After eight years of working on it, and a lifetime of thinking about it, he finally had a musical ready for prime time, but needed $6,500 to showcase it. She had a once-in-a-lifetime invite to bring her Denver company’s vaudeville-meets-Cirque show to an Off-Broadway theatre but needed money to build a juggling machine for the finale. They both turned to the online community of backers at Kickstarter.com for help.
He is Washington actor Stephen Gregory Smith and the new musical is NightoftheLivingDead the musical. “I could never really shake the terror I felt as a 10 year old watching that movie, alone in my room.” Stephen told us. “Later it became my favorite horror film. Then during the sniper attacks, I was re-watching it, when my mom called and said ‘Turn on the news.’ They had just shot someone at the Home Depot near my house, and the tv camera showed my street. She told me to put blankets on the windows, which I did. Then went back to the movie where the characters were watching tv, with the windows boarded up. Creepy.”
He decided to write a musical based on the film. “but not camp it up, like you’ve probably seen with other adaptations. Make it frightening.” he added. After trying several composer partnerships, he finally turned to Matt Conner (Nevermore) who agreed to do the music if he eliminated the zombies. “The monsters people have in their heads are much more frightening than anything we could put on stage.” Matt explained. When Stephen first saw Karissa Swanigan, his co-lead in Landless Theatre’s High Fidelity, he knew he had found his perfect Barbara. “Everything was coming together, but I had no money. I thought, well, I’ll try putting a little bit aside every week, then a friend told me about kickstarter.com.”
She is Cole Schneider, a.k.a. the Lovely Little Lolo, Artistic Director of The Handsome Little Devils, a small theatre company in Denver and their bound-for-Off-Broadway show is Squirm Burpee Circus, opening in November at the New Victory Theatre. The company, which got its start doing street performances, is used to life on the road. For the past two years, they have been taking their shows to festivals around the country and Canada.
But opening at the New Victory is a really big move. When the artistic director from New Victory came to see their show “he wanted a different finale.” she told Denver Westword. “Normally, we juggle chainsaws, bowling balls and eggs. They had some questions about permitting that trick, so we came up with something else. We’re building a huge finale contraption — a juggling machine.” (It is featured in their kickstarter video.)
Kickstarter.com, founded in April, 2009, is based on the “crowdfunding” model, opening creative projects to the public who can contribute as little as a $1 to the projects, with rewards given for larger contributions. Stephen offers an original cast recording CD to $50 contributors, and $500 earns you the CD, photos and dinner with the authors. Cole’s project has many intriguing gift levels including a personalized rose-scented love letter from Dashing Dave ($25), your image permanently embossed on their finale contraption ($3,000) or they’ll bring the entire show to you ($10,000).
Each project chooses its goal amount and time frame, and creates the pitch and video. The dark side to Kickstarter is that if the projects don’t make their goal before the deadline, the project doesn’t fund, and contributors’ credit cards are not charged. “We were really excited when we saw we had raised $200 in the first few days” Stephen said “until we realized we might not have anything unless people came through for us.” He quickly turned to personal emails, and a steady campaign through his Facebook page.
Last week, Stephen learned that LivingDead had reached its goal, several days early. His mom was the first to call with the news. “That was amazing, and then people kept giving to us. And others, who didn’t want to pay online, gave us checks.” When we spoke, the project has raised $9,000 “which means we can do that cast recording, and a really spectacular reading, complete with scary sound effects.”
The first free reading of NightoftheLivingDead the musical is Monday, Oct 18th, 8pm at Kensington Arts Theater, 3710 Mitchell St, Kensington, MD. Starring Chris Sizemore, Kevin McAllister, Gillian Shelly, Chris Mueller, Dani Stoller, and, yes, Karissa Swanigan as Barbara, directed by Jason Loewith, and brought to you by the 151 backers from kickstarter.com.
Early this morning, The Handsome Little Devils’ Squirm Burpee reached its $4,000 goal, but is hoping for more support to help them put on the finishing touches – it seems Cole needs some tap classes, the contraption is enormous, then there are all those traveling costs. So if you see the video and become entranced, consider giving. After all, who wouldn’t love to get a rose scented love letter?
See The Handsome Little Devils Nov 12 – 28, 2010 at the New Victory Theater, 209 W 42nd St, NYC. (between 7th and 8th). Buy tickets here.