Today we’re setting for a spell with Jan (Janice L) Blixt, director of Travis Williams‘s Strange Weather. Jan is entering her fifth season as the Artistic Director of the Michigan Shakespeare Festival. She is a Wilde Award (Michigan Jeffs) winning director and will be directing both Hamlet and The Importance of Being Earnest for the MSF’s 20th Anniversary Season this summer. She lives in Chicago (where she “works” with A Crew of Patches Theatre Company) with her author-actor-fight-director-husband and her home-made minions Dashiell (7) and Evie (5). Today, we’ll be talking to Jan about the menace and comforts of home, the risk of listening, and What Scares Her.
How did you get into horror?
I have always loved horror novels and movies, but I tend to avoid them as I am really easy to scare and can no longer handle living sleepless for weeks at a time.
Yet, horror is a genre I keep going back to, I keep checking in on (maybe to see if I’m grown-up yet and not so susceptible): and reading a book, watching a play, seeing a movie, I get lost in the story and I don’t react much. And I always think: “that was no big deal.”
But later, in my head, at 3 am… I can be sleepless over an image for weeks.
I think it started when I was about 5 and saw “The Amityville Horror” on Sunday Night at the Movies– remember that? It’s a pretty awful movie (having seen it as an adult) but when I was 5… the idea that my house hated me and wanted me dead? Every closet a trap, every stair a menace, every creak a threat… I actually slept in our dog’s bed many nights after that for the company.
What excites you most about directing horror, compared to other genres?
How visceral it is. “Scared” is immediate and tends to be complete. An audience can be moved in so many different ways and to so many different degrees (amused, aroused, angered, deflated) but to be scared is, I think, all encompassing– the other stuff doesn’t apply when we’re afraid. I think that’s pretty awesome.
What in this script resonated most with you?
My favorite aspect of almost all of the Deathscribe scripts this year was how the horror comes out of the everyday: commuting, decorating for holidays, being at a lame party— but I really loved the connection “Strange Weather” had to the comforting aspects of our lives: home, mother, sister, the Midwest (I’m a local here in Chicago), the weather. The fear comes from those basic and normal things being turned against you. That’s my favorite kind of horror.
What do you consider the biggest challenge in directing for “radio,” compared to traditional theatre?
That we’re no longer used to listening— that audiences have been trained over the past 50 years or so to “see” theatre through mostly visual imagery. As theatres have been able to incorporate more and more technology into shows, our theatre has become more cinematic than ever. In Chicago, where our audiences still enjoy the magic of great scripts (and so many of our best shows are being produced in small spaces) we have become masters of making gorgeous visual imagery a large component of our storytelling. In directing for “radio” we’re removing that component— so it feels a bit like working without a net.
What discoveries have you made about storytelling during this process that you are excited to use in future projects?
I’m fortunate to be working with a couple of terrific actors– actors who know their instruments very well and are using their voices beautifully. I’m excited to train myself to listen more to the sound of the voice and what it conveys even more than the words that are used.
What sound would you most like to see/hear performed in a Deathscribe piece?
I’m excited about wind. Seriously. It’s almost like another character in my piece and I really look forward to it all being together.
Are you enjoying working with WildClaw and on this project? ^_~
YES! I have a terrific script, terrific actors, and terrific support from all the creepy-people at WildClaw.
What scares you?
I can’t handle stuff about kids in danger, kids being lost or hurt. It’s probably just because I have two little ones of my own, but I’d much rather deal with zombies and werewolves and haunted houses than with a little kid being killed.
Jan will give us more than we can handle when she directs “Strange Weather,” at Deathscribe on Monday, December 2nd!