Written by Megan Dart
Directed by Beth Dart
Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011 at 9 p.m.
Avenue Theatre (9030–118 Ave.)
$12 at the door
Starring Stuart Hoye, Adam Keefe, Christine Lesiak, Vincent Forcier, Colin Matty, Steve Pirot, Zvonimir Rac, Kyla Shinkewski, Morgan Smith and Nikolai Witschl
Edmonton may not seem like an obvious place to search for ghostly tales, but a little digging reveals the dark secrets of the city’s shady corners.
Beth and Megan Dart, the sibling team behind the Edmonton-based arts organization Catch the Keys, are out to unearth these stories with Dead Centre of Town, a Halloween stage production filled with the “sometimes gruesome, sometimes horrifying stories of Edmonton’s past.”
“You get to see a little bit of gore, a little bit of fright, and it’s quite a bit different than your typical theatre experience,” Megan says. “You’re not buying a ticket and sitting in a chair and watching something for an hour — you’re actually invested in (the show).”
Dead Centre of Town represents an innovative approach to theatre. Instead of being seated, the show is what the Dart sisters call a “roving theatre piece,” where the audience moves around the space as the story unfolds, guided through the story by the narrator character Trocar. Each year, the Halloween production is mounted in a different building in Edmonton, each with its own fascinating history full of ghosts, superstitions and creepy true stories about the surrounding neighbourhood.
Weeks of research by Dart build the script that reveals these eerie true stories. The in-your-face nature of the show allows for direct audience interaction, though Dart promises, “It’s only as brave as you want it to be as an audience member — we’re not going to force you to do anything you’re not comfortable with.”
The location for this year’s show is Avenue Theatre, near 118th Avenue. In researching the area, Dart discovered history reaching as far back as the First World War, providing plenty of background material to serve as a jumping off point for spooky stories. The Avenue production of Dead Centre of Town is particularly special, Dart says, because this year, they’ll also be telling the story of a killer who is still alive.
The scary stories the show tells are not the only sinister elements of the production — the deeper the Darts delve into the supernatural history of Edmonton, the more real the paranormal seems. Since year one, strange coincidences have been mounting — Dart goes as far as to call it a curse.
“Every location we’ve gone into has either been torn down, closed down or slated for demolition,” she says with a laugh. “At first, we thought it was just a funny coincidence … we joke a little, because Trocar’s character is this guy who tells the stories of these spirits, about how they’re still trapped here on earth. We like to think that he releases these sprits, and so they don’t need the building anymore, and that’s why they end up crashing.”
But with the show now coming to Avenue Theatre, Dart is quick to quell her laughter. “We hope it’s not actually the show … we’re hoping that by talking about it this year, we’ll break the curse.” The theatre is at the heart of Alberta Avenue, and therefore a part of the revitalization of the neighbourhood — an attempt to bring a vibrant arts community into the area. With their common goal for arts in Edmonton, the Darts are huge supporters. “We are by no means taking the show (to Avenue Theatre) to see it fall,” she says.
The show’s past venues, and thereby victims, include the Globe Nightclub, which is now an apartment complex; the Artery, a music venue downtown that’s been slated for demolition; New City Suburbs, which has since been forced to move; and the Iron Horse nightclub, which closed in 2010.
Aside from its apparent curse, Dead Centre of Town comes with a few other warnings: the “historical horror experience” is packed with both extreme violence and scads of fake blood and gore.
“I’ve always had a huge fascination with horror since I was very young,” Dart says. “The opportunity to write this relevant show in my own city about the history and all of these dark, ghostly stories was really exciting. And then it just kind of grew from there … (The show) has a kind of funny cult feeling to it.”
Dead Centre of Town is out to gratify Halloween yearnings with gore, ghosts and everything supernatural. And while Dart promises a few moments of comedy to release the tension, she says audiences should expect a theatrical adrenaline rush, with horror that gets a little closer than you might expect.
“Don’t worry about getting blood on your clothing,” she says with a smile. “It all comes out in the wash.”
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