On April 26th, the dead come to life at the Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto, Canada where audiences can experience George A. Romero’s immortal horror classic Night of the Living Dead Live for the first time ever on stage.
Executive producers George A. Romero, John A. Russo (co-author of Night of the Living Dead) and Russ Streiner best known as Johnny (“They’re coming to get you Barbara”) along with Christopher Harrison, Phil Pattison and Marty Birthhelmer of Nictophobia Films teamed up with Christopher Bond (director, co-creator and co-composer of Evil Dead, The Musical) to give new life to one of the most popular horror films of all time and a new look to the cinematic masterpiece with the entire stage production presented in black and white from the set design to the actors!
Audiences will be closer to the story than ever before by getting to sit in the now famous farmhouse with the characters as they fight and kill their way through the hoards of marauding ghouls that descend upon them. Think of it as the ultimate 3D experience because the entire story will be happening right in front of your eyes and all around you. It’s flesh eating in the flesh folks—the closest thing to live cannibalism since the fall of Rome. It would be like you’re about to take in a late night viewing of Night of the Living Dead, but when you pull up a chair in front of the TV, you’re sucked in and have to pop a squat inside the farmhouse completely immersed in all the action. By the end of the show you’ll truly know what it feels like to experience a night with the living dead!
Ravenous Monster chatted with co-creator and co-executive producer Christopher Harrison about what it was like necromancing Night of the Living Dead from film to stage.
RavMon: What’s the theater space like? On the Theatre Passe Muraille website it describes its space as an intimate setting, how intimate are we talking about?
Christopher Harrison: Well, it’s not like your standard sort of big theater that most people would be used to. It’s a smaller scale theater with 185 seats, so it’s pretty small, and there’s two tiers. You can look on the website, and there’s lots of pictures of it there to get a better idea, but it suits our needs perfect because of the two tiers, and how we’re telling our story.
RavMon: Speaking of how you’re telling your story, there’s a lot of mention of audience participation. What kind of audience participation will there be in the show?
Harrison: That’s something that’s been a little misconstrued. It’s not audience participation like people can just join in and kill a zombie during the show. The show just sort of happens around everyone throughout the audience. The zombies and characters come through the audience and interact around them.
RavMon: Is this the first official stage version of Night of the Living Dead?
Harrison: That’s correct and important to announce. People will get on our Facebook and say you know, ‘I’ve played that character in that play last year.’ Well this is the first time this play has ever existed so that’s not true because this is the first official authorized version of Night of the Living Dead by George Romero, Russell Streiner and John A. Russo that we’re doing here.
RavMon: How close is this play to the classic horror film?
Harrison: The fans are going to love it! We’re super fans ourselves, so we made sure to get it right. Phil and I wrote the first draft of the script that actually got the deal signed. We’re fans of the films and of Russ, John and George and so that’s the really great thing we talk about around here is that fans are making this for fans. So all the questions the other fans have about the story are the questions we had, and we were lucky enough to be able to explore this with George, Russ and John. How awesome is that?
RavMon: Pretty awesome! What was it like working George A. Romero, John A. Russo and Russell Streiner, and what kind of input did they give you to help bring this play to life?
Harrison: It’s been amazing working with them. Very insightful. And they’ve been a great help in terms of helping us create the Night of the Living Dead world.
They’ve really been fantastic in terms of creative freedom because – and you’ll hear about it once reviews come out – we did an original take on the show. So we just passed things by them, and they’d give advice on a lot of the stuff we were doing from things that they heard from fans about the film, things we didn’t want to miss that everybody loves and that sort of thing.
So, they’ve been great with that, and back in November we got to visit the world of Night of the Living Dead. We spent four days in Pittsburgh with them and that was an unbelievable experience. We got to go to all the shooting locations and basically hear the whole backstory, and what they went through when they made it and saw they’re old offices. It was just to basically put our brains into the world of Night of the Living Dead, and it couldn’t have been better or done with better guys.
RavMon: You’re working with Christopher Bond of Evil Dead, The Musical. What’s that experience been like?
Harrison: He’s awesome! He’s definitely the best choice for the job. He’s a really, really hard worker, a really creative guy, a lot of fun, has a lot of respect from his peers and the people in this industry. And he’s literally assembled an amazing team for us to help pull this off because I’m not sure if you’re familiar, but we’re a film company. So as a film company this is our first time going to do a play, and he was pivotal in making sure that the people that we hired were the best people, and we honestly couldn’t be happier with him or the team we have making this project happen.
RavMon: Speaking of film, what was it like transitioning from film to stage?
Harrison: I’ll tell ya, it’s hockey and football! We just thought being film guys, you know, it’s all entertainment. It all probably goes hand in hand, but there’s definitely a huge learning curve there. But it’s been a great experience and an eye-opening one, and most importantly I know we’ve done the best we can to pull off the best show that we can, so I think people are going to love Night of the Living Dead Live a lot (continued after the pic).
RavMon: What inspired all of this, and how did you guys put it all together?
Harrison: I had seen a picture of a friend who went as a black and white zombie to a Halloween party with his girlfriend, and it looked really, really cool. They actually did a really good make up job on themselves, and I was like ‘Holy shit! That’s really cool.’ So, looking at them got me thinking because we were looking for a new project, and I told my business partner Phil, ‘Hey man, I saw this picture, what do you think if we did Night of the Living Dead as a stage play? I mean most of the movie takes place in a farm house so that will just be the set, and we’ll do it all black and white like that picture and it could be pretty cool.’ And Phil was like, ‘Oh my god man! We should totally do that!’
And at that time, we were promoting our film Devil’s Night with Danielle Harris at the Festival of Fear when we’d come up with this idea, and we were just walking around the Festival of Fear which Rue Morgue puts on here in Toronto every year and, if you can believe it, Russ Streiner and John Russo were in the anime section, and we didn’t even know they were going to be there. So, a mutual friend of ours had approached them and said, ‘Listen these guys want to do a live stage play adaptation of Night of the Living Dead. They’re working on it right now and kinda have a mixed first draft, and they don’t want to do it without your blessing.’ Because we all know the story of Night of the Living Dead and how everybody’s taken advantage of it, and these awesome filmmakers and great guys, and we didn’t want to do that because as filmmakers ourselves we’ve all been through that at some point, and they gave us their phone numbers if you can believe that.
So, they told us to give them a call after the Festival of Fear to have a chat to see if we can make something happen. So we did and George, John and Russ all discussed it and said, you know, ‘based on your presentation of ideas you guys have with the black and white and blah blah blah that sounds really cool. Let’s do it.’
We got a contract together last year – April 26th 2012 – and the show opens April 26th 2013. It was totally meant to be. The day we signed the contract is the day the show opens and that wasn’t us. We didn’t plan that. The show was supposed to open earlier in April, but things came up. They had to move some things around, and we got pushed to where our opening day ended up being one year ago to the day when we signed the deal. It’s almost like fate. We all say it was meant to be the way things keep working out with us on this thing.
RavMon: About the black and white make up, how did you achieve that on stage?
Harrison: I can’t tell you too much about what our make-up artist did because there’s been a lot of trial and error for it, so if I told you all about how it was done I think she’d kill me. But what I can tell you is that you’re going to be blown away by how it actually looks because it doesn’t look like what you may be thinking in your head – that these people are just painted in black and white paint. Actually, it really does look more like black and white television. The way they do make up on it and the way it looks is pretty fascinating actually because of all the tone differences. It’s amazing when the lights hit certain colors; like the lights from the theater hit a grey it actually turns it blue. It was quite a challenge to make the real black and white happen, but I can assure you it looks like real black and white from TV.
RavMon: Any upcoming projects with your film company?
Harrison: Yeah, we have another film called The Mummer that we’d like to make next. We’re presently waiting to hear from an actor that we approached [to see]if he wants to do it, but once he signs on we hope to shoot it in 2015 with plans of continuing Night of the Living Dead Live, of course. We want to continue Night of the Living Dead for a little bit, and I think we’re hoping to be doing another run in October here in Toronto.
RavMon: Any chance of the show heading to the U.S. or touring through Canada and abroad?
Harrison: That’s the plan. We just want to get some reviews behind it here and, yeah, we’d love to travel. That was certainly the plan when we initially came up with it. We always make the joke around here that because we’re film guys we’re never going to have the experience of being in a rock band and going on tour so the only way we’d be able to do it is with Night of the Living Dead going on tour, so that’s our plan….
Night of the Living Dead Live opens April 26th and runs through May 19th with special guest Q&A’s on select nights with George A. Romero, Russ Streiner, and John A. Russo. Tickets are available now at the Theatre Passe Muraille Box Office (416 504-7529) or online at www.nightofthelivingdeadlive.com.
You can also follow them on Twitter @LivingDeadLive or “like” them on www.Facebook.com/NightOfTheLivingDeadLive, and if you zombie lovers haven’t grabbed your passports and descended upon the Canadian border like a pack of flesh eating maniacs for your chance to catch this show live you’d better get moving before this rock n’ roll zombie horror show hits the road.