Bringing telekinesis to the stage in Speakeasy’s ‘Carrie’
We all know it’s coming. No matter what form you’re seeing it in, that bucket of blood is going to fall on Stephen King’s Carrie’s head, and she’s going to lose it. Whether it’s in the book, the famous movie or the new production of “CARRIE the musical” opening Saturday with the Speakeasy Stage Company, everyone knows what moment is on its way.
That’s part of the challenge in staging the musical, said director Paul Melone. It’s important to pace the story in a way that audiences aren’t just waiting impatiently for the climactic scene. “One of things that I took away from the novel is that Stephen King is a master at pacing in storytelling,” he said, praising the way King foreshadows what’s to come in the novel while still taking his time in the big scene. “He really takes us through it second by second,” Melone said.
It’s a tactic they’ve tried to mimic onstage by letting moments land and understanding the way, when you’re a teenager, “Sometimes two seconds can feel like five minutes,” as Melone put it, pointing out the way a moment of humiliation in the hallway at school can feel like a lifetime.
Though the book came out in the ’70s, the heart of the story remains timeless, and in a culture trying to understand the causes and impacts of bullying, the torment Carrie endures at the hands of her cruel classmates is all too familiar. “In some way, shape or form, the story of Carrie is going to be revised or rewritten or redone every decade for as long as there’s teenagers in American going to high school,” Melone said, calling the “social battlefield” of being a teenager “universal.”
Of course, there are some technical difficulties inherent in bringing a telekinetic fit and the destruction of a high school gymnasium out of the magic of cinema and onto the closer reality of a stage. Melone says they tried to strike a balance between the realistic and the fantastical to keep audiences in the moment. He wanted to avoid moments where audiences felt too conscious of the artifice of theater, and pointed out that what’s scary to one person is not necessarily scary to another. As he put it, if the director can make the action and horror more stylized, “I’m going to take you to the cliff and your own imagination is going to jump over.”
That said, if you’re wondering about the blood, Melone promises, “There’s going to be a lot.” Getting the blood right was a careful process of finding a product that looked good but was safe for the actress. They even had Elizabeth Erardi, who plays Carrie, use some of the test mixtures in the shower each morning to make sure there was no lasting skin irritation. And of course, that it actually came off her skin. “We don’t want something that works great and then after six shows, she starts turning pink,” Melone said.
Follow Lisa Weidenfeld on Twitter at @LisaWeidenfeld.