Last week supernatural and slasher activity in the City of Philadelphia spiked. Cursed car parts wreaked havoc, the ghost of a not-yet-dead Tanya Harding haunted a Swiss ski resort, and a jealous illustrator hell bent on revenge stalked free comic book day. These were the first three spoopy plots of Stay Dead: An Improvised Horror Comedy, now entering its fourth year of performances at Philly Improv Theater. The show is currently rated four stars by TimeOut Philadelphia and listed #1 for Halloween events to check out.
Under the direction of Mike Marbach, the Stay Dead cast aims to weave together classic horror tropes and improv techniques to create a completely original story never seen before and, like many of the characters, never to be seen again. This is Marbach’s sixth year directing a Halloween show for PHIT. “I love doing these shows. I was raised on horror films, so I know the genre well.”
The cast is comprised of a mix of Stay Dead veterans and doe-eyed new blood. All of which are involved in various projects throughout Philly. Asked about how these cast changes impact the show year after year Brendan Manklang Kingston says, “Every year the cast is a different and that changes the feel of the show. People return with more experience or with a completely fresh new take. I think it’s a great part of the show, and just like any horror franchise– you need both your scarred veterans and your new blood to make it work.”
Stay Dead 2017 Opening Credits Sequence. Created by Jon Plester.
Preparing for the show involves watching a lot of scary movies. Sometimes as a group, sometimes on your own and not everyone is so eager to do that. “Surprisingly enough, getting through a scary movie is a pure nightmare for me” said Stay Dead vet Gab Bottoni. That’s a sentiment that’s more widely spread among the cast than you might think. Several members, both grizzled veterans and fresh meat alike, have some horror hang-ups. New additions Kelly Conrad and Katie Cwirko are in this haunted boat as well. “I stay away from scary movies because they make it hard for me to sleep alone at night” (Conrad) and “I don’t super enjoy scary movies because I am an eternal nervous pervous, so I don’t enjoy being more stressed than I already am” (Cwirko). So why do a show focused on honoring horror films? Bottoni answers, “It’s fun and silly to try to be scary on stage in the moment. Also, the movie format is my fav to improvise in, and this cast is BONKERS.”
Most improv shows are condensed into 25 minutes or less and are just quick glimpses of a world, which they might never return to in the show. In Stay Dead the cast explores one world, one story, the same characters, for nearly an hour. The bottom line of the show is to entertain the audience. The crowd likely isn’t going to complain or point out plot holes, but the cast does strive to keep things more coherent than you might expect. As Brendan Manklang Kingston points out, “I think having strong narratives has given us room for these really weird, really cool scenes that have been able to breathe and be sort of naturalistic in a way that I don’t see as much in other forms.” They aren’t looking to write the next great horror on stage, but if they can be entertaining and the story actually makes sense? That’s a win.
Whether you go for the comedy or the horror or the “anything can happen” aspect of improv, Stay Dead: An Improvised Horror Comedy has got your back. Just hurry up, because there’s only a few shows left!
Stay Dead: An Improvised Horror Comedy features Gab Bottoni, Kelly Conrad, Andrew Coppola, Katie Cwirko, AJ de Leon, Chris Esperance, Shannon Fahey, Tom Hannigan, Brendan Manklang Kingston, and Molly Scullion. Directed By Mike Marbach
Stay Dead! photos by Erin Pitts Photography. Stay Dead! Art by Whitney Harris. You can contact Whitney for design requests at TheWhitneyHarris@gmail.com. You can also check out her jewelry at Anethum Jewelry.