Tuesday, August 9, 2011


It was almost time to leave and catch the plane.  Joyce's brother was coming to drop us off at the airport. After I had gotten dressed, I went back down to the theater to work for a few more minutes while I waited.  The stage set was built from painted hollow-core doors, styro blocks, and whatever our "acquisition manager" Bob Kohl found "curbside".  The Renaissance Faire production had just ended, and from the ruins of the Renaissance would rise the Haunted House set.  As soon as we returned from this trip, we'd be holding auditions, and rehearsals would follow shortly thereafter, for opening in mid-October.
In our haunted house, the audience sat in the center of the room, and all around them, aside, behind, and in their face - our cast of 15 highly-trained professionals launched an intense 45-minute barrage of twenty to twenty-five tightly produced multi-media vignettes guaranteed to shock and horrify. This format was so different from other "haunted house" exhibitions in the area, that it was successful for many years.  The spectacles had sleazy names such as "Fortress of Fear" and "Temple of Terror" and we scared the bejeepers out of the audience.  There were vampire stories, burials gone awry, witch-burning, psychics, the undead, terrible accidents, psychotic evangels, each vision lasting less than a minute, followed by a nightmare even more horrible than the last.

Oh, and did I mention, the Haunted House script had not yet been written?  We were about to embark on the annual Voyage of Creation.  This formula had actually worked for us three years running.  A flight to Las Vegas could be purchased for nearly nothing in those days, on Midwest Express, and a five-night hotel stay would bring our total bill to almost five hundred dollars for the two of us.  And, we would usually win that amount back in the casinos, because we know when to fold 'em. . . .
Las Vegas is where we wrote.  With just a slight twist, the excesses and sins of Vegas furnish a virtual dungeon full of glittery nightmares and desperate nightmare people who practically jumped onto our pages.  For example, there's that guy standing in front of the Four Queens Casino trying to lure you in with a free spin on his glittering overly-large video poker machine.  Cast him as a carnival barker presiding over an unspeakable sideshow of horribly deformed freaks! We'd study him, his sleazy mannerisms, his way of speaking, and - - viola! One down and twenty-some vignettes to go...

Every morning we'd sleep as long as we wanted, and then starting over coffee in the room, we'd write in our notebooks until about 4 in the afternoon, have a luscious buffet meal, and then go out to play, and gather material for the next day's writing.  We'd always return to Milwaukee with a show all ready to type up on the old 486 (no laptop in those old days), and sometimes, we'd even have some cash to spare.  Sometimes, we'd even have a few leftover vignettes for the following year!
So - time to go!  I climbed down my ladder, and we loaded the suitcases into the car, and got on the plane, a late-afternoon flight.  After we'd been aloft for awhile, I noticed something jabbing at me from my pocket.  Horrified at what I found there, I whispered to Joyce my predicament.  Should I be up-front and tell them?   I'd already gotten through security with it, and would probably not be checked again.  We decided to say nothing.  In my front suitcoat pocket was one of my foremost stagecraft tools - one of those plastic disposable utility knives.  We returned to Milwaukee on September 6, 2001.  Five days later, this tool would be referred to forevermore as a box cutter.    And the following year, we had a box-cutter vignette in Merciless Mansion.

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