“‘Do not mind the Sprites. They will not bite…hard,” quips a gypsy. “The Pagans have no respect for the dead!,” says another, as pagans, sprites, fairies and woodland creatures come out from the shrubbery to dance and entertain through the lush grounds and walkways, greeting patrons that await the Wicked Lit experience.
For five years, the Mountain View Mausoleum and Cemetery has been the home of annual autumn productions of Wicked Lit, a theatrical walk-through that guides 105 willing victims through each of the three classic horror literature works adapted for the show.
The experience begins when the frame guide character Franz Mesmer (Dustin Hess) leads the audience through a corridor lit with early industrial revolution electric light into the Pompeian Court mausoleum. Greeted by “Bavarians and gypsys” in “Pagan versus Steam Punk” costumes, Mesmer instructs participating audience members to tie up his wife (Elyse Ashton) for a demonstration. Eager to get the “party started,” Mesmer quips “Maybe later we could play ‘Pin the Tail on the Demon Hellhound!’”
Aurora Long and Charlie Mount, co-playwrights and co-directors of Spirits of Walpurgisnacht, the opening and frame show for Wicked Lit 2014, explained that Walpurgisnacht in German folklore is believed to be the night of a witches’ meeting in the forests.
Long brings a background in Shakespeare, which is likely why the opening of the piece has a very Midsummer Night’s dream feel with fairies and other woodland creature characters.
“When everyone is safe protected in the lobby–when they go off to see the other three shows–then the spirits and demons can interact with them,” Long said. Dracula’s Guest, one of the three pieces, takes place on Walpurgisnacht, where traditionally bonfires are lit to protect against evil spirits.
With a background in magic instead of an actual bonfire, Mount thought of using technologies new to the industrial revolution in the turn of the 20th century and asked the designers to create an “electrical bonfire” in a “Nicola Tesla meets Dr. Frankenstein” steam punk-esque display created by Kurtis Bedford.
The frame of the show is laced with comedy designed to warm up the audience with magic and moody atmospheric music that primes the audience for what’s to come. And it has to be flexible enough for events and late-comers who might cause a pause. So it’s dotted with bits of improvisation, magic and levity in order to accommodate the starts and stops.
“We wanted something light and funny, because the rest of the night is pretty dark and scary,” said Mount. “So as a counterpoint, we’re pretty tongue-in-cheek. I guess we are about as scary as the Addams Family,” he said.
Audience members are arranged in groups of 35 directed by the color dot on their program and are then given some rules, such as “turn off all non-steamed powered devices.”
Then they are sent off to embark on Dracula’s Guest, which is based on the original first chapter to Dracula, The Monk, a Gothic story of evil’s attempt to bring a monk into damnation, and Las Llaronas, a Mexican folklore about a murderous mother who cries along the coast and through time for her drowned children.
“Each of the directors works with the production, the actors, the design, and the full 360 of what the audience experiences,” said executive director Jonathan Josephson.
With past productions at other locations, such as History Lit at the Fenyes Manson in Pasadena, and Wicked Lit at the Greystoke Mansion in Beverly Hills, Unbound Productions has several things in the works for the future and is looking again to the Pasadena area.
“We are also developing Mystery Lit,” Josephson said. “We have a Sherlock Holmes play that we are hoping to produce very soon. The play is called ‘Holmes, Sherlock, and the Consulting Detective.’”
Wednesday performances are the least expensive and there are group rates for students, but Josephson offered a suggestion for those who are eager to see the show but facing a financial impasse.
“It’s an expensive show to put on. But at the same time, we don’t want to turn anybody away because they can’t afford it. So email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will figure something out.”
Wicked Lit runs from October 3 to November 8 at the Mountain View Mausoleum and Cemetery in Altadena. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $35 to $70. For more information go to wickedlit.org.