Wicked Lit Puts You Inside Gothic Horror At A Real Altadena Mausoleum
While they don't seek out a theme ahead of time, aristic director Paul Millet said there's something surprising in this year's plays -- redemption.
"It's rare that that happens. Because the plays are based on classic horror stories, oftentimes they end badly for the main characters," Millet said. "This year, it's different. There's definitely hope and love at the end of both of the pieces."
HOW WICKED LIT DRAWS YOU IN
Performing at a mausoleum presents opportunities and challenges. When selecting material, how to stage it in a captivating way within that space is a key part of preparing for Wicked Lit, Millet said.
"The venue really is a character in the world of these pieces," Millet said. "It's about taking the space that exists, and augmenting and enhancing it to create the world that you want our audience and our characters to inhabit."
The attention to detail in crafting these productions is what's let Wicked Lit stand the test of time this past decade.
"Things happen in these horror stories that are not of this world," Millet said. "And there will be creatures out there that you can't see, but you can hear. Or maybe you can see something flying through the sky."
While there are certainly scary moments, the event is more than jump scares.
"We get a few folks who are sensitive to jump scares, and they want to know -- they just want to know," Millet said. "We have had what would be equivalent to a jump scare -- a puppet or an actor doing something that you're not expecting, and it jumps out at you or appears out of nowhere."
But Millet said that what makes Wicked Lit what it is, distinct from all the haunted houses and escape rooms and other Halloween experiences, is the storytelling through theater.
"The tone can shift, depending on the nature of the show," Millet said. "Some of them are funnier than others. Some of them are much more tragic, and some of them are scarier than others. But it's all about, you're seeing a play. You're seeing a play in an environment that's unusual, and unusual and crazy things might happen that could freak you about, but it comes from theatrical storytelling."
THE CHIMES AND THE CORPSE
There's something old and something new this year. The Chimes: A Goblin Story was originally produced in 2010, and this time it's been brought back alongside a new show, Teig O'Kane and the Corpse.
The big special effects this year include a mural whose image appears to magically shift in concert with the spirits at play in the show -- and a chance for audiences to enter a fog-filled void, no idea what lies in wait on the other side.
The Chimes was specifically written for Mountain View's chapel. Based on a Charles Dickens novella, it takes one of Dickens' lesser works and delivers a more focused take. As the team behind Wicked Lit notes in the program, the book is a slog -- but when you get to the heart of it in a one-act play, there's new energy to be found.
They promise a new take from when it was previously produced in 2010 and 2011, with a new cast, a different director -- and a new vision of the titular goblins.
Teig O'Kane is staged in the mausoleum's art gallery. They worked with the playwright figure out what to do with the blank canvas of the gallery.
"The concept that we landed on ... was what if this is a magical extension of the mausoleum?" Millet said. "You enter a world that's not necessarily the same world or plane of existence that we're on."
Millet directs Teig O'Kane, bringing life to the adventures of O'Kane and a corpse. It's a story exploring how we mourn, and how we live in the wake of tragedy.
BIGGER AND SMALLER
The experience has somehow both expanded and downsized this year. Expanded in that they're now running two shows a night, offering more fright hunters a chance to see the show.
"Our relationship with the venue changed a bit," Millet said. "Mountain View asked us to think differently, and to scale back a little bit in terms of the size and the footprint of the show."
The size of each group has been reduced from around 40 to 35, and where they're allowed to stage their productions on the grounds has been more restricted.
"It should be a more intimate experience for audience," Millet said.
The biggest change is that none of the shows use the cemetery outside the mausoleum this time, though the inside is thoroughly explored by audiences over the course of the night.
Millet said that reducing the size has allowed them to focus more energy into the shows that are being produced.
The Wicked Lit team is also down a co-founder this year, with Jeff Rack going on to other projects. Perhaps some of that contributes to the new vibe of the shows, which feel less focused on creature effects this year and have more of a feeling of fright mixed with an inherent warmth.
They've also left behind doing a three-hour event including a pre-show framing device and three plays. Instead, they're doing two shows this year, with a lighter theatrical framing device weaved in. Along with the shorter run time (just 75 minutes), they're also cutting ticket prices. They range from $30 to $45, depending on the showing, and they expect to be sold out for the entire run.
While they cut the pre-show performances, they have set up an exhibit featuring past costumes, puppets, and photo opportunities. They've also incorporated a tour of the facility and more history about Mountain View into the show. Plus, a bonus for those worried about the slightly cooler fall L.A. weather -- both shows are staged entirely inside.
Wicked Lit runs through Nov. 10 at Mountain View Mausoleum & Cemetery, 2300 N. Marengo Ave., Altadena CA 91001 (Alameda entrance).
You made it! Congrats, you read the entire story, you gorgeous human. This story was made possible by generous people like you. Independent, local journalism costs $$$$$. And now that LAist is part of KPCC, we rely on that support. So if you aren't already, be one of us! Help us help you live your best life in Southern California. Donate now.