Hard as it may be to believe, the zombiepocalypse that has been raging for the last few years is showing no signs of letting up. Unlike those pompous, arrogant, gender-neutral vampires, zombies remain true “monsters,” and are just as scary popping out at you from behind the shower curtain as they are on stage. Nowhere is this more evident than the Bug Theater this fall, where they are producing the live staged version of Night Of The Living Dead for the fourth year running. Here, co-producer/director Duane Brown (the actor who plays “Tom”) talks about creating a new tradition, filming in a cemetery and trying to direct zombies.
French Davis: How did NOTLD come together? Who had the idea to put this in stage?
Duane Brown: Our director, and co-producer, Kris Hipps, and I used to perform in a sketch and improv comedy group together. Kris had the Night of the Living Dead-on-stage idea in her head for years, and I had always wanted to do a zombie-related comedy piece for kicks. There was a show that fell through at the Bug for October 2008, and Kris said, “Hey, let’s do the zombie thing!” I had heard that the script was public domain, so we put the whole thing together in less than 2 and a half months.
FD: When did the idea to make this an annual event pop up?
DB: To be honest, we were surprised at how well the show was received this first year. We were not expecting sold-out houses, though we knew zombie lovers would certainly make the audience fun for us. Once we saw how popular the show was, co-producer Alex Weimer said we should do this every year.
FD: How did you get around the zombie unions? I hear they’re a pain to work with.
DB: Zombie unions are a real pain to work with, but the positive is that zombies are pretty stupid. We actually want them to strike because if zombies refuse to show up every day to eat people, then humanity is actually better off. It’s kind of funny that they still haven’t figured this out, so we treat them like crap in hopes of a strike. You’re welcome, America.
FD: What are some things you’ve learned through this process?
DB: We’ve learned a million things. Here are three: 1) Create a show that you’re passionate about and have fun doing. If you stay true to that, you’ll be successful. Critics for “real” theater may not take us very seriously, but our audiences have a blast and that’s all that really matters. 2) In the inevitable zombie apocalypse, it’s probably best not to lock yourself up in a house with Barbara, because seriously, Barbara…they’re coming to get you, which means I’m going to be eaten by association. 3) Never hug a zombie.
FD: What’s the hardest thing about working with zombies?
DB: Their general clumsiness. They knock over just about every prop backstage, and you can forget about them cleaning up anything.
FD: How do you direct zombies? Is it all method? Or just line readings?
DB: Zombies are very much method actors, but honestly, it’s all they know. We use two schools of thought: Reward and punishment. If they get to their spot on stage correctly, we might toss them a piece of meat or a kitten. If they mess things up, I might hold up a drawing of a zombie missing its head with an arrow pointing to it that reads, “YOU!”