Horror and comedy fans can see the second annual season of the improvised production “Stay Dead!” at the Philly Improv Theater this month. The show has eight hilariously ghoulish (or will they be ghoulishly hilarious?) performances. Director Mike Marbach has created five years’ worth of improvised horror comedy shows at PHIT. This year’s cast is: Andrew Coppola, Tara Demmy, Lali Gill, Derrick Hackett, Tom Hannigan, Rick Helpa, Brendan Kingston, Courtney Painter, Kevin Ruth, and Molly Scullion.
The “Stay Dead!” concept came from cast member Brendan Kingston after his experience with independent improv team Demoniküs Rex. “D Rex” morphed into the first “Stay Dead!” cast, with Marbach as director. He also included in the cast “some fresh faces and some improv veterans.” He came to the project with experience: he had spent the three previous Octobers directing an improvised B-movie at PHIT. Kingston says “Horror comedy is my favorite kind of comedy. They’re both about surprise and subverting expectations. Since we had such a great time last year, we couldn’t let it stay dead.”
Andrew Coppola joined the cast because “Brendan’s passion for horror is contagious and Mike’s intrepid direction is too good an opportunity to pass up.” (Marbach also directs PHIT house team The Future.) First-year cast member Lali Gill “pretty much jumped on the opportunity. I saw the show last year, when I was just starting to get into improv, and LOVED it.”
Preparations for this year’s run started in May with conversations between Kingston and Marbach. These conversations led to this year’s casting and practices twice a week since August. Cast members took a workshop with acrobat and improviser Nick Gillette to learn more about movement and tension, as well as how to play both scared and scary. Another way the group has gotten ready is through #StayDeadLiveTweet sessions: live tweeting movies like Leprechaun. Kingston explains that the choices of these movies required some criteria. “They all have to be on Netflix Instant for ease of watching. We try to keep them as close to 90 minutes as possible. Also, they’ve mostly been from the 1980s-90s and on the goofy side. Nothing would ruin an atmospheric, slow horror movie (like House of the Devil) like live tweeting with a bunch of comedians. I’m personally trying to watch 30 horror movies before our first show. I’m at 25.” Kevin Ruth admits he’s “very bad with horror movies. There have been a few sleepless nights after doing research for the show.” Cast favorites include Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Gremlins 2, Hausu, and the Insidious franchise. Gill found the group watching experience “useful to pick apart the movies and build up tropes for inspiration while improvising.”
Marbach wants audiences to know that the concept of “Improvised Horror Comedy” is their guide. “Everything is made up first. The horror element comes second. Then we see how we can make it funny. [The cast has] complete freedom in this show to explore the fun bits that come up. Those things come back. Sometimes as jokes. Sometimes as the key to surviving. It’s going to be fun for sure, but if we can actually scare people a little in between laughs, I’d be okay with that.”
When: October 22-24 at 7:30pm , October 29-31 at 7:30pm, and October 30 & 31 at midnight.
Where: The Philly Improv Theater at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street
How: Tickets for all show dates are on TicketLeap, starting at $10