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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Second Coming of Undead Theater at The Alley: A Conversation with Martin French


By Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

Martin French.

Martin French comes to be writing about the undead with perhaps a greater pedigree than most. As a scholar of the works of Dracula creator Bram Stoker, the self-described “expert on things Stoker-related” in his native Dublin was at one point being fought over by The Bram Stoker Society and Bram Stoker’s Dracula Organization. It was an internecine conflict between, as he puts it, “the two competing centers of Stoker studies – a field that contained nearly six of us.” Fourteen years later, he finds himself as a writer and director in the 2nd Annual Inhuman: A Festival of New American Undead Theater (April 4-19) at The Alley Theater, where his short play, To Kill A Zombie, will premiere as a part of “Bits and Pieces” (undead theatre fans love a good pun) program on April 11.

Mr. French’s first foray into Louisville theatre was in last year’s inaugural Inhuman Festival, and Alley Artistic Director Scott Davis picked up on the eagerness and professional experience seeking outlet, and invited him to write and direct a parody of the American electoral process last October, Electile Dysfunction. Not being a U.S. native and therefore ineligible to vote, yet anxious to get involved in the American democracy, Martin had sought to volunteer in the polls only to be rebuffed because he was not a registered member of either the Democratic or Republican party. “Even if you are native born and registered as an independent, you cannot work in the polls. You MUST be one of the two major parties. It's ridiculous!” What he calls “the utter corruption” this curious requirement seemed to represent was readily channeled as inspiration for the satire of Dysfunction.

When seeking inspiration for a new undead story, Martin doesn’t feel that the overabundance of high-profile zombie and vampire stories in the popular culture has exhausted the range of ideas and opportunity for originality, and the range of material one finds in the Inhuman Festival only proves it. For To Kill A Zombie, he turns the cliché of shopping mall refuge, made popular by pioneering zombie storyteller George Romero, on its ear by setting the action in a downtown dance studio with a lot of windows. “Everybody else is going to Costco; everybody else is all walled up. But if you have walls surrounding you, you can’t see what’s outside; you can’t see what’s coming.” By placing his characters in such an environment, Martin is commenting on urban planning. “That’s been the modern experience of the Central Business District – people don’t live there.”

Martin wrote the piece specifically to submit to the Inhuman Festival, and he states that he can only write for an anticipated production. “I almost never write for self-edification.”

Now, as he prepares to launch his new play, he also finds himself also directing the premiere of Suckers, a new full-length script from Duncan Pflaster. It features a vampire king, who runs the local vampire population from inside of a café. “He’s more like a count, really,” Martin corrects, seemingly oblivious to the association with the title of the most famous vampire. As is often a hazard with non-professional productions, Martin lost one of his key cast members to a lucrative professional gig out-of-town. Fortunately, Alley regular Kenn Parks was available to step in. “Kenn is perhaps the most enthusiastic actor in North America, never mind Louisville!” laughs the director. “So I’m very fortunate.”

The festival line-up appears to have expanded, prompting the question of whether the festival attracted more material in this its second year. Festival producer Todd Zeigler reports that it wasn’t necessarily a greater volume but that the call for material perhaps achieved a greater reach. “We used some of the same media, such as our website and Facebook, but we went down some new avenues as well. I posted it in some LinkedIn groups for playwrights and theater producers, which generated a lot of new interest and submissions. On the flip side, we got some repeat submissions and repeat submitters with new plays, which shows us that the festival's concept has legs and a niche for artists with an interest in this kind of material.”

Inhuman: A Festival of New American Undead Theater

April 4-19, 2013

The Alley Theater
1210 Franklin Street
Louisville, KY 40206
502-713-6178

Available Ticket Packages:
Full Ticket Package: $45 – Includes one ticket to each of the festival plays: Suckers, Goblin Universe, The Church of Saint Bearer and Bits and Pieces.
Mainstage Package:  $30 – Includes one ticket to both Suckers and Goblin Universe.
Small Stage Package:  $20 – Includes one ticket to both Bits and Pieces and The Church of Saint Bearer.

This Year's Selections:

Goblin Universe by Greg Paul
A down-on-his-luck cryptozoologist spends all his time chasing after elusive creatures like Bigfoot and The Jersey Devil. Thing is, these creatures exist – and maybe they don’t want to be found. Premieres April 4.

The Church of Saint Bearer by Irene Pynn
A priest must protect his rapidly unraveling flock from hoards of ravenous undead outside, while facing the most impossible questions:  Where is god? What’s the point of going on? And if those things outside aren’t the formerly dead, then what are they? Premieres April 4.

Suckers by Duncan Pflaster
In a late night coffee shop full of vampires, people and poseurs, the vampire king has taken an interest in a human woman. But she – and the underlings – may have second opinions. Opens April 11.

Bits and Pieces (the shorts) - Premiering April 11

To Kill A Zombie by Martin French
Two women are waiting out the zombie apocalypse, one by hiding, and one by drinking. When the zombies find them, only one thing more infectious than a zombie virus can save them: Tequila. (Not the drink.)

PoSETHion by Ron Burch
A teenage girl is possessed by a demon from the ninth circle of Hell, and her mom and dad have to decide whom they prefer:  the daughter, or the demon.

Masque of the Red Death by Alex Broun
This movement-based adaptation of Poe’s classic short story to the stage tells the tale of a party of revelers who discover there is no escape from a plague that is destroying humanity.

Darkness by Rueben Carbajal
A man discovers a monster under his bed and tries to reason with it. But reason won’t save him from the surprise it has in store.

Fang by Alex Dremann
Vampires are the essence of eroticism. But Cosgrove must turn to an unlikely ally – a divorced dentist – when one of his fangs loses its bite.

Bedford's Sty by Daniel Guyton
A deeply troubled boy suffers under the care of his sadistic cousin, until his deceased father returns – in the form of the living room.


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