass on all money raised from individual tickets sales to the artists behind the shows.

I promise to post reviews of the shows I get to, the day of whenever possible. So if you are on the fence on which shows to check out, check back throughout the Festival I’ll post them as I see them. I’ll end with a selection of Photos from previous shows