Saturday, October 17, 2015

Interview with actor JEZIBELL ANAT by Dave Wolff

Interview with JEZIBELL ANAT

I noticed one of your favorite quotes as, “Normal is just an illusion. What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly,” by Morticia Addams. What does that quote mean to you, and how does it resonate with you personally?
This one has resonated at several points in my life. When I was a child, when I asked my parents if I could have something or do something, they asked if the other kids had it or did it. I never understood why that had anything to do with what I was doing, but I was always being told I should be like everybody else. When I lived in New York there was much more acceptance of alternative lifestyles, but now that I am in Georgia I very much feel a sense of being different. I don’t have kids, but I have cats, snakes, and a tarantula. I am a Pagan belly dancer who is working on a gay-themed horror musical. To me this is normal, but it’s chaos to a lot of people around here.

In mainstream American society there has always been pressure to follow the crowd and effort made to suppress individuality. At what point in your life did you decide to separate yourself from it and follow your own bliss?
In my case I never felt like I fit in at all. I don’t think I ever followed the crowd, unless it was some kind of group activity that I was forced to participate in. As a kid, the main way I could follow my bliss was by reading. At school I would sneak out of pep rallies to go to the library and read.

What would you read when ditching pep rallies at school? How often were you able to do so undisturbed?
I loved to read historical fiction. I usually got away with it; the teachers didn’t like it, but compared to the shit most high school kids do, how can the school really be upset with one who is just reading in the library?

What historical fiction were you most often reading in high school? Were the books you read usually not assigned to you in class?
Most of what I read wasn’t assigned. I did have an eighth grade world history teacher who gave us a list of recommended novels. I’d already read a lot of them, sought out the rest, and was able to make a few additions. I loved to read ancient and medieval fiction, historically based, not fantasy, and I particularly liked novels about powerful women in pre-Christian times. Before Google, I would go to the library, search the cards for specific eras and places, such as medieval Ireland, and look for fiction. So I found both contemporary and classic novels, such as Robert Graves’ I, Claudius. One of my favorites was The Eagle and the Raven by Pauline Gedge, which is a magnificent novel about the Roman conquest of Celtic Britain, including Boudicca’s rebellion. Gedge has also written some great novels about ancient Egypt, such as Child of the Morning, about the female Pharaoh Hatshepsut. So she wrote about several of my favorite women of history. I also loved all the fictional retellings of the Arthurian myths, especially Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon and its sequels, which led me to the well-written and researched novels of Pagan priestess Diana Paxson. For medieval history, I enjoyed the novels of British writer Norah Lofts, and, in particular, Katherine by Anya Seton; it was a love story, but grounded in history and character without the stupid cliches of the bodice-ripping historical romance.

Living in New York and being a Pagan as well as a belly dancer, how commonplace did you see your lifestyle in your environment before your relocation to Georgia?
I wouldn’t ever say that Paganism or belly dancing are commonplace even in New York City, but because of the size, creativity and liberal environment of Manhattan, they don’t freak people out the way they do in conservative places. New York City attracts the avant garde and nonconformsts, as well as people from all over the world, so there communities are much larger than in other parts of the country. There are Middle Eastern clubs and restaurants, and a lot more professional opportunities for belly dancers, and there are occult stores and open networking groups for Pagans.

In New York City over the last decade, a great deal of gentrification has negatively affected the alternative/nonconformist lifestyle. This includes the closing of several clubs and record stores and so forth. Much of the lifestyle still exists but New Yorkers can certainly see the difference these days. Do you think it will live on despite the gentrification?
It’s been seven years since we left NYC, and I know a lot of the artistic opportunities and venues are gone. I can’t say if the alternative scene will live on or not, unless it’s just among the people with money. However, now we have the internet, social media and a lot of other ways that people can connect virtually, so these movements are growing in other parts of the country. Look at how same-sex marriage is becoming legal in so many states. There are small pockets of alternative nonconformity even in Augusta. We’ve become involved in events with Le Chat Noir, independent film, Augusta Pride, and the Unitarian Universalist Church is an oasis of liberal thought’ we have monthly Pagan circles there. Joe and I actually have more of an impact here because it's so conservative, but things are slowly opening up.

How have the pagan circles held at the Unitarian Universalist Church generally been going? Have you had any confrontations with local religious groups or have you mostly been left alone?
The circles at UU have been great, and currently they are the only open Pagan circles in the area. UU welcomes Pagans, and the arts community is also very accepting. Joe works at the Jewish Community Center, and they are fine with his open Paganism. Since we hang out with the creative, alternative types, we haven’t run into trouble.
In 2009 when we did the first Pagan Pride in Augusta, several of the locals said we were going to be shot. We weren’t. However, on the night before the event, some Christians poured oil on the handrail of the steps leading to the park. Joe confronted them, and they cleaned it up. At the event, we got a few protestors but we had police on duty, and they did not cause any disturbances. My picture was on the cover of a local weekly paper and in our main daily paper, so I got some crazy comments online and was told that Sunday school classes were praying for me, but no one confronted me. The next year, we had no problems. 
There were a couple of other interesting incidents. A few years ago I was on an arts panel as part of an event with the Greater Augusta Arts Council, and one of the attendees questioned us about how our faith influenced our art. I said I was Pagan and talked about how some of my dance and writing was influenced by mythology. Someone complained afterwards about “that Pagan belly dancer,” but the staff of the Arts Council said this person was unbalanced and even said that the faith question was inappropriate. Also, none of the other artists on the panel were Christian either; one was a lapsed Catholic, and the others described themselves as spiritual but not religious. 
Another time, the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast was held on the site of an Arts Council project that I was involved with, so during the part where everybody could come up and speak, I said a prayer to Isis (Fortunately this was before the terrorist group). The conservative Christians looked very uncomfortable, but there were also a lot of people there from the Progressive Religious Coalition who expressed support, such as the Buddhists, the pastor from Metropolitan Community Church (a liberal Christian church that supports LGBTQ rights), and a wonderful Presbyterian minister who is not afraid to say that Christianity has hurt people.

Speaking of the terrorist group Isis, there have been news reports of them bombing libraries and destroying museums besides calling for mass violence against anyone who disagrees with their beliefs. What are your thoughts about this?
I am very upset; these vicious lunatics are destroying irreplaceable historical treasures! There is no reasoning with these fanatics, and I would like to bomb them off the face of the earth. Also I would prefer to call them by their Arabic name, Daesh, which they hate. Isis is an ancient Egyptian Goddess of wisdom and power.

There were times when my efforts to “go mainstream” were not rewarded as much as I was led to believe. I’ve always been more successful doing things on a grassroots level. Do you find that pursuing your own goals has taken you further?
Overall, yes. Environment is also a factor; in NYC there was so much mainstream activity that it was often hard to break into anything, so I found it more productive to work through the alternative scenes. Here in Georgia a lot of my work is still grassroots but it gets more recognition because there’s not as much competition. 
In NYC Joe and I might have been considered a bit on the edge, but in the South we’re all out weird. I often joke that we can cause more trouble down here. We’ve been active with Augusta Pride and Pagan Pride, both relatively new developments, and I think Augusta is slowly becoming a little more progressive.  
Alternative in Augusta is more conservative than alternative in NYC, so I have become more careful as to how I present my work. It’s not that I want to sanitize or water down what I do, but I don’t want to unnecessarily alienate people when I might be able to win them over with a softer introduction or more explanation. Of course, this is the Bible Belt so just by existing I offend some people.
The internet has been great for grassroots artists, allowing us to find collaborators and get involved in different projects. With Facebook for example, you can look at someone’s profile and see if s/he is someone you want to contact, or find a very specific group that can be helpful and fun.
The internet has helped me keep up with the belly dance scene and find venues and opportunities. For example, I’m also a writer for Carpe Nocturne magazine, and this came about because a friend on Facebook sent me a message that they were looking for belly dance writers. Currently I’m researching horror conventions and film festivals to promote Cabaret Diabolique.

What kind of articles have you been writing about Carpe Nocturne? Is this a local publication circulating mostly in your area?
Carpe Nocturne is a Gothic lifestyle publication, and I started as a belly dance writer. I didn’t do much in my first year with them because of the stresses of my Mom’s passing, but I have an article on zils in the current issue, and one on Orion slave girls in the upcoming sci-fi issue. For the summer issue I am going to be writing about Cabaret Diabolique as well as some belly dance history, and an interview with Camille Keaton.

Describe your involvement in the New York City pagan community during the time you were a resident of Manhattan. I remember you and Joe Zuchowski were teaching classes at a Pagan/Wiccan store known as Enchantments?
We taught the Pagan Way Grove in the garden behind Enchantments, where Joe worked (he made incenses and oils, carved candles, and read tarot). For a city store, Enchantments had a great outdoor space, with a tree and a fire pit, and in addition to classes we did circles, handfastings, workshops, and other events. We usually had over a hundred people at our rituals, and we were also involved with Pagan Pride and the Witches’ Ball. In addition to the large-scale community events, we had a coven, Kyklos ton Asterion, and I also facilitated women’s circles, and we were part of a Pagan choral drum group, Four Winds Earth Chorus.

Offer some more information about Four Winds Earth Chorus and their activity in the Pagan community?
Four Winds was active in the NYC Pagan Community from 1994 to 2005 as a volunteer choral and drum collective. We performed music from Wiccan, Nativist, African and other earth-centered spiritual traditions, and we also created some original material. We hosted our own rituals, played for rituals at Enchantments and New Moon New York, performed in concerts, and Witches’ Balls, festivals, and interfaith events, and also did handfastings and teaching circles. Four Winds was always open to new members, and we encouraged our audiences to sing, drum and dance with us. We shared our music with a lot of people. Four Winds was the inspiration for my drum group here, Bardic Fire, that plays for our rituals and performs at local haflas and festivals.

Do you still keep in touch with the members of Four Winds since your relocation to Georgia?
We communicate occasionally through Facebook. Four Winds officially disbanded before we came to Georgia, but I still use the songs from the Four Winds repertoire for Bardic Fire and the circles here.

Four Winds released a CD around ‘97 or ‘98 I believe. What songs from it were adopted by Bardic Fire? Has this drum group made any memorable event appearances this past year?
Four Winds did a lot of material besides what is on the CD. Both Four Winds and Bardic Fire perform the “Pagan standards” such as the Goddess Chant and Earth My Body. Two from the Four Winds CD that we’re working on this year are “The Witches’ Song” by Selena Fox, and our original “This Witch Is Not For Burning” with music by Kurt Talking Stone and lyrics by me. Our main public appearance is at Arts in the Heart, a three-day local arts festival in Augusta on the third weekend of September. I’ve heard that we are one of the most popular acts on the Troubadour Stage. We started out doing very general world and earth-centered pieces, and now are getting a bit witchier in our choices.

Describe the Witches’ Balls and the other activities hosted by Pagan Way Grove? How did you feel about the closing of the original Enchantments after it had been around for so long?
The Witches’ Balls that we were involved with were big, wonderful events. We usually brought in Pagan musicians, I would often perform dark witchy belly dance, and we would have a short midnight ritual and a fabulous costume competition. Our Pagan Way Grove, the series of introductory Wicca classes that we held from March through October, was in the Enchantments’ garden, the only public space in Manhattan where we could have a fire. We had classes and rituals with over 100 attendees. Unfortunately, NYC is expensive, and most Pagans are not wealthy. When the founders of Enchantments sold the business, both the energies and policies of the store changed for the worse.

I’m sure you remember the monthly zine Our Pagan Times. I’ve had a verse or two published in it.
The articles were good, and Joe and I wrote for them occasionally. However, its most important function was to let people know about upcoming events (this was in the 90’s prior to the internet). It would come out at the end of the month, and everyone would look at the calendar to see what was happening next month. It was published by a networking group, New Moon New York, that tried to reach all the local Pagans, both groups and solitaries, and it was run by volunteers.
The first editors did a great job of getting it out on time, even if the editorial content was uneven. Later editors decided to raise the quality of writing, and started soliciting more in-depth articles. The overall content did improve, but it came out later and later, and often people would miss events because they didn’t get the magazine in time to know what was going on. Advertisers started complaining, because their ads weren’t seen until late in the month. So Our Pagan Times eventually folded because advertisers didn’t want to buy space in it, and subscribers didn’t trust it to arrive when it was supposed to.

How informative were the articles in Our Pagan Times becoming before the zine folded? Any examples?
I had previously contributed poetry, and I was asked to write a more detailed piece about priestesses. The late Alexei Kondratiew (author of The Apple Branch) began to contribute more in-depth and historically accurate articles about the Celtic path.  

When did you discover belly dance as a means of self-expression, and what interested you in this form of dance?
I’ve always been drawn to the Middle East and loved ancient Egyptian history and mythology. I loved Middle Eastern dance for its cultural connections, its glamour and beauty, and its creativity. And I love playing with fire and swords.

What most attracted you to Middle Eastern culture and the history and mythology of Egypt? When did you discover the art of Middle Eastern dance? What are the cultural connections that attracted you to it?
I’ve always been attracted to ancient Egypt. I think it began with a fascination with Cleopatra, an exotic, beautiful, powerful Queen. And as I read about ancient Egypt, it seemed an exotic, beautiful, powerful land. It was the best place for women in the ancient world, and besides Cleopatra, there were Nefertiti, the female Pharaoh Hatshepsut, Nefertari, Tiye, and other strong rulers. The mythology featured magnificent Goddesses - I disguised my early interest in Paganism with my love of history and mythology. And it always seemed to me that Egypt was treated very unfairly in the Bible, like the Hebrew God hardened Pharaoh’s heart just to punish the Egyptians with the plagues.

What were your earliest impressions of belly dance when you discovered it?
In my subjective first impression, belly dance appeared through an Orientalist dream of ancient Egyptian magnificence and Arabian Nights fantasy. This dance presented a glamourous image of long flowing hair, glittering luxurious costumes, elegant and expressive movement, the embodiment of beauty and mystery and strength. As I grew older, I did my research - the position of women in the Arab world is deplorable, and one of the ironies of belly dance is that it has become very empowering to Western women while in its countries of origin, it is often despised, shamed and forbidden.

Explain some of the reasons belly dance is viewed negatively in the Arab world nowadays?
The rise of Islamic fundamentalism has crushed artistic expression in dance as well as other arts. In the extremist viewpoint, music and dance must be shunned because they engage the physical senses and take attention from Allah. In less restrictive environments, it is acceptable for women to dance privately in their homes, or to perform for audiences of other women, but not to dance in public or anywhere where there are men outside of their families. Many also object to the revealing two piece costume but feel the dance is acceptable if the dancer’s body is covered.
What we know now as belly dance was actually a community folk dance that became theatricalized for Western audiences during the imperialist era. In 1926 Badia Masabni, a Lebanese dancer and singer, opened a cabaret in Cairo called the “Opera Casino” which offered entertainment modeled after European music halls. She wanted to attract both Middle Eastern and Western audiences, and her club was wildly successful, even including an afternoon ladies’ show for Muslim women. She adapted this ethnic dance to the stage, developing more complex music and choreography, adding traveling steps, broader arm movements, and the veil. She also put her dancers into midriff-baring sequined bra and belt costumes inspired by Hollywood film productions, a look that is not traditional but has come to be associated with belly dance.
Badia’s popular cabaret was legendary during the reign of King Farouk, when Egypt was still occupied by Britain. Badia trained two of Egypt’s most famous and popular dancers, Tahia Carioca and Samia Gamal, who also appeared in films during the Golden Age of Egyptian Cinema, the 1940’s through the 1960’s.
The July Revolution of 1952 overthrew the monarchy, and expelled the British. Badia fled the country as the atmosphere changed to anti-Western conservatism, and King Farouk’s associates were taxed and jailed. By 1961, Gamal Nasser was president, the country had turned to socialism, and the film industry was nationalized.   

What significant historical points did you find when researching the history of belly dance?
To summarize a complicated history, belly dance is a regional Middle Eastern folk dance that has been theatricalized for an international audience. In 1926, a Syrian entertainer, Basia Masabi, opened a nightclub in Cairo in the style of European cabarets, featuring both European and Arab artists, and brought in Western choreographers to adapt the traditional dance for the stage. They added elements of other dance forms, such as turns and traveling steps, and her club introduced the lovely sequined midriff-baring costume that we now associate with belly dance. This is far from authentic; it was borrowed from Hollywood film and European clubs such as “Moulin Rouge” for the colonial patrons who thought the native attire was not revealing enough.

How much has belly dance developed and grown since the beginning?
Belly dance has taken on many variations, particularly in the United States, that bear little resemblance to its ethnic origins. But above all, it is an art form, and art appeals to the imagination. I have studied traditional cabaret belly dance, and I love it, but I like to add my own creativity as well. Some of the modern styles of belly dance are described as fusion, and some do actually combine belly dance with other dance forms, but I feel a more accurate description of my non-traditional performances is interpretive since I often include theatrical elements of character, plot, and emotion. For example, at Pagan events, I will usually do Goddess-themed belly dance, portraying the qualities of the different Goddesses. I do not claim that it is historically accurate, since we don’t have proof of what ancient temple dance really looked like, but as interpretive spiritual art, it feels right.

From the 2000s to the present day more belly dancers are performing to different genres of heavy metal. I first heard of metal belly dance in the 00s when I interviewed a local dancer from Long Island; since then I’ve become acquainted with quite a few performers who combine the two forms. Have you heard anything about this?
I remember a few metal belly dancers from NYC, and have seen others online. Belly dance is moving into new genres and styles beyond the Middle Eastern, including Goth and Pagan styles. Ironically, this dance that originated in regions where women’s lives are very restricted has become a very empowering expression for Western women. 
Many dancers in the US and Europe have been developing forms and fusions of belly dance to reflect their own subcultures and music. Using Western songs can make the dance more accessible for audiences who are unfamiliar with the tones and stylings of ethnic music. Decades ago, the Middle East evoked images of the Arabian nights and Orientalist fantasy; now the region is associated with terrorism and violence, so now many dancers choose creativity over authenticity.

I interviewed Joe Zuchowski and Roger Letizia about your production Cabaret Diabolique and got much insight into it. What can you reveal about the production from your perspective?
I think Cabaret Diabolique appeals to people on many levels. It is a horror musical with a unique story and characters but also a film noir mystery. The action revolves around Charles and Yvette Mansfield, a brother and sister who front a cabaret act whose finale is what appears to be an onstage murder. I play Yvette. Charles, played by Robert Seawell IV, is gay, and part of the plot includes a gay romance. Joe plays the Amazing Nikolai, a Russian magician with a complicated past, and Shaquilla Jackson plays the New Orleans singer Bashira. Shaquilla is in the new TV series Immortalz Atlanta. This cabaret is managed by the unpopular Bruno Puglisi, played by Steve Deitch, and is under investigation by two detectives, played by Eric Poe and Ozzy Millz. The most innocent characters are Nikolai’s assistant, Lucia, played by Schuyler Hart, and Jimmy (Jacques Fournier) the young dancer who becomes involved with Charles.

As far as you know, has anyone made an effort to combine horror and film noir with musicals? This doesn’t seem like something that has been attempted before, and I was wondering what you thought of such an endeavor.
I think it’s a great concept, and there are a few examples: Rocky Horror, of course, and Repo The Genetic Opera have acquired cult followings. Little Shop Of Horrors went from a film to an off-Broadway and Broadway musical, and then back to film, and Sweeney Todd moved from Broadway to film as well. So the musical format works with both comic and serious horror.
I also love dark-themed music, from silly pieces like Monster Mash to Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear The Reaper to Loreena McKennitt’s All Soul’s Night, also spooky instrumentals and Goth/Pagan pieces, which I often use for belly dance. For a movie, the song becomes part of the story, and the music can convey different levels of emotion and flesh out the characters. For Diabolique, it also helps distinguish our film from others, which is important when we’re looking for distribution or even submitting it to a film festival. Chris Forbes has done a couple of other vampire musicals, Vampitheatre and Miss Strangelove. But the production quality of the music in Cabaret Diabolique is much better.

What are the origins of Cabaret Diabolique as a stage production? What theater group hosted it and what else are they known for?
Cabaret Diabolique began as a production with Misfit Theatre Group in Augusta, Georgia. Misfit is a non-traditional performance troupe founded by Robert Seawell, actor, performance artist and lead singer of the glam rock band Chainsaw Masscara. Misfit is known for bringing cult films to life on stage, particularly the Rocky Horror Picture Show Tribute in which I have played Magenta since 2009 and Robert of course plays Frank. We started doing our own scripts with Twisted Wonderland, a dark take on the adventures of Alice in a much more adult Wonderland, then the completely original story of Cabaret Diabolique. Robert Seawell, Joe Zuchowski, Steve Deitch, and I have been part of the Diabolique cast from the beginning.

Describe your experiences playing Magenta in Rocky Horror and how you feel about being part of such a cultural icon.
Magenta rocks! I love Patricia Quinn, and have been told that I resemble her. I also like the fact that she’s a serious actress who’s done a lot of work with BBC. Joe and I met her one year at Chiller, and she was thrilled that we asked her about I, Claudius because many people don’t know her outside of RHPS.
Robert Seawell IV, who also plays Charles in Cabaret Diabolique, is the director/founder of Misfit Theatre Group which is an alternative theatre group most known for presenting RHPS for many years in Augusta. It’s become a tradition here, and we have a following. We’ve done it at all kinds of venues, clubs, stages, and we’re quite adept at adapting it to different spaces and putting in our own twist.
I have Magenta hair; I spend a good half hour teasing it out and making it really big before the show, then, for the transition to the space suit costume, I just pile it up and use the white hair spray to get that Bride of Frankenstein look. Robert also does a great job of creating the RHPS makeup for us. The downside is that Magenta isn’t in the floor show, but I get to wear boots instead of heels, and it’s a great moment when Riff and I come in and stop the show.

Have you and Joe made appearances in Sweeney Todd, Repo The Genetic Opera or Little Shop Of Horrors? If not, would you like to sometime in the future?
Misfit Theatre Group has staged movie tributes, where we act out the stories with the soundtrack. We have performed Sweeney Todd in which I played Mrs. Lovett, and Joe was the judge, and Repo, where Joe was Rotti Largo and I was Blind Mag. These were both a lot of fun.  We have talked about doing Little Shop of Horrors, but it’s done so often, even by high school groups, that it has lost its edge. But because Robert and I have been doing other projects, we’ll probably just stick to Rocky Horror, though we are thinking about doing a live show of Diabolique or doing another version of our first original show, Twisted Wonderland.

Is there theater work you have done in addition to the Misfit Theater Group?
I’ve worked with other theatre groups here as well, especially the wonderful black box theatre Le Chat Noir in downtown Augusta. My main project with Le Chat Noir is Quickies, an annual festival of original short plays by local authors which has been very well received and grows every year in both quality and quantity of submissions. I really like creating and developing original work.

What special input did you have while the stage production of Cabaret Diabolique was happening?
In our stage productions of Cabaret Diabolique, I choreographed the dances to recorded pop music and Robert sang to karaoke tracks, but one of the reasons that we wanted to work with Christopher Forbes on the movie is that he is also a musician and composer. Chris has written and directed two vampire musicals in addition to many other feature films, so we wanted to create new songs for Cabaret Diabolique. When we started working on the songs, Chris would give me tracks of a lot of his music, and my challenge was to add lyrics that would not only be good songs but would work with the story and characters Joe and I had created. This was a challenge. I have written lyrics before, and some songs, but writing lyrics to someone else’s music was very different.
Then we had to make sure we had good recordings. Most of our music was produced at Breaker 17 Studios in Chattanooga, and we were able to record some tracks there, but, because of logistics, a lot of the vocals were recorded in Augusta and then mixed at the studio. But we’re very happy with the songs and the music production, and the music will soon be available on iTunes.

How do you feel about there being so many dance sequences in Cabaret Diabolique?
Since I am a dancer, I am happy that there is a lot of dance in this film. Most of the dances are my choreography, some in collaboration with the members of my dance company Eastern Star Dance Theatre, so there is a real cabaret feel. Robert and I also perform with fire, and there is a wonderful lyra duet with Melissa Ayala and Heather Schatzer. And, of course, we are proud of the gory executions which Roger Letizia has already described.

Are there new developments in the film since I interviewed Joe and Roger about it?
The exciting news since you spoke to Roger and Joe is that we had a last-minute opportunity in mid-December to add renowned scream queens Linnea Quigley (Return of the Living Dead) and Camille Keaton (I Spit on Your Grave) to the cast. We had about two weeks to prepare for this filming, so I quickly wrote more scenes and gathered our available actors. Chris Forbes and I drove down to south Florida to pick them up (a ten hour drive from Augusta), and we filmed with them for two days. Le Chat Noir graciously allowed us to use their space for Cabaret Diabolique, and we also filmed some scenes with them for our vampire movie, Blood River, at Forbes Studio.

What was it like to work with Linnea Quigley and Camille Keaton on the set of Cabaret?
Camille and Linnea were wonderful and charming to work with, very unpretentious and fun. Linnea plays the sassy stage manager Amy, and Camille plays the FBI agent Marcia Wilson who is conducting her own investigation. We are hoping that having these ladies in the film will help us get distribution, and we will be promoting Cabaret Diabolique at horror conventions in 2015.

Are you familiar with the movies Linnea Quigley and Camille Keaton have appeared in?
When we first met Chris Forbes at the Poison Peach Film Festival in January 2009, we saw his horror musical Vampitheatre, which Linnea was in. I knew Linnea Quigley’s work in horror films, especially her famous dance in Return of the Living Dead, and we were quite impressed that she was in a film by this independent filmmaker in Augusta, Georgia. And now six years later, she’s in our film. She’s been in several of Chris’ other movies, including Blood River, which Joe and I are also in. Blood River, based on a novel by Minnesota horror writer David Greske, is about a mother and daughter pair of vampires in which I play the mother. Linnea plays the religious vampire hunter who apparently destroys us. When she and Camille were here last December, we also added some more scenes to Blood River, including a flashback to the Civil War era where Camille played my sister and Linnea was our servant. I have heard a lot about I Spit on Your Grave but I have not seen it.  I feel I should see it, but I am not sure if I want to.   

Since Cabaret Diabolique opened to the public, what sort of a public reception has it received?
Cabaret Diabolique was very well received at the Poison Peach Film Festival in January, and people really liked the music and the story. Admittedly there were a lot of our family and friends in that audience. However, it has been selected for the Mad Monster Film Festival at the end of March in Charlotte, and we’re happy about this because we don’t know anyone or have any personal connections there. We’ll be taking it to other horror conventions and looking for distribution.

Describe your experience working on special effects some of the reviews you have received from the horror press?
The special effects are a lot of fun. Our victims have been great sports about the blood and other effects, sometimes holding uncomfortable positions for a couple of hours while they’ve gotten progressively messier. You’ve talked to Roger Letizia about his work, and the advantage of the film is that we can do all these cool executions such as the laser and the electric chair that we could not do on stage.
Jamie McRoberts, the director of the Mad Monster Film Festival, describes Cabaret Diabolique as a “modern musical Grand Guignol,” and another friend described it as “part Poe, part Hitchcock, part Twilight Zone.” So far we have only shown it at Poison Peach, but we got great feedback, and people really enjoyed the music, the acting, and the plot. One of Diabolique’s distinguishing features is a very unusual and intricate storyline, with memorable characters, not the usual batch of high school or college kids that feature in most horror movies.
Chris has been working on an improved edit, which is the one we’ll send to distributors. In March we’re doing a local screening at the UU Church (yes, our church!), and then the Mad Monster film festival. We’ll be having other screenings later in the year, and October is the big month for the horror conventions. So hopefully we’ll have more reviews and maybe some prizes to talk about by the end of the year. 

What sort of ideas have you and the rest of the Cabaret crew thought up for a sequel at this point?
Chris has already composed some songs, and we’re working on plot elements. It will be set in Las Vegas, and part of it will probably include Nikolai going after Yvette and Charles to avenge Lucia. We already got some Vegas footage when we went to the West Coast last January. We’ll have the characters who survived the first movie, and want to make sure this plot is equally good. So many sequels are lame, and we want to move the story forward and continue to develop the characters. And we have some surprises in the works.

How soon do you anticipate the sequel to Cabaret being released? Are you hoping it will do as well as the first production?
We need to get the first one in distribution and make some money so we can produce the next one, which will be a lot much more elaborate. Hopefully 2016, but no promises! 

Are there any other projects in the works that you would like to mention here?
In addition to the horror film Blood River, where I play a vampire queen, I’ve been in several other films by Chris Forbes. One is a Western, Billy the Kid: Showdown in Lincoln County, where I created the character of a tough saloon owner, One-Eyed Lily - I get to shoot a gun and ride a horse in this one. In Confederate Cavalry, I play a nurse, Miss Olivia. We are hoping to get some names in for these films and get them out as well. And we’re always bouncing ideas around… find us on Facebook to keep in touch!

-Dave Wolff

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