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a la Mod:
Renée Camus, Reel Life with Jane
"Full disclosure: I’ve never read [Stephen] King’s book, or seen the movie; either the classic 1976 Brian De Palma film, or the recent remake. I generally don’t watch horror films—yet my favorite musical is Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, the brilliant and hugely successful horror musical by Stephen Sondheim. So why not a musical based on Carrie?
"...The show starts with Carrie’s classmate, Sue Snell (Kayla Parker), under a harsh spotlight, being questioned about the events that happen at the end of the musical. We know we’re headed for badness—but most of us know that going in anyway (the ubiquitous pictures of Sissy Spacek dripping red told me this without seeing the film). Lights brighten as the cast joins her for the opening number, which dissolves into Carrie in the gym shower discovering that she’s bleeding. Not knowing this part of the story, I was surprised to see the women all stripping down to their underwear, and I wondered why it was necessary. Then I noticed Carrie off to the side, directly in front of a single line of audience members at the back of the space, completely nude.
"Apparently the story calls for at least a reference to nudity, with its close association of sex and sinning, but I didn’t feel it was completely necessary for the cast to strip down (they probably could have hid it or made it less obvious). Having the audience so close to the action made it that much more uncomfortable. Especially given Margaret’s warnings to Carrie not to shower at school, it’s surprising that she would.
"Director Brady Schwind and producers Bruce Robert Harris and Jack W. Batman set out to create an interactive, immersive experience by transforming La Mirada Theatre into Carrie’s high school. Audience members get wristbands that separate them into freshman, sophomores, faculty members, or other school delineations, based on their seating assignments. They’re then taken into the 'assembly' by class, passing by beat-up lockers and graffitied desk-chairs, and seated in bleachers built onto the stage. Despite the attempts at emersion and interaction, the staging didn’t add much. The four sections directly on the floor are pulled and moved around, which perhaps put those audience members more in the thick of it, but for those of us further back on the immovable bleachers, it wasn’t quite such an interactive experience. Well, except for the pain in our buttocks from the vastly uncomfortable seats (make sure to bring a cushion with you when you go)."
David C. Nichols, Los Angeles Times
"Never underestimate the power of stagecraft. Case in point: Carrie: The Musical, now receiving a mind-blowing immersive production at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts...
"However, Carrie is a better musical than before, but it's still not a great one. Gore’s tunes are pleasant but, barring Carrie and Mom's songs, not very individuated, Pitchford’s lyrics are prosaic, at times prolix, and [Lawrence D.] Cohen’s book doesn’t explore its All Teens Are Alienated theme beyond surface considerations.
"That will scarcely matter to audiences craving a full-throttle theatrical experience -- Cirque du Soleil meets Disneyland, with pig’s blood -- and musical theater cultists should flock."
Eric Marchese, Orange County Register
"Lawrence D. Cohen, who wrote the screenplay for the 1976 film version, has crafted a book that gets at the heart of the story’s characters and themes. Composer Michael Gore’s gorgeous music and lyricist Dean Pitchford’s powerful, poetic lyrics express from-the-heart emotions, but without being sappy or trite.
"Director Brady Schwind’s immersive production unfolds on the venue’s stage, where roughly 200 patrons are positioned amid the cast. The movable front sections of seats are pushed and rolled to and fro, making the experience all the more intimate.
"Schwind and choreographer Lee Martino make full and brilliant use of the play itself and of a superb cast of 19. To top it off, illusionist Jim Steinmeyer’s special effects make Carrie’s telekinetic powers real, as objects move, levitate or fly at her command.
"At every turn, Carrie the Musical puts the angst of teendom on full display, its climax a stunning, bloody explosion of chaos and mayhem. La Mirada’s intimate staging is at once gripping, horrifying and beautifully moving. It’s also one of the best shows you’ll ever see anywhere – one not to be missed."
Steven Stanley, Stage Scene LA
"Suffice it to say that King/De Palma fans won’t be disappointed...
"The La Mirada Theatre has found its dream Carrie in Emily Lopez, who not only gives us the heartbreaking, deeply-felt portrait of a troubled teen discovering strengths she never dreamed she had, she sings with gorgeous power pipes and makes us believe in Carrie’s transformation from ugly duckling to exquisite swan."
Don Grigware, Broadway World
"The stage is the back part of the regular theatre stage and it has been cordoned off, serving as the high school gymnasium. Audience sit in the three-quarter and watch the action literally a few feet away from them. There are seats on two levels. The first group of seats called the pods are level with the stage. There are levels above for audience through which cast members make entrances and exits and sometimes play/sing and then there is a third level playing area above for only actors. Those sitting in the pods are moved at various intervals to the left and to the right, sometimes mirror imaging each other and other times, not. Hardly your ordinary seating arrangement, but it definitely puts you smack dab in the middle of the playing field. You are there, feeling what the characters are feeling, almost a part of the action.
"I sat in the tier above the pods so I had the advantage of looking down at the action on the stage and also up to what was transpiring on the third level. One scene in particular in Act One involves Carrie praying to Jesus on the cross within a room of her house. Jesus literally comes down off the cross and while this is happening, on the third level, Tommy Ross (Jon Robert Hall) and his girlfriend Sue Snell (Kayla Parker) are making torrid love. Quite the contrast as blatant sexuality and spirituality clash in full force right before our eyes! In Act Two what served as the back wall of the gym with basketball scoreboard opens up and becomes the dance floor for the prom. Stephen Gifford's scenic design for the entire show is awesome as is Schwind's staging of the actors, who are literally everywhere within the space, putting audience at arm's length for every experience, good and evil."
Schwind has been fascinated by the show since he was a teenager in Texas and read about it in Ken Mandelbaum's book, Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops. He then found a bootleg recording of the score, and "fell in love" with the music. Many years later he saw a video of Terry Hands's RSC production, which became the legendary Broadway production that ran five performances in 1988. He was also in the audience in 2012 when Stafford Arima directed an Off-Broadway production that received mixed but respectful reviews.
"I really liked how the material had been reevaluated and changed for that production," says Schwind. "And I immediately thought of doing Carrie as an environmentally immersive production. I think Stephen King's story has endured because the horror of the piece is rooted in the memory that we have of our own high school experiences. And because we all have memories to bring to this piece, I thought it would work as immersive theatre."
Schwind brought his idea to composer Michael Gore, lyricist Dean Pitchford and book writer Lawrence D. Cohen — who also wrote the screenplay for the 1976 Brian De Palma film — and they were eager to reexamine the material yet again. "They are still in love with the show, and they are very open to new ideas," says Schwind. Together they explored the material for two years, with the previous productions serving as a catalyst for this new incarnation.
"Terry Hands saw the show as a Greek myth, but he wasn't interested in the high school stuff," says Schwind. "Stafford had the idea of making the show a parable about high school bullying. He was not as interested in the supernatural aspects. But I feel the show is about many things and you have to hit on all of them. You have to make the audience care about these characters, and you must find plausibility in over-the-top situations.
"It's a horror piece and a visceral piece, and the audience wants to feel frightened. They want blood. They want it to be an overloaded sensory experience, because that's closer to the feeling that we all have in high school. I wanted this to be a Greek tragedy and a horror story and entertaining and fun. You should root for Carrie till she kills you."
At La Mirada, part of the audience will be in seating units that move throughout the piece, following the actors along. They'll also have the opportunity to get out of their seats and go to the prom. "We're hoping to dissolve the fourth wall so that the audience becomes one with the cast and characters by the end," says Schwind. Those who prefer to watch from a safe distance will also be accommodated. "To me, immersive theatre is about creating an environment in which people can choose their own adventure."
If successful, producers Bruce Robert Harris and Jack W. Batman (On the Town, Clybourne Park) plan for more productions. "It's a grand experiment," says Schwind. "I think some of the ideas we're playing around with have never been done before with a linear book musical. The audience will tell us what we've created."
Here's the end of Watkins' article:
The earlier, romantic section of the prom scene is punctuated by a jaw-dropping moment of foreshadowing: in one continuous shot, the camera moves across the gym to the foot of the stage. There, the audience sees a rope that winds across the floor, to the gym ceiling, where the camera looks down on the rigged bucket waiting to fall. The camera then moves back to Carrie and Tommy looking into each other’s eyes, unaware of what’s in store. “I remember it taking almost a day and a half to set that shot up,” says Katt, “because there was so many camera moves, and it was so difficult for the guy that was driving the crane, and the camera assistant who was pulling focus, and the DP, and the actors — it was extraordinarily difficult.”
In the film, [Chris'] bloody prank sends Carrie into a rage, and she begins telekinetically destroying everything and everyone in the gym. Famously, actress P.J. Soles was hurt during a scene where her character is attacked by a fire hose. “When the water was going off, I remember being there. And she got very injured; I think she blew out her eardrum in that sequence,” Katt recalls. He also remembers another little wrinkle in filming: When Carrie sets the gym on fire, De Palma’s set actually caught on fire. “I remember being on set when they lit off the fire, because we were doing stuff out of sequence, right? I was already supposed to be lying on the ground, dead. So they lit the stage on fire, and the actual soundstage itself caught fire. And the AD was screaming for everybody to get out, and Brian was yelling for the camera department to keep rolling,” Katt says, chuckling at the memory. “I thought that that was pretty funny. All the decorations, everything, caught fire, and I don’t believe that that was intentional.” (Thankfully, the blaze was quickly extinguished and no one was seriously in danger.)
At least Tommy’s bucket scene was quick and painless. “When that bucket fell, it was actually a guy on a big ladder behind me, and he threw that bucket down,” says Katt. “It was kind of a Kentucky Fried Chicken, papier-maché bucket that was painted to look real — and we did that shot once. I was ready to do it again, and Brian said, ‘No, we got it.’”
Katt is still a little sad that he didn’t survive the carnage — “even with my saying to Brian afterwards, ‘No, you can’t kill the character, he’s gotta come back!’” the actor jokes. “What about Carrie 2? What about the franchise, Brian?”
"It was just wild," he sighs. "It was everything you could imagine."
We all gathered to watch each other’s death scenes, and we’d go out and party afterwards to celebrate that a character had been bumped off. But in the days before that, the whole prom construction took quite a while. This contraption they built for Ms. Collins’s death scene was a basketball backboard that was on a pendulum. There was a foot of balsam wood that would take the hit against the body. They planned it so that we shot four takes with the pendulum falling and then stopping it right before it hit me. That was very scary. So what you’re seeing on film is not acting at all. I’m absolutely terrified because they had not tested out the machine. So they didn’t know [if] they calculated the balsam properly in terms of the amount and, you know, [if they] could stop it on a dime right before it hit me. Thankfully, it worked. We were all absolutely terrified.
My stunt lady was dressed like me with a wig and everything. They put her in the shot and she took the hit. But it didn’t hurt her, and thankfully, Brian [De Palma] told me to watch the movements she made and to duplicate those. They removed her from the contraption, inserted me again, and I then imitated all her behavior when she took the hit, and they shot the close-up of my dying. I had [fake] blood in my mouth that I was supposed to vomit out. They just give you a swig, then you spit it out and they bring you water.
In the several takes of my death scene, Brian’s direction to me was: Squirm like a bug on a pin. So I squirmed like a bug on a pin, and then I was supposed to vomit out the blood. He wanted different sounds as I was dying. So, one scene, my scream ended up sounding like a musical note. It was really quite silly. We were all laughing about that.
[Re: Buckley's scream that ended up sounding like a musical note-- do you suppose that might have been where De Palma got the idea for the "Coed Frenzy" girl's scream in the shower, which sounds like a musical note and cuts to John Travolta laughing at it?]
Piper Laurie, speaking to Vulture's Jennifer Vineyard:
They built a steel vest that I wore under the gown, and on that vest were several small blocks of wood. Wires attached to the wood that went through small holes in my gown. The wires were, like, 15 feet long and stretched across to where the prop man was, or the special-effects man was. This was done in slow motion, you know, the can opener or the knife or whatever coming at me. There was no way they would injure me, moving at such a slow pace. It was hard not to laugh, watching this instrument bobbing along at me like that, slowly. It just looked ridiculous. But, of course, it had quite a different look than it did at the end. Just before we were to start shooting [the death scene], I met Brian outside, we were both on our way to the restrooms, and I said, “Brian, I have an idea. Instead of having just a death scene, just doing it straight, I’d like this to be a really joyous experience for Margaret White.” He said, "Great.” So that’s what I did.
I did not actually do the scene, the dialogue part, before the actual instrument attack. But the moment just before I kill Carrie, I didn’t rehearse that. I wanted the moment to be as raw as possible. I think it was an underlying element of how I thought of Margaret, her religion, her attitude about her daughter, and the fact that she considered her daughter menstruating horrible. And the fact that I sounded like I was having a very long orgasm ... I never spelled that out to Brian, I just did it. Part of that I actually played, but I suspect that in editing they extended that vocally longer than I actually did it. But I had such a good time shooting that scene.
"CARRIE'S REAL DREAD LIES WITH HOW NERVOUS THE CHARACTERS SEEM TO BE ABOUT THE WORLD AROUND THEM"
Meanwhile, yesterday, the Block Bluster podcast at Mind Of The Geek featured a discussion of "Carrie and Fear." The host of the podcast, Tobias Ellis, wrote the following as an introduction:
"Everybody is afraid in Carrie. Even with all the now-iconic shots of a blood-drenched Carrie White destroying her senior prom, Carrie’s real dread lies with how nervous the characters seem to be about the world around them (a true testament to puberty if there ever was one). Carrie – realized perfectly by Sissy Spacek – begins terrified by her own body, then briefly by her own mind until finally embracing her supernatural gifts. Her physical transformation from 'girl' to 'woman' worries the few males around her, and causes Betty Buckley’s Miss Collins to wonder aloud how such a thing should bother anybody, until that makes her nervous at just how different Carrie White might be. Amy Irving’s Sue Snell is afraid of the repercussions her treatment of Carrie might cause, and of becoming the shrill, cruel Chris Hargensen (Nancy Allen), and does her best – in fumbling, teenage fashion – to make amends. Carrie’s mother, played to Oscar nomination by Piper Laurie, is afraid of her daughter growing up and living in these godless times. And the adults are afraid of her, and whether she might be right.
"Despite all the fear, several characters – including Tommy Ross (William Katt), Sue, and Miss Collins – have the best of intentions for Carrie White, treating her with kindness and sensitivity. Yet, as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Carrie – and all its lurid, color-washed agitation – begins with blood, and ends with blood.
"This week, just in time for Halloween, Block Bluster! revisits Brian De Palma’s horror classic to discuss what it means to be afraid, and what Carrie says not so much about scaring the audience, but building an atmosphere of dread reflective of everyday fears. How terrified of the odd kid in school should we be? How terrified of each other should we be? And to help us discuss Carrie and Fear, we welcome back – from the podcasts Film Fodder and Behind the Desk – our good friend Antonio Jones!"
Other films Gierasch appeared in include Peter Bogdanovich's What's Up Doc?, Richard Fleischer's The New Centurions, Sydney Pollack's Jeremiah Johnson, and Clint Eastwood's High Plains Drifter. He also appeared on an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in 1963, as well as an episode of Alfred Hitchock Presents in 1985.
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