Part Seven: Letters From the Living Dead: “This house…this place” by Stephen Gregory Smith

“As we rounded round the hill, past the boating shop, we’d stop and turn the corner by the mill – and I’d see this house…this place…”

Long gone are Barbie dolls and handmade sets in my basement. Long gone are the sketches on paper. Now the Farmhouse and show are really taking their physical shape. How satisfying it is to see how far we have come from the beginning, and how exciting to look forward to all the things that we will continue to explore in the next few weeks.

If you read Part Three of this series, you saw the set model and a peek at my makeshift set in my basement, and the Barbie dolls standing in for actors. The Barbie dolls have been replaced with my amazing cast ( as discussed in Letters From the Living Dead Parts Four and Five). And the shoddy mess of wine boxes and shoe boxes that I made a set model with, based on Kevin Boyce’s fantastic set design schematic, has been replaced with an actual set.

After a rehearsal last night that focused on music work with music director Leah Kocsis and composer Matt Conner, Matt and I dropped by the Armory to peek in on set construction. Jenna Ballard, my gifted Co-Director/Prop Designer/Producer/every woman, showed us the beginnings of the set. The set has been built with love and care by Master Carpenter, John Decker, along with Jenna Ballard, Kevin Boyce, Mike Ricci, Marshall Hackett, Matt Karner, Ed Eggleston, and Doe Kim.

It is in its infancy, as far as completion and set decoration, but it is so exciting to see it start to really take shape. I love the size of the windows. I really love the front door, with its three peekaboo windows. As set furniture and set decoration are added, we will really get to see this house, this place. This is the place where our unlucky seven have spent eternity, pondering their actions on the last night of their lives. To see Tom and Judy’s little table where they make Molotov cocktails, or Ben’s door (as I call the front door) is like meeting other characters in the play. To walk down into Harry’s cellar and see the small window well near the top of the ceiling is a really cool touch.

Sound Designer Matt Rowe.

How are the inhabitants of the Farmhouse, you may be wondering? We have blocked the entire show, and have had the amazing fortune of having our fight scenes fight choreographed by Casey Kaleba. Casey has staged more than 250 productions for theatre, including shows with the Folger Shakespeare Library, Signature Theatre, Round House Theatre, the New Brunswick Theatre Festival, and Studio Theatre. University work includes American, Catholic, University of Maryland, Old Dominion, and developing a sign language-based form of stage combat at Gallaudet University. A company member with Rorschach Theatre, he serves on the education staff of the Shakespeare Theatre, Folger Library, and the University of Maryland. We are indeed lucky to have his brilliant fight choreography in our Ben/Harry confrontation.

Another character in the show is the sound in the Farmhouse. Providing the chilling and unsettling sound effects to our stay in the Farmhouse is Matt Rowe, in-house sound designer at Signature Theatre. A veteran audio professional who started his career as a recording engineer before transitioning to live sound reinforcement and who now marks his fourteenth season in theatrical sound design, Matt is a personal friend who shares my passion for the project, and has created a chilling soundscape for this night that we spend with the unlucky seven.

Friday night was our last night in the rehearsal space, and tonight (Monday night) we begin rehearsal on the set. So this group of unlikely travelers lands at their final destination of the Farmhouse tonight. This is one of the many “firsts” that I have looked forward to for the past ten years as this show has been in evolution. I am in the lucky position now to spend the next several weeks watching my dreams come true.

The cast says goodbye to their rehearsal space.

Thank you for following our journey so far, and from Barbie dolls to full casting the show to staging it to now entering the Farmhouse. Updates from the Farmhouse will follow in the coming two weeks. Updates will be more frequent now that we are in our endgame before opening. I hope that you will stick with us, and please come see us.

NightoftheLivingDead opens October 26th at the Kensington Armory. Purchase tickets here.

Casey Kaleba’s website.

Part One: Welcome to my Farmhouse.
Part Two: Finding Ben.
Part Three: Exploring the Farmhouse.
Part Four: Meet Our Cast.
Part Five: My Sweet Baby.
Part Six: We’ll Be Alright.

All photos by Stephen Gregory Smith.


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