Wicked Lit will frighten patrons the moment they arrive at Mountain View Cemetery
By Carl Kozlowski 10/04/2012
Editor’s Note: The producers of Wicked Lit have extended this year’s production through Nov. 10. For a complete listing of showtimes or to purchase tickets, visit wickedlit.org or call (818) 242-7910.
For the past four years, the deviously creative minds at Unbound Productions have simultaneously terrified and enlightened audiences. That unusual combination stems from the fact that they produce Wicked Lit, a series of live adaptations of classic horror stories by writers like Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft set amid classy yet scary settings such as the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles and the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills.
Wicked Lit’s popularity and acclaim really exploded when the group brought its shows to Altadena’s Mountain View Cemetery and Mausoleum in 2009. With more than 3,000 satisfied and frightened customers so far, the founders are not resting on their laurels, but rather stepping up their game to create a new fully immersive experience that will send chills up the spines of attendees from the moment they get out of their cars to the time they return and floor the gas pedal to escape the grounds.
“We’re going bigger, because what we wanted to do was complete the experience, from the time you walk out of your car to after curtains when you walk back to your car,” says Jonathan Josephson, who founded Unbound with producers/directors Jeff G. Rack and Paul Millet. “In past shows, the walks to and from the cars and between staging areas had nothing happen. There were two intermissions while you waited or went to the bathroom, but now we wanted to make it a completely immersive event with one cohesive, continuous experience. We’re making sure everybody has Wicked Lit wire to wire.”
The new additions mean this year’s Wicked Lit shows will employ more actors and staff than ever, with more than 50 crew members and 30 performers involved. Attendees will fully experience the Mountain View grounds again, with scenes set inside the cemetery, its chapel, mausoleum and an office area as well as its intimate and creepy Pompeiian Court.
As a result, patrons must be able to comfortably walk a minimum of 2,000 paces and climb stairs in order to experience the full production. And in case it’s not obvious that walking young children through real cemetery grounds rife with vampires and other frightening creatures at night isn’t advised, the producers note that Wicked Lit is recommended for those ages 13 and up.
This year’s production kicks off next Saturday, Oct. 12, and runs through Oct. 31, Halloween night. The evenings feature world premiere productions of M.R. James’ “Count Magnus,” F. Marion Crawford’s “The Dead Smile” and Johann Ludwig Tieck’s “Wake Not the Dead,” with each story adapted by the Unbound triumvirate of Josephson, Rack and Millet.
“This is a totally new show, whereas last year half the show was a redo of the previous year,” says Josephson. “These are walking shows of multiple locations. ‘Count Magnus,’ which I adapted from M.R. James’ work, starts outside and there’s a large, spectacular tech portion of the show that uses video and projections bigger than we ever have before, and the grand finale of the play is inside the Mural Gallery, a big, beautiful space with stained glass windows, giant murals and paintings. It’s a space that’s familiar to Wicked Lit audiences, but we’re using it in a totally different way.”
The three Unbound founders are all strongly rooted in the Pasadena and Altadena area, and each has a strong theatrical or film production experience that informs his work. Rack does set and prop design, including extensive work for Dreamquest, Disney’s special effects house, while Millet is an editor who has primarily worked on the HGTV series “House Hunters” and Josephson works in media development and handles promotions for other theater productions.
The connecting force for the trio was Millet, whom Rack met 13 years ago while doing set design for a play Millet was directing. Rack later met Josephson while working on another of his plays. Their Unbound collaborations have extended far beyond the Wicked Lit productions to include History Lit adaptations of classic, non-horror stories in historic Los Angeles settings and even flash mob performances.
“We’ve done flash performances, with one at Barney’s Beanery in West Hollywood, of Charles Bukowski’s poetry with musicians and actors playing cool sitting at the bar,” says Josephson, who also recounted a flash production of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” at the West Hollywood library that Bradbury himself later watched on YouTube shortly before his death. “We sprang to life and surprised everyone. It was part of the Pacific Standard Time project. The restaurant let us practice and we were very collaborative.”
The trio has developed a successful working relationship with Mountain View Cemetery proprietor Jay Brown and his staff, meeting months ahead of time to work out each year’s show schedule and ensure that plans are respectful of those who are interred there. They conduct all shows and rehearsals at night, both for atmospheric effect and to make sure they’re not disrupting cemetery operations or distracting mourning visitors.
“We’ve had almost no negative response ever, with just one phone call ever complaining,” says Rack. “We explained it was rooted in theater and expression, that it was dark and fun and Halloween-oriented, but once they heard we were working closely with the owners and staff, I don’t think they bought a ticket, but they understood.” People living in Altadena and Pasadena “are our biggest supporters and come support what we do — even though they hear noises in the middle of the night from the cemetery due to our rehearsals,” Rack says.
All this inventive fun is created at a price that — at $39 to $55 — remains surprisingly affordable, especially when compared to the ticket prices stretching to $425 for the Pantages Theatre’s current run of “The Book of Mormon.” And one has to admit an entire evening with the Wicked Lit team is a lot more involved for patrons than merely parking their cars and tushes in a comfortable seat for two hours at the Ahmanson Theatre.
So how do they pull it all off?
“My theory is that simple is always better, especially when doing live effects,” says Rack. “I want to do whatever won’t break the budget. Each one of the shows this year has some special effects stuff in it, but it all serves the story. All of us wear quite a few hats, and thank God there’s three of us, because there’s a lot to do amongst us, and we’re trying to juggle everything to get it all done in time.”
Even with all the fun he has scaring people, Rack admitted the aspect of Wicked Lit that actually rattles even him is the cemetery’s mausoleum. Even with a professional group leader guiding patrons through the darkness and large groups of people walking together through the shadows, Rack confesses the mausoleum’s atmosphere is still “very unnerving.”
“You can’t help but feel the overwhelming presence of a lot going on,” says Rack. “Nothing is going missing or moving mysteriously, but you never forget you’re producing a play in a very specific area with a ton of character and you have to keep your wits about you. We make sure everybody is armed with flashlights.
“But I can’t complain, because it’s so much fun to make it happen,” Rack continues. “My father- in-law called the other day and asked what I was doing, and my wife said I was making a rosary out of chicken bones and putting dentures in a fake cat.” n
Unbound Productions presents “Wicked Lit” at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays from Oct. 12 through Oct. 31 at Mountain View Mausoleum & Cemetery, 2300 N. Marengo Ave., Altadena. Tickets are $39 to $55. For show information and tickets, visit wickedlit.org or call (818) 242-7910.