Silent Halloween at the Indiana Landmarks Center (2017)

Nosferatu?! Nosferatu?! The famous 1922 silent film? Count me in.

I originally saw this movie years ago in Bloomington, Indiana. A graduate school colleague played in a band that composed an original score for Nosferatu. Each year M played their original composition as the silent film was shown at a local venue. This time I would be hearing Mark Herman accompany the film on an organ, the traditional musical instrument for silent films.

And Sammy Terry, the iconic horror film host in Central Indiana, was back. He posed for photos with fans and emceed the event. The audience was entertained with his standard guillotine act.

The participants in the scream contest were amazing this year. The winner was a man. My favorite? The woman who when asked by Sammy Terry to describe a favorite horror movie or recent horror experience replied, “The night that Trump won.” (As you can imagine, in a state where two-thirds of voters voted for Trump, her response didn’t go over so well. But it did delight several of us in the audience.)

Sammy Terry also hosted the costume contest. This year’s theme, keeping with the film, was vampires. Awards were given for best traditional vampire, best creative vampire, and best couple vampire. Of course, not everyone came dressed as a vampire. The winner of the traditional category left me perplexed; I don’t know what she was but she was not a traditional vampire. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what the creative vampire winner was either, but it was a cool costume. (A steampunk plague doctor perhaps?)

One thing was new this year: live streaming on Facebook. A cameraman followed the action on the stage and in the audience. At the end of the evening, Sammy Terry announced that 10,000 people watched their inaugural living streaming.

As usual, Mark was happy to be back playing in Indiana. (He lives in California but is from Indiana.) And also as usual, the audience loved him.

The movie Nosferatu was, of course, delightful. It was creepy but, like other silent films, some things did not age well and produced laughter instead of horror. The scenes of Count Orlok walking down empty town streets with his coffin tucked under his arm elicited laughter—the scene was so absurd. The creepiest bits were when the camera showed his shadow walking up the stairs to Ellen’s bedroom. The tall slender form of the vampire with long fingers and nails cast a frightful sight: shadow on the stairs.

The movie was well attended. I sat in my usual spot wondering if my companions would show up this year. (Three years ago I struck up conversations with people sitting by me. Each year since then we have sat in the same spot.) Alas, they didn’t show up and I was left thinking that perhaps they had other engagements this year—until Dave stopped by to say hello. They had arrived late and found seating elsewhere. And then at intermission I looked for his daughter, only to turn around and see that she sought me out too.

Indiana Landmark’s tradition of Silent Halloween (now in its fifth year) is an awesome way to celebrate the season—Sammy Terry, Mark Herman, and silent horror films. Oh yes, and if you are lucky, you may encounter acquaintances made and renewed during previous Silent Halloweens.

Cabaret Poe

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I learned about Cabaret Poe last year from a woman at the Indiana Landmark Center’s Silent Halloween. I was intrigued.

The show is a combination of recitation, spoken word, singing, dancing, and jokes—all surrounding Edgar Allan Poe’s works. The production has an air of the macabre sprinkled with humor in action and word. Three actors dress in Victorian-era-inspired clothing. (I kept thinking of steampunk. Hard to describe but you know it when you see it.) A fourth actor dresses all in black, as a dark, foreboding presence in the background. For some pieces, musicians play from behind the stage.

The show I attended was sold out and the audience, for the most part, thoroughly enjoyed itself. (To my surprise, about 30 minutes into the two-hour+ show, a family got up and left.) At various times, the actors mingled in the audience and interacted with attendees.

During a recitation of different bits of Poe’s poems, an actor picked out different women in the audience to approach as the object of the poem he was reciting. And wouldn’t you know it, he wandered over to me, picked up my hand, and started to recite a poem about a beloved.

Eulaile, he entreated me.

I dwelt alone
In a world of moan,
And my soul was a stagnant tide
Till the fair and gentle Eulalie became my blushing bride —
Till the yellow-haired young Eulalie became my smiling bride.

When he reached “yellow-haired”, he paused and looked askance at me. (My hair is dark brown.) I tilted my head and raised my eyebrows, as if to say, “Yeah, well, sorry about that. Whatcha gonna do?” (Clearly, he had picked me because I did NOT have yellow hair. I was part of the joke.)

The troupe covered dozens and dozens of Poe’s works, and their performance mediums were varied. I realized in hindsight that I should have re-familiarized myself with Poe’s works from my youth and made my acquaintance with the rest of his oeuvres before I went to Cabaret Poe. Ah, hindsight. I had forgotten how truly dark Poe was. Perfect for the Halloween season.

Cabaret Poe, an Indianapolis original production by local playwright and composer Ben Asaykwee, is in its 9th season. If you cannot catch it this year, look for it next year. In the meantime, reread Poe as preparation to seeing Cabaret Poe or in celebration of the shorter days, the chill in the air, and the anniversary of Poe’s death (October 7, 1849).

Silent Halloween at the Indiana Landmarks Center (2016)

I continued the Halloween tradition of celebrating the festivities at the Indiana Landmarks Center. For the past several years, the center has shown silent films accompanied by an organist in their renovated 19th century Methodist church.

The night consisted of organ music, audience-participation activities, a costume contest, a raffle, and films—a silent film short and the feature presentation.

Mark Herman returned again this year from Pasadena to provide the organ music for the films as well as music for other evening activities. He clearly enjoys his role at Silent Halloween and the audience loves him, reciprocating with standing ovations.

Sammy Terry, the iconic horror film host in Central Indiana, also returned this year to emcee the event. Sammy Terry is also beloved by many in the audience who grew up with him—Sammy Terry is the longest running TV horror film host. Robert Carter started introducing horror films on TV as Sammy Terry in 1962; his son Mark took over the role in 2010.

Before showing the night’s silent films, Sammy Terry entertained the crowd with typical Sammy Terry activities. He picked volunteers from the audience to come on stage and answer trivia questions about Indiana. Which was the first city in the world to be completely electrified? (Wabash) Where was baseball invented? (Fort Wayne) (I realized that some of the answers I knew, I knew from watching the state bicentennial documentary Hoosiers: The Story of Indiana!)

As another activity, Sammy Terry picked volunteers from the audience to attempt to provide the most blood-curdling scream. Several of those screamers were quite impressive.

The short silent film of the evening was Laurel and Hardy’s Habeas Corpus (1928). A rich doctor, who is slightly off of his rocker, hires the goofball pair. Their task? Steal a body from a gravesite for the doctor to use in his experiments. (Not an uncommon thing in the late 1800s. I thought back to a recent story I heard about Benjamin Harrison’s father unexpectedly being discovered in the Ohio Medical College when the authorities were looking for a different body that was snatched from an adjoining grave.)

The feature film of the evening was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920), starring John Barrymore. Barrymore gained praise for his performance as the two main characters. And I could see why. The story is a well-known tale by Robert Louis Stevenson that explores man’s dark side. Dr. Jekyll, an upstanding young doctor who selflessly devotes himself to helping the poor, is corrupted by his father-in-law to-be who cannot fathom how a man could be as good as Dr. Jekyll. Once unleashed, Dr. Jekyll’s dark side cannot be contained but takes over and destroys not only himself but in a twist of justice, the father-in-law to-be who caused Dr. Jekyll’s downfall.

The night was a great way to kick off the long Halloween weekend. In a delightful twist of fate, I found myself sitting next to the same couple that I did last year (!) and making the acquaintance of the fabled daughter I heard about the previous year.

I was surprised this year that the event did not sell out—there appeared to be seats still available. I was then surprised a second time when people started leaving in the middle of the feature film. Perhaps these were no movie buffs or silent film aficionados? Perhaps they only attended to see (and get pictures with) Sammy Terry? Perhaps they are early birds rather than night owls. It was perplexing?

In any event, I’ll be back next year. I am curious which silent films they will show in 2017…

Play review: The Witching Hour

As their Halloween production for 2016, Candlelight Theatre performed snippets in individual rooms throughout the Benjamin Harrison house. As usual, the audience moved between the rooms—sometimes sitting for these mini performances, other times standing.

We started out in the barn behind the house. We, the audience, were prospective students, visiting Convention, the only school of wizardry and witchcraft in North America. Grimm, our witch hostess, greeted us and introduced us to a professor with German heritage, Abramelin the Mage, the dean of the school. Grimm then led us through the school, introducing us to different professors and aspects of wizardry that we would learn if we enroll.

First up was communication with and control of demons and ghosts. We were introduced to the ghost of John Bell and the ghost of Kate, who haunted the house where John and his family lived in Tennessee in the early 1800s. Ultimately Ignis Fatuus, professor of Ghostology and Demonology, was unable to banish the ghosts.

In the next room, we met the professor in charge of teaching spells, particularly those of love, money, and protection. Most important, Glamorous Jinx told us, do not just repeat empty words but use words that have meaning for you. After the professor left, a student from a European school entered our room, accidentally having gotten off at the wrong flue (chimney flues are “train stops” in the wizard transportation system). A spat ensued between her and Grimm. Clearly, she saw the Convention as an inferior school, and had a revulsion to wizards having anything to do with muggles (or mundanes, as Grimm referred to us).

In the dining room, we were introduced to three figures who practiced the black arts: Etienne Guibourgh, Malleus Maleficarum, and Grace Sowerbutts. Grimm warned us against following their lead and selling our souls to attain the skills they had.

On the second floor, we met two professors of divination: one practiced in the arts of phrenology and tarot reading, the other practiced in the art of intestine reading. The former took a volunteer from the audience to check his skull and report on his character. The latter attempted to perform a reading of another volunteer’s intestines but was prevented from carrying it out by Grimm.

In Harrison’s bedroom, Grimm informed us that this was the bed where Harrison died. (This is actually true. He died of the flu in that bed in 1901.) Two witches sat patiently and then began to spat amongst themselves. They were Glinda the Good (aka Glinda of The Magickal Realms) and the Wicked Witch of the West (aka Elphaba of The Magickal Realms) from The Wizard of Oz. In between arguing among themselves, they described the lands that they ruled over and how The Wizard of Oz had gotten many facts terribly wrong.

Our last stop was the attic where scenes from the Salem witch trials were re-enacted. Two different women (Tituba and Bridget Bishop) were interrogated by Judge John Hathorne. One confessed and was eventually released. The other one denied all charges against her and was eventually killed.

The re-enactment was followed by the three witches from Macbeth. Grimm asked them for a prognostication about the election. After throwing items into their cauldron, they recounted their vague prediction in verse. When Grimm protested that it was too vague, she was reminded that a more precise prediction would cost money.

After a little more than an hour, the 2016 Halloween production of Candlelight Theatre came to an end. A few actors and actresses were ones that I had seen in former Candlelight Theatre productions: Grimm (Donna Wing), the judge of the Salem witch trials (Ken Eder), and one of the witches from Macbeth (Sue Beecher).

This production was different from past years when a coherent narrative, such as the trial of Nancy Clem, played out across different rooms in the house, or when audiences rotated between 3 twenty- to thirty-minute plays. The downside to productions with snippets or a single play that is performed throughout the house: the audience never has a chance to applaud or meet the performers. Instead, with productions that end in the attic, audiences are led out the side door. Into the darkened night we go, a fitting end for a Halloween production but rather anti-climatic with no way to thank the actors.

If you enjoy plays, any production of Candlelight Theatre will be a treat. Candlelight Theatre performs productions twice a year, in the spring and in the fall. They perform exclusively in the Benjamin Harrison house, a house built in 1874—the perfect backdrop for the period plays that the group performs. Their plays are often original productions written by James Trofatter. The intimacy of the actors and the audience creates an atmosphere that you do not experience at a typical playhouse.