Wicked Lit 2012 opens this week at the Mountain View Mausoleum and Cemetery. For the third year in a row, theatergoers will have an immersive theatrical experience rooted in literature of horror and the supernatural, performed in an ideal venue.
And, as always, there will be surprises along the way, promises Paul Millet, who with Jeff Rack and Jonathan Josephson are the ringleaders of this annual scare-fest, a haunted house for the literarily-inclined that takes place among the granite headstones and marble corridors of the site.
After debuting in 2009 at the Greystone Mansion in Los Angeles, Wicked Lit moved to Mountain View, where it's been at home ever since. The company performed a three play production in 2010, and last year remounted those plays and added three others for two separate productions.
"We decided to do six last year because the demand from 2010 was so great," Millet said. "It sold out, we had waiting lists, we turned people away at the end.
"At the same time, we always want to push ourselves and do some thing new, so we gave it a shot and did two productions."
But this year, "we didn't want to remount anything … it made sense to just focus on three shows that are brand new for this year and put our time and resources in that."
Theatergoers gather in a central area, and "story guides" -- costumed characters who look like they have a tale of their own to tell -- lead the audience in three separate groups through the plays as they are performed. Most of the plays take place in more than one location, so there can be a fair bit of hiking involved, all led by the discreet, butler-like story guide who guides the audience safely where they need to go and returns them to the beginning, ready for the next play.
This year, Millet said they decided to enhance the production by incorporating the story guides into narratives that go on before and between shows.
"There's performances, there are pieces, there are activities going on during those intervals, so instead of doing a double production, [we] focus on a single new production and enhance it pre-show and during the intervals, to keep our audience engaged from the time they arrive," Millet said. "They get out of their cars, and something's happening."
The story guides are largely the actors' creation, Millet said: "I allow them the freedom to write their own text, to create their own dialogue. The actor has a lot of freedom to create this character.
"Our actors who have been story guides really enjoy it, and we've done this long enough that the actors who have been story guides and characters in the play, who have done both, say 'I really miss doing the story guide role.'" One of their actors who has been there from the beginning has always been a story guide: "Every year, she's given the opportunity to create a new character and interact with the audience in a different way, and she loves it."
This year's plays are Millet's adaptation of Johann Ludwig Tieck's vampire story, "Wake Not The Dead," directed by Douglas Clayton; F. Marion Crawford's "The Dead Smile," directed and adapted by Jeff G. Rack; and M.R. James' "Count Magnus," directed by Millet and adapted by Jonathan Josephson.
Millet crédits Jay Brown at Mountain View Cemetery and Mausoleum for being so open to using the area as a performance space.
"Jay has been very gracious, and such a supporter of what we do, it's fantastic to have his support and blessing for the show," Millet said. The production company meets with Brown several times a year, both after the show and as they are generating ideas for the next show.
Performing in such a setting presents challenges: actors can't sit on headstones. They can't hang anything in front of the crypts. Actors know enough to step aside during a rehearsal if someone is showing up with flowers to remember a loved one.
Wicked Lit is selling out fast. The Friday premiere and this weekend's shows are already sold out (in fact, all Saturday shows are sold out), and the rest are going quickly. There's still room for the performances on Thurs., Oct. 18 and Fri., Oct. 19; Sunday, Oct. 21, Thurs., Oct. 25, and Fri., Oct. 26; and Halloween, Wed., Oct. 31. Get your tickets here.