In December 2016, local actor, writer and director Chase Harrison began writing his second horror tale for the stage (he debuted the gory “Wendigo” in 2015 to solid reviews). By June he had a first draft complete. The second-guessing and filling in plot holes was eased by friends who read the script over and over again after Harrison’s numerous cuts and various drafts.
“I finally had to remember some great advice about just saying its written form is done, with any and all other changes happening live in the space with director and actor figuring them out together,” he tells. This weekend he will see the hard work come to fruition at TheatreNOW’s Halloween dinner show, “TheaTerror.”
The story essentially is a play within a play: A theatre company is staging Shakespeare’s famed “Macbeth,” when suddenly the cast starts dropping like flies. Harrison thought setting the play in the midst of an empty theatre with a killer on the loose added a perfect dose of creepiness to the show.
“It also answered my cast of characters,” he notes. “Set in a theater, you need a couple of actors, a director, a few techies, and a producer—and then wham, bam you have your body count!”
Aside from “Macbeth” having its own dose of horror, with murder and witches in its tale, choosing Shakespeare as a base inspired Harrison in other ways. He didn’t want a silent killer, so he began reading his favorite Shakespeare plays and paid closer attention to ones with sinister undertones. “I made those lines the dialogue for my killer,” Harrison tells. “So instead of quipping jokes or brutishly breathing heavy, our killer speaks in Shakespearean quotes. It adds to the psychosis of the killer, and just ties it closer to the theater theme and setting of the story.”
Harrison has had quite a love for the horror genre since youth. A child of the ‘80s, he was fascinated with the Freddie Kruger and Jason Vorhees movies. Harrison calls himself “a film geek in a theatre kid world.”
“I try to take the concepts of films I love and adjust them to fit the stage,” he notes. “That’s what I set out to do with ‘Wendigo,’ and that’s what I’m setting off again to do with ‘TheaTerror’: Stage an incredible horror play full of odes to the films that inspired me to want to create my own tales of terror.”
The ultimate ride is to endure pure escapism and entertainment. Whether it’s through campfire ghost stories or watching ax-wielding psychopaths hunt down prey, the genre equals sheer fun for Harrison, which is what he wants the audience take away as well.
“I remember being a kid, B-lining to the horror-movie section just to look at all the amazing cover artwork, and taking hours to figure out which ‘Nightmare on Elm St.’ or ‘Friday the 13th’ sequel I’d be rewatching that weekend,” he tells. More so, Harrison loves the subgenres of horror: zombies, haunted houses, killer dolls, vampires, and his personal fave, the slasher film.
“Crazy person shows up, pops on a mask, and takes people out one by one, all Agatha Christie-style,” he tells. “It’s been copied, pasted and reprinted ever since John Carpenter cracked the code with ‘Halloween’ in ‘78.”
Harrison utilizes the masked-killer concept and combines it with more ‘80s tropes, including the crazed final-girl-standing character. He even names one of his characters, Kenny Carpenter, after the Master or Horror (in fact every show Harrison writes ends up with an ode to the Carpenter family). The character is a man-child extraordinaire with an ego as big as the Grand Canyon, and will be played by Jay Zahed. “It’s the character I’d want to play if I weren’t directing,” Harrison says. The remaining cast consists of Jessica Farmer, Erin Hunter, Nicole Porreco Horton, Melissa Randall, Heather Costello, and Rick Forrester.
“The characters are a nice mixture of personalities one meets when working in a theater/putting up a play, while still checking off the boxes to be the common cannon fodder that make up the victims of the slasher flick,” he tells. “I tried to have a representative from most aspects of theater life: the actors bringing their egocentric thinking to set, along with a constantly stressed director panicking about the smallest of details going unchecked, the always on-point and tough-as-nails techie, and the needling producer.”
Though he’s not aiming to be “scary,” per se (in Harrison’s truthy words, “The real world is scary enough”), writing horror simply means releasing the darkness within. He likes to reveal the worst part of ourselves in a controlled environment and see what prevails from it.
“No matter what form it takes—be it a vengeful spirit, invading alien, monster under the bed, or masked psychopath—we as the audience see it vanquished,” he details. “We see that good can win and evil does lose, even if it comes back for sequel after sequel. But isn’t that just life anyways? Our terrors coming back over and over and over?”
“TheaTerror” opens October 6, and runs every Friday and Saturday through Oct. 28, with a special Halloween-night show on the 31.