EU channels classic horror with 'House on Haunted Hill'

Category:  The Arts
Friday, November 1st, 2019 at 11:50 AM
EU channels classic horror with 'House on Haunted Hill' by Nathan Brennan
The cast peeks into a suitcase, where a nasty surprise awaits. | Photo: Jamie Heinrich

“Fear makes people do amazing things.”

This is a sentiment guests of the “House on Haunted Hill” will know all too well when the next Edinboro University theater production begins.

The stage show is freely adapted from the classic 1959 horror film of the same name, originally starring Vincent Price.

In part, the show’s synopsis reads: “All seems well when eccentric millionaire Frederick Loren and his fourth wife Annabelle throw a party where five guests must last one night in the house on haunted hill for a chance to collect $10,000 each. All until Frederick and Annabelle become trapped with their guests.”

For first-time director Mason Kuhr, the idea of doing a stage version of the film came to him two years ago.

“I was on an old horror movie kick on YouTube and this came up on my suggested [list],” he explained.

As he described it, “It has such a really good mix of both charming comedy and horror.”

Kuhr also enjoyed how the movie was almost self-aware, poking fun at certain horror movie tropes. For example, one of the characters in the midst of a scene suggests they all go to their rooms instead enacting some elaborate plan.

As a result, Kuhr became inspired to adapt the film for the stage. His goals were to create the most faithful adaptation possible and make the story work, the latter of which involved leaving out some portions which may not have aged well or perhaps were impractical for theatre.
Another goal of Kuhr’s was to pay homage to the original film’s director, William Castle, a horror film pioneer.

Specifically, he wants to pay homage to Castle’s so-called gimmicks, which involved selling life insurance in the lobbies of his films in case patrons “die of fear.” In this case, EU Theatre will have a real paramedic on site to help for this purpose.

Meant to create audience interaction and extra scares, Kuhr explained that the Diebold Center for the Performing Arts is perfect for this very purpose: “It’s a very small theatrical space,” he said, explaining that cast members will walk around through and interact with the audience: “We have the opportunity to get really intimate with our audience.”

It is for these reasons, as well as working with the cast, that Jaylin Wyatt, who plays Dr. David Trent in the play, has had a rewarding experience in his first show at Edinboro: “It’s been great. I’m really impressed with what everyone’s been doing so far.”

With all these moving parts, Kuhr isn’t all alone, being guided by the expertise of one of Edinboro’s professors: Dr. Roger Solberg.

An associate professor in the English and Philosophy Department, Solberg serves as, essentially, a “creative consultant” for the production due to his horror film knowledge.

“I’m watching the rehearsals as somebody who actually saw ‘House on Haunted Hill’ in a movie theater as a kid, so I know what it’s like to experience this show as it was meant to be experienced,” Solberg explained.

While he notes his involvement is “fairly minimal,” Solberg attends rehearsals in order to “contribute a few insights into the story, characters or setting.”

He is able to accomplish this task through a lifelong admiration of the horror genre.

Having started watching horror movies on TV around the age of four, he was hooked. “I’ve been a fan ever since.”

He especially appreciates the old horror movies. “They’re not really well-known these days, so if somebody comes to see ‘House on Haunted Hill,’ the stage production, maybe they’ll watch the movies,” said Solberg.

He has enjoyed the experience working with the show thus far, as it helped him get involved once more in theatre, a part of college he misses.

“I used to do a lot of theatre at Edinboro many years ago...It’s really been great playing a tiny role in the production of this show.”

In addition, Solberg has been able to get to know some of the students performing in the show he “never would’ve met otherwise.”

Overall, he’s happy to see theatre thriving. “I’m just happy that theatre is alive and well at Edinboro...Whatever I can do to encourage that, I’m going to do it.”

Describing working with the professor as “phenomenal,” Kuhr is glad to have the help and said he’s “giving it [his] all.”

Still, the student leader finds that the experience as director has had its fair share of stress. “As director, every issue, whether it be tech, or costume, or set, people have to turn to you,” he said, explaining that with “so many moving parts, you kind of get whiplash.”

Nonetheless, he is excited to be opening the show on Halloween.

“Halloween is one of my favorite times of year, especially at Edinboro,” said Kuhr, noting a distinct energy the campus takes on at this time of year.

It all seems to have come together for the show, which he described as a culmination of his theatre experience at Edinboro.

Graduating from the university in December, Kuhr said, “I’ve called this show my love letter to Edinboro.”

Audiences have a chance to see “House on Haunted Hill” tonight, as well as Nov. 1-2 and 7-9 at 7:30 p.m. Additional matinée shows are on Nov. 3 and 10 at 2:30 p.m.

All showing are at the Diebold Center for the Performing Arts, and admission is $3 for EU students, $5 for EU faculty, staff, seniors and other students, and $10 for general admission. More information can be found on their Facebook page. 

Additional Photos:

The cast peeks into a suitcase, where a nasty surprise awaits. | Photo: Jamie HeinrichClara Hill and Gavin Dewey as Annabelle and Frederick Loren. | Photo: Jamie HeinrichThe cast, in rehearsals at photo time, went through the scenes of Act I.

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