At the link below is a taste of the music of Ghost Quartet from one of our early music rehearsals- a part of Side One, Track Three, "Starchild"! Featuring TJ Anderson (the Astronomer), Alex Ellsworth (the Bear), Amanda Raquel Martinez (Pearl) and Rachel Guth (Rose). With music director Nick Sula on additional instruments. Enjoy!
At the link below is a taste of the music of Ghost Quartet from one of our early music rehearsals- a part of Side One, Track One, "I Don't Know"! Featuring TJ Anderson (the Astronomer), Alex Ellsworth (the Bear), Amanda Raquel Martinez (Pearl) and Rachel Guth (Rose). With music director Nick Sula on additional instruments. Enjoy!
This is the second blog post I’ve written with some thoughts on the Jeff Nominations Black Button Eyes Productions received for the 2019-2020 season- this post is focused on Evil Dead the Musical. To read the post about Nightmares & Nightcaps, check out my previous post!
Best Performer in a Principal Role- Musical (Jordan Dell Harris as Ash) Jordan joined the Evil Dead team a lot later than most, but he was a terrific find. A lot of the reviews we got pointed out that he has more than a passing resemblance to Bruce Campbell, the actor who originated the character of Ash in the original Evil Dead movies. What Jordan brought to this role, however, was far more just a physical similarity. He also brought a stellar tenor voice, dynamic and committed physicality, and ace comedic instincts that helped make the musical really shine. Spending nearly the entirety of the piece onstage, Jordan finished each performance drenched in fake blood, sweat, and other unmentionables and gave 100% to the audience at every show
Best Performer in a Supporting Role- Musical (Caitlin Jackson as Cheryl)
Caitlin is a frequent Black Button Eyes collaborator and in my mind is the perfect actress to play Cheryl. With both an adamantium belt singing voice and absolutely killer comedic skills, she walked away with nearly every scene she was in, especially once Cheryl became possessed by demons, got locked away in the cellar, and kept popping up like an evil jack-in-the-box (or like someone on Laugh-In) to slay the audience with jokes and puns. It was a pleasure and a privilege to be able to unite a great actress with a role they utterly nailed the way Caitlin did this part.
Best Performer in a Supporting Role- Musical (Stevie Love as Shelly/ Annie)
Having seen Stevie delivering comedy gold many times in productions with Hell in a Handbag Productions, I was delighted to be able to bring them on board for this production. In particular I knew that the roles of Shelly and Annie in particular present unique challenges; they are written in a way that can make their scenes deeply problematic unless they can be used by a skilled comedian to skewer certain stereotypes. Stevie is a master at playing these types of roles in a way that is terribly funny, criticizes the stereotypes involved, and never feels mean spirited. It’s a credit to Stevie that both these two roles and the show overall worked as well as they did.
Best Choreography (Derek Van Barham)
It’s hard to understate how valuable it’s been to have Derek to collaborate with on every single Black Button Eyes show, including Evil Dead the Musical. Establishing a meaningful movement vocabulary and helping to enhance moment with dance have made him an important component of every piece we’ve ever done at Black Button Eyes. That said, Derek had a unique chance to shine on Evil Dead the Musical, which was much, much more dance heavy than previous shows with the company. Whether it was making sure the tango between Ash and Scott in act one was hilarious and skillful without indulging in gay panic jokes, or helping completely burn the house down during the act two song “Do the Necronomicon”
Best Director- Musical (Ed Rutherford)
….and then there’s me. I will say that I’m extremely proud of what I accomplished with this piece. I went into this process very aware of how the previous touring production had been received, and I was determined to come up with a version that would be more warmly regarded locally. Part of that was some very thoughtful decisions about casting, how we would approach particular moments (i.e. the “Tree Scene” where Cheryl is attacked, for those of you who are familiar), and constant effort in rehearsal to give the characters (especially the femme-presenting ones!) as much agency and emotional truth as allowed by the text. I love the piece because I grew up on the Evil Dead film series and enjoy any theater piece that has fantastical elements like demons and magic, and while not a perfect work, I thought Evil Dead the Musical deserved better than it got, the last time it was in Chicago. I’m glad I was able to oversee a production that succeeded in these aims, and grateful that I got so many amazing artists together in the room to make it happen.
Since Black Button Eyes Productions received eight Jeff nominations for last season’s shows, I’ve been thinking about the success of this past season and the people who made it possible. The company has had some incredible talent working with us, and the cool experiences we’ve created for audiences wouldn’t have been possible without them, and my hat is off to all the artists who contributed to last season, whether they were nominated or not. But since it’s been on my mind lately, I decided to scribble down some musings on the nominations we got, and why I’m delighted we got them. Below are some of my thoughts about the first show in our season, Nightmares & Nightcaps, and I’ll post later about Evil Dead the Musical.
Best Costume Design, Beth Laske-Miller (Nightmares & Nightcaps)
Beth has been my partner in crime for nearly all Black Button Eyes shows. She both makes it possible to realize some of the crazy ideas I have in my head as real-life costume pieces (“what if, like, this guy has a hat that opens up in the front and there’s a bunch of cogs and gears in there?”) as well as bringing her own thrilling ideas and designs to the table. It was such a pleasure to see her get recognized last season for Shockheaded Peter, and I’m pleased to see her also get recognized for a very different show with a very different look: Nightmares & Nightcaps. Particular moments I was proud of involve the sometimes sly and always appropriate pattern matching of the different characters in the different stories and vignettes- for instance, she keeps everyone in the Carter family in the story “Thus I Refute Beelzy” in matching pink and black/white stripe patterns (Mr. Carter even has pink and black argyle socks not visible in the below shot):
And of course who could miss the hysterical look and pattern matching for the Beasleys when they go on safari in the vignette “Incident on a Lake:”
What I also love about Beth’s work is that she is fearless about going for more fantastical looks when the story requires (such as when Mr. Beasley encounters the Bird of Paradise in the photo below):
…and so on and so forth. For this piece in particular, Beth really shined in fitting looks precisely to each character and world within each individual story.
Best Artistic Specialization, Jeremiah Barr (for puppet design, Nightmares & Nightcaps, The Stories of John Collier) While Nightmares & Nightcaps is a very funny piece, I have to admit some of the biggest laughs we got in the show stem from some brilliant puppets from Jeremiah Barr. Jeremiah has also been a frequent collaborator of mine, including also doing Props/Set/Puppets for Shockheaded Peter and Evil Dead the Musical. Nightmares & Nightcaps has a few puppets that are vital to the success of one of the stories, “Incident on a Lake.” First, when The Beasleys first go on safari, they have a near-miss at encountering the Armadillo, realized below by Jeremiah as an adorable, bug-eyed delight:
Second, near the end of the story, there is a brief appearance by a Megatherium poking its head through a door- the appearance is so quick we didn’t even get a photo during a run, but it left the audience in stitches. The Megatherium appears almost as a Laugh-In Joke Wall bit, sticking its head into the scene in response to a mating call. But most important of all for the success of “Incident on a Lake” is the appearance of the Lake Monster that (spoilers!) devours Mrs Beasley:
We needed something unexpected, monstrous, and with a truly significant size to chomp down on Mrs Beasley and drag her off stage, and Jeremiah succeeded with it in spades.
Best Sound Design, Robert Hornbostel, Nightmares and Nightcaps Robert Hornbostel has also been a frequent collaborator with Black Button Eyes Productions. He’s very chill and very skilled and that’s been a great combination. While he’s an absolute wizard when actors are being mic’d (as they were in Nevermore and Evil Dead the Musical) his design also undeniably enhances productions in which the actors are unamplified, like Nightmares & Nightcaps. Both while designing cues and deciding on the perfect arrangement of speakers to create the most satisfying audience experience in studio two at the Athenaeum, Robert excelled. Specific things I remember that I loved in particular:
-Placing a very assertive subwoofer backstage to help us make moments like the puppet lake monster appearing (and roaring like a T-Rex) something the audience believes and can really feel in their bones. Jeremiah’s puppet is great, but we needed that awesome roar (and the sickening crunch of bones right afterwards) to finish selling the moment.
-Creating a host of other satanic growls and roars, rushing wind, etc. as needed in the piece that help make moments like the chaotic transition below really pop:
-One important plot point in the piece is the periodic sound of a ghostly woman’s voice by the narrator. That voice is almost an additional character in the piece that is only real for the audience due to the cues Robert put together.
-Helping create the recording (including Victrola-sound artifacts and other desired distortions) of the song we use for a dance number in the show; a performance by actress Kat Evans of the thematically appropriate song ‘Ain’t We Got Fun.’
Everyone who worked on Nightmares & Nightcaps brought their best work to the table, and I’m so proud of what we all accomplished. It’s also great to see Beth, Jeremiah and Robert get the recognition they deserve. Way to go!
For the second straight season since the company became Jeff-eligible, Black Button Eyes Productions was recognized by the Jeff Committee with nominations for our productions. This time, we've received EIGHT nominations for our shows. Here's the list!
For Evil Dead the Musical
Best Director (Ed Rutherford)
Best Choreographer (Derek Van Barham)
Best Lead Actor (Jordan Harris as Ash)
Best Supporting Actor (Caitlin Jackson as Cheryl)
Best Supporting Actor (Stevie Love as Shelly/Annie)
For Nightmares & Nightcaps
Best Costume Design (Beth Laske-Miller)
Best Sound Design (Robert Hornbostel)
Best Artistic Specialization (Jeremiah Barr, for Puppets)
Congratulations to everyone nominated, and here's to a fantastic 2019-2020 season! Tickets for our next show, Ghost Quartet, are on sale now!
- Where you were born/where were you raised? Flossmoor, IL
- Zodiac sign: Aquarius
- What are/were the careers of your parents? Both are retired. Dad was a teacher, and mom worked in the family business.
- Do you have any Siblings? Yes. Three. I’m the third of four, but I’m also the baby of the family…
- Where were you trained? No formal training; just been performing in theatre for nearly thirty years. I did, however, minor in theatre at The George Washington University.
- Current favorite audition song or monologue to use: “A Marriage Proposal” from Falsettos. It’s never actually gotten me cast, but I sure do love singing it.
Why did you want to be a part of Evil Dead? Oh where do I begin? It’s my favorite film series. I’ve been obsessed with the movies ever since I saw Army of Darkness when I was eight (8) years old. Since then, I’ve watched that film at least 100 times. I’ve seen nearly all of Bruce Campbell’s movies, and I mean, he’s made some really REALLY bad ones (coughAlienApocalypsecough). I’ve met Bruce Campbell, each of the ladies from Evil Dead, and the artist who designed the Necronomicon, and I have several signed posters, books, photo-stills, and a very special shot glass. I even own each of the video games associated with the films!
Favorite horror movie? Army of Darkness. A close second is Cabin in the Woods.
Most played song in your music collection: “Judy and the Dream of Horses” by Belle & Sebastian
Favorite or most memorable onstage role as a child/teenager: Pip in Great Expectations
Worst onstage mishap: I forgot the words to my song and just started word-vomiting extraneous noises. Fortunately, it was a goofy scene where the chorus supported me by visibly laughing at my pain. Unfortunately, it was a duet.
Worst costume ever: I honestly can’t think of one. I guess anything with tights before I discovered dance belts.
Worst job you ever had: I’m embarrassed to say, but being a supervisor in the 2010 Census. I was awaiting bar exam results, so I couldn’t practice law yet. I worked with the Census for about five weeks. It was such a haphazard mess with awful management. When I finally got licensed, I was excited to quit that job in order to start the second worst job I’ve ever had: Mechanic’s Lien Litigation Attorney.
Craziest audition story: According to my mom, I was almost cast as the little boy in Lorenzo’s Oil. Allegedly (again, according to my mom, as I have no recollection of it), I went to numerous callbacks, and the casting team made it clear that, if I could roll from my back to my stomach without using my hands or arms, I would be cast (the character has an illness that makes him very sick and unable to use his arms, I guess). I couldn’t do it. They tried for over an hour at my last callback to get me to do it, but it was to no avail. Sadly, I was not cast.
Role(s) you’ve been dying to play: Mendel in Falsettos (see above, re audition song) Fagin in Oliver
What were you afraid of as a child? The illustrations from the book, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
Where you were born/where were you raised? Columbia, MD. Lived in Baltimore for four years after college before moving to Chicago
Zodiac sign: Capricorn with Leo Rising/Moon sign (outgoing and friendly but judging and manipulating our friendship the whole time. You're welcome for becoming a better person)
What are/were the careers of your parents? Mom is an early childhood educational administrator and dad is a home repair man and at one time was a professional skier.
Do you have any Siblings? Two older. We're all J's - Jaimie, Jonathan, and Josh. Parents are John and Jessica too.
Where were you trained? BFA in Acting from University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Current favorite audition song or monologue to use: I sang "Bound to You" by Christina Aguilera (Burlesque soundtrack) at a cabaret recently and I'm looking for any excuse to use it at an audition.
Why did you want to be a part of Evil Dead? Who doesn't want to die on stage every night with 7 of your closest frenemies?
Current or recent show in Chicago (other than Evil Dead) that you think is must-see: Snowgirls at Hell in a Handbag was all the absurdity I've ever needed in a holiday Showgirls parody. It was so dumb I loved it.
Favorite horror movie? Stand alone: Cabin in the Woods. Franchise: Scream (2, 4, 1, 3). Ask me next week and I'll have flipped 1 and 4 again.
Most played song in your music collection: Currently the "This is Lizzo" playlist on Spotify. Listen. Love it.
Favorite or most memorable onstage role as a child/teenager: I was in a church musical that took place in a theme park and I played Jay, a custodian who ended up being a Jesus-like character. It was my first "lead role" and then the adults running it decided they didn't feel like doing it anymore so the show never happened. Memories.
Worst onstage mishap: Being cast as Pablo in A Streetcar Named Desire in the 10th grade and saying all of my Spanish lines with a slight French accent because that's what I was studying in school at the time.
Worst job you ever had: One summer I applied to about 20 places before landing a job at a Pier 1 Imports that I kept for two years. The job itself wasn't terrible but I'm still covered in glitter and that was ten years ago.
Craziest audition story: When I was auditioning for my college program they had older students come in and work with you because the department wanted to see you work on your feet and "go for it." I was chasing this girl in circles while reciting a monologue from The Importance of Being Earnest except I was in socks and it was a wooden floor so I promptly slipped and slammed my face into the ground. I got a full scholarship.
Role(s) you’ve been dying to play: If I could just follow Norbert Leo Butz's resume I'd be a happy man.
What were you afraid of as a child? Mediocrity. And bees. I got stung a lot as a kid. By the bees, not by mediocrity.
Our props designer Jeremiah Barr (who is also our set designer, puppet designer, and TD) is creating some magnificent designs for our production of Evil Dead the Musical! Among them is his own take on the iconic Kandarian Dagger that plays a key part in some of the gruesome and hilarious happenings during the show. Check out some photos below of the progress of the props from beginning stages to the finished thing!
Step 1: Enhance a prop dagger with a 'spinal column' handle.
Step Two: Start adding creepy miniature bones and skulls in a pattern around the spinal column handle.
Step Three No, more bones and skulls than that. WAAAAY more.
Step Four: Then we start to paint...starting to look pretty gross and unholy, but is something missing?
Step Five: Oh, right! Blood. LOTS OF BLOOD.
All done! Time to terrify people. Get your tickets now to see this and much more!
- Where you were born/where were you raised? I was born in San Antonio, Texas. Raised in the very small town of Tilden, Texas.
- Zodiac sign: I am an Aquarius, Cancer Rising
- What are/were the careers of your parents? My mother is a nurse. My father is a cattle rancher and business owner.
- Do you have any Siblings? I have two: 1 brother and 1 sister. I am the youngest.
- Where were you trained? I went to an art school in San Antonio, North East School of the Arts (NESA). I then went to the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. I also attended summer opera intensives during summers in undergraduate - Italian Operatic Experience in Urbania, Italy, Elardo Young Artist Program - Brugge, Belgium, and Taos, NM.
- Current favorite audition song or monologue to use: I use "Anytime" from Infinite Joy and "Dust and Ashes" from Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 most frequently.
- Why did you want to be a part of Evil Dead? It's easy to get wrapped up in the seriousness of theatre and sometimes we lose the joy of just having fun and playing. I wanted to be part of Evil Dead because I felt like it would be a great way to let loose and have fun, while exercising my creative muscles.
- Current or recent show in Chicago (other than Evil Dead) that you think is must-see: 110 in the Shade was great. Neala Barron was incredible in it!
- Favorite horror movie? Good question. I would say Jeepers Creepers and Silence of the Lambs is a tie.
- Most played song in your music collection: "I'm Your Baby Tonight" - Whitney Houston
- Favorite or most memorable onstage role as a child/teenager: Merlin in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. It's when I first tapped into my fabulousness and realized I like to play evil roles.
- Worst onstage mishap: I was using a real bullwhip that I learned to crack specifically for a role. I was choreographed to crack the whip to the side but for some reason that day I accidentally cracked the whip down. It went into the pit and nearly hit the pianist's fingers. Needless to say, they took the whip away from me and gave me a stick with a string on it.
- Worst costume ever: I was gargoyle # 2 in Beauty and the Beast in high school (not even a real role). Picture it, a chubby Robert in a periwinkle unitard and a paper mache mask we had made ourselves.
- Worst job you ever had: I was a...mixologist, lets say, at Sonic. I made drinks for a whopping 2 weeks before I realized what I had gotten myself into.
- Craziest audition story: This was recent. My audition was in about 20 mins, so I ordered an uber. As I went to sit down in the car split...my pants ripped clean across my crotch and around to my hind end, revealing my wanker and stanker! Let's just say it was an added layer of stress trying to hide my mishap!
- Role(s) you’ve been dying to play: Sweeney Todd, Javert, Beast, Jud, Elphaba.
- What were you afraid of as a child? Chucky. My brother used to chase me around the blockbuster with the VHS trying to scare me.
- Where you were born/where were you raised? I was born in Germantown, MD. Grew up in Bowie (hometown of Kathy Lee Gifford AND JC Chazes... Ooh la la.)
- Zodiac sign: Leo
- What are/were the careers of your parents: My Mom is an early-education school teacher and Dad is retired from the Dept. of Agriculture and now he plays tennis all day.
- Do you have any Siblings? One brother.
- Where were you trained? AMDA (NYC), though much of my education came from the late, great Bobbi Smith in Annapolis MD.
- Current favorite audition song or monologue to use: None. I end up hating my entire book of audition material. SO IF YOU KNOW SOMETHING THAT’D BE GREAT FOR ME, HIT ME UP!
- Why did you want to be a part of Evil Dead? I’ve been looking for an opportunity to work with Ed, and any chance to fling blood around, I take.
- Current or recent show in Chicago (other than Evil Dead) that you think is must-see: POSEIDON: An Upside-Down Musical! with Hell in a Handbag Productions, opening in March at The Edge Theater ! (I play Nonnie, the catatonic lounge-singer).
- Favorite horror movie? Psycho, The Shining, It Follows...
- Most played song in your music collection: Hamilton cast Album, and Disney Theme-Park mixes.
- Favorite or most memorable onstage role as a child/teenager: I played John in Peter Pan, so I got to fly which was pretty baller.
- Worst onstage mishap: I slipped and fell off of two different stages in my time. Once my pants slit open down the crotch when I kneeled down Center stage. And in Dan Savage’s MIRACLE! I cut my hands open on flimsy stage-lights that were a part of the set more times than not.
- Worst costume ever: I worked for Disney. Let’s leave it at that ...
- Worst job you ever had: I was once the Personal Assistant for this total narcissist who owned a chain of specialty toy stores. My job was mostly lying to people about where he was (including his wife) and why vendors weren’t getting paid. Nightmare.
- Craziest audition story: I plead the fifth.
- Role(s) you’ve been dying to play: The Witch (Into the Woods), Sally Bowles (Cabaret), Desiree in A Little Night Music (one day).
- What were you afraid of as a child? Hotel Showers. That elderly Six-Flags mascot-man.