You'll pry this bloody axe from my cold, dead hands.

You’ll pry this bloody axe from my cold, dead hands.

Today, we’ll be sharing a brew with our Deathscribe 2012 Champeen. Joseph Zettelmaier is a Michigan-based playwright and four-time nominee for the Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association Award for best new play, first in 2006 for All Childish Things, then in 2007 for Language Lessons, in 2010 for It Came From Mars and in 2012 for Dead Man’s Shoes. Other plays include Ebenezer, And The Creek Don’t Rise, The All Childish Things Trilogy, Dr. Seward’s Dracula, Snow Angels, Blackwater Ballad, Night Blooming, Point of Origin, and The Stillness Between Breaths. The Stillness Between Breaths and It Came From Mars were selected to appear in the National New Play Network’s Festival of New Plays. He also co-authored Flyover, USA: Voices From Men of the Midwest at the Williamston Theatre (Winner of the 2009 Thespie Award for Best New Script). He also adapted Christmas Carol’d for the Performance Network. It Came From Mars was a recipient of 2009’s Edgerton Foundation New American Play Award, and won Best New Script 2010 from the Lansing State Journal. His play Dead Man’s Shoes was a recipient of the Edgerton Foundation New American Play Award in 2011, and also won Best New Play at the 2011 Wilde Awards . He is an Associate Artist at Performance Network, an Artistic Ambassador to the National New Play Network and an adjunct lecturer at Eastern Michigan University, where he teaches Dramatic Composition. He was also profiled in the March 2012 issue of American Theatre Magazine. In December, he has productions of Ebenezer and The Scullery Maid opening in Michigan, and then in April, he’ll be back in Chicagoland with Salvage at First Folio Theatre. We’ll be talking with Joe today about the healthy side of competition, trust with an audience, and What Scares Him.

How did you get into horror?

I got into horror as a kid. I have a very clear memory of watching Alien w/ my dad on Laserdisc. I was maybe all of 6. It’s the first time I can remember thinking “Wow. I am too young for this.” But at the same time, I couldn’t turn away. My dad and brother and I also saw the old black-&-white Frankenstein and Creature of the Black Lagoon in 3D. I think that’s where my love of horror really took root. To this day, my absolute fave horror genre is monster movies.

What excites you most about writing horror, compared to other genres?

There’s a magic to writing horror. That’s what I love most about it. When it’s done right, it provokes this really intense emotional response, often in a way the audience doesn’t expect. There’s a great freedom to it as well, at least in the type I enjoy the most. You establish that a man can come back from the dead, turn into a bat or a wolf, etc…pretty much the sky’s the limit at that point. Anything goes.

What was the hook for you in this story? What came first, the story or the sound?

When I write for Deathscribe, I always try to keep in mind that sound is a vital part of the storytelling, so that’s definitely there when I’m brainstorming. I was in brainstorming mode when I went to a local county fair and saw all these different produce competitions. It’s amazing how competitive people get about them. There was something about the circus-y environment that got the synapses firing. I’m also a huge Autumn nut, so the idea wrote itself pretty quickly. But I was always mindful to put in fun/grotesque sound cues whenever it felt organic to the story.

What do you consider the biggest challenge in writing for “radio,” compared to traditional theatre?

The biggest challenge is simply not being able to rely on things like sets and costumes to tell your story. I’m a big fan of using every tool in the theatrical toolbag when writing my plays, so it takes a second to go “Ok. You have actors. You have sound effects. Rely on those and nothing else.” But there’s also great fun in that. In many ways, it’s storytelling in its purest form.

Joe believes in using every part of the buffalo.

Joe believes in using every part of the buffalo.

What discoveries have you made about storytelling during this process that you are excited to use in future projects?

Last year’s Deathscribe was my first-ever attempt to write for radio, and it was very illuminating. It really helps you focus in on characters and on utilizing imagination to tell a story. I’m a huge fan of asking the audience to pretend, and Deathscribe really helped me sharpen that knife. That’s what made the old radio shows so great, isn’t it? Just sitting back, closing your eyes, and let the performers take you there.

What sound would you most like to see/hear performed in a Deathscribe piece?

What sound…what sound…one of the ideas I was tossing around during my brainstorming involved a human being liquifying; like, a cellular breakdown that turned flesh, organs, & bone into soup, all while he was conscious and aware. I remember thinking “That’d be sweet. How the f&*k would they do that?” The idea didn’t pan out, but I knew in my heart that the WildClaw Foley goddesses would’ve found a way.

Do you have any advice for aspiring Deathscribes?

Have fun with it. This is SO much fun to do. Don’t be afraid to gross yourself out. And trust the folks you’re working with. There are a couple sound cues in Monroe County Pumpkin Queen that, frankly, I have no idea how to make happen. But I also know that way smarter, more experienced people will be behind the Foley table. I trust them.

What scares you?

What scares me…hmmm…Honestly? Centipedes. I’m not sure if it’s fear, exactly, but it’s definitely rage-filled revulsion. No other invertebrate provokes that reaction in me. I’ve been stung/bitten by wasps, spiders, bees, fire ants, even a scorpion once. But for some reason, being bitten by a centipede stayed with me. Also, well-written movies about demonic possession get me every time. I blame my Catholic upbringing.

Join us at Deathscribe 2013 when Joe brings his own brand of rage-filled revulsion with Monroe County Pumpkin Queen, directed by Laura Hooper!

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