When people talk about “splatter” in horror, they’re usually referring to the subgenre of stabby psycho-killers and their gory antics. But Kathryn Adkins, the director of Cabrillo’s new Halloween production, quickly discovered that she’d have to learn a whole new meaning of it for Carrie: The Musical, if she wanted to pull off the most famous scene in Stephen King’s iconic terror tale.
Everybody knows that when high school misfit Carrie White goes to the prom, she gets a bucket of blood dumped on her in a cruel prank by her high school classmates that sets off her telekinetic rage. That might have been easy to pull off in Brian DePalma’s 1976 film adaptation, but every night on stage? It’s a bit trickier.
“With the blood drop, you have to find the splatter zone. That’s the most important thing. You have to figure out how to catch it so it doesn’t go into the stage itself and make it hazardous for the actors,” says Adkins. “Everything was tried out first with water. Water, of course, isn’t quite the same viscosity, but you get a sense of where it’s going to go and how you can control it—and what you need to do to avoid it hitting and destroying your microphones. That takes practice and attention to detail, like how much liquid to pour. All of those things are part of the rehearsal process.”
If it sounds like she’s overstating the hazards—well, the blood drop shorting out microphones is exactly the kind of problem that plagued the notorious 1988 Broadway run of Carrie: The Musical. (They almost decapitated an actor, too, but that’s another story.)
But the technical disasters during the show’s U.S. opening three decades ago didn’t intimidate Adkins.
“I really wouldn’t have even entertained doing the show if I didn’t have full confidence in the technical designers and masterminds over at Cabrillo College,” she says. “Skip Epperson is brilliant in his designs, and Marcel Tjioe, our technical director, is a wizard at figuring out how to make it all happen. It has been challenging. For me, there’s a joy in the challenge. I don’t know whether they could all say that, but I find always pushing myself a little bit is where the passion comes out. It’s been fun.”
She’s also thankful for the actor getting the blood dropped on her, Marina Hallin.
“I’m so, so lucky that we have a very strong Carrie. She’s not only a fabulous actor who has a tremendous voice, but she’s fearless,” says Adkins. “It’s not every actress who’s willing to have liquid poured on her in front of an audience. She just embraces the challenges all the way through.”
Carrie: The Musical was famously a flop on Broadway; the book about Broadway flops is even called Not Since Carrie. But in the last decade, it has experienced a Renaissance, with a number of revivals featuring a heavily reworked songbook and story. Adkins is not surprised.
“You have to remember that back in the ’80s, the other shows that were being produced at the time were the big extravaganza musicals—Cats, Phantom of the Opera, Les Mis. Huge productions—for Miss Saigon, they were dropping helicopters! So Carrie came along, and it couldn’t really compete on the same level. Plus, the story is pretty dark. So it wasn’t one of what we lovingly call the ‘happy-clappy’ musicals. But musicals have really changed; we’ve had a big resurgence of social issues.”
And Carrie certainly has a strong social issue at its core; it’s about as anti-bullying as you can get, and way ahead of its time in that way. That message was what drew Adkins to the material the most, and she’s added several elements to the production to emphasize it, like text messages to incorporate cyberbullying, and letting the audience see pages in Carrie’s sketchbook as a window into her emotions.
In the #timesup era, Carrie White may have found her cultural moment. Abused by both her deranged mother and her peers, she finally gets to the point of no return, retaliating with a supernatural weapon that has taken on more and more symbolic resonance over the years.
“When Stephen King was writing his novel, telekinesis was being studied as a weapon or a counter-weapon during the Cold War,” says Adkins. “It’s her weapon, and it’s an explosive response, an emotional response that being young she doesn’t have control over yet. I think that’s part of the message, too—that we have to see behaviors and change them, and you can’t ignore them.”
‘Carrie: The Musical’ runs through Nov. 10 at Crocker Theater in Aptos. Performances are Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 2pm. There will also be a Halloween performance at 7:30pm on Thursday, Oct. 31. Tickets $19/$17 students and seniors/$9 with Cabrillo student activities card. Go to cabrillovapa.com for more info and tickets.