I went to opening night at the Twin Cities Horror Festival (TCHF) at the Crane Theater in Minneapolis. Prior to going, I spoke to Duck Washington, the current executive director of the festival, and Ryan Lear, the former executive director of the festival, about the history of TCHF and what to expect for their tenth season, or, Season X.
Duck and Ryan primed me and gave me a pretty accurate depiction of what I might see. The Crane Theater was adorned with spooky decorations, and the dimmed lights provided an assuredly creepy vibe. I purchased a set of earbuds for $2 to enjoy the special audio experiences in the side room. Chairs sat along the walls of the side room, and surrounded a decorated table. I sat down and suddenly remembered that the earbuds weren’t compatible with my iPhone, and I instead sat in silence. I blame Apple for this one. Nonetheless, I bookmarked the link to the Bandcamp recordings so I could listen later.
I was confident that the shows I would see would erase any feelings of that minor, minor disappointment. And by the end of the evening, all I could think about were the fascinating performances I’d seen. Here are my experiences viewing Splinter, Blackout in a Blackout, and Creepy Boys.
I walked into my first show at the festival a few seconds late, and the theater was packed, to the point where I actually had to stand on the stairs on the side for the entire performance. It's clear that Dangerous Productions has a reputation for delivering on the promise of blood, guts, and gore, because people sat shoulder to shoulder to witness it. And deliver they did. I was a bit confused about the relationships and the plot of the story itself, but honestly, once I saw blood spurt out of someone’s mouth onto a table the story started making a lot of sense. Splinter leans into our wildest imaginations about mental health care providers, and then takes a turn for the gross as patients reclaim their power. As a first-time festival goer, I wasn’t sure what kind of reaction to expect from the audience upon witnessing someone pulling their organs out of their own body. I anticipated gasps, or people turning their heads in disgust. But is that what I heard? Nope. In fact, in the sickest, most twisted moments, many audience members laughed.
I would recommend this show to anyone who wants true horror out of the Twin Cities Horror Festival, but be sure to get there early—you might be competing for a spot to see the goriest show of the festival.
Blackout in a Blackout
I’ve seen Blackout Improv perform before, but never in a blackout! The improv comedy troupe donned flashlights and held them up to their faces, a la scary stories you tell in the dark. They engaged the audience and even had a ‘keeper’ in the audience help them manage the long list of suggestions the audience provided. Blackout is always a pleasure to watch. They performed a long-form set and introduced us to a set of characters that were tightly woven in between their tangential and indirect scenes. Their hour-long set was one of my favorites I’ve seen of theirs, and I greatly appreciated their audience engagement and commitment to return to the characters we met at the beginning and immediately loved.
For the past several hours, I’ve continued to say ‘cReEpY bOyS’ in a weird voice whenever I remember the absolute delight that was Creepy Boys. I can’t get the imagery out of my mind—the solo chair with a doll at the center of the stage and a singular balloon, a circle of spilled salt, and two ‘horny’ boys in prep school uniforms leaping around, performing choreographed dances to Satan, while commanding a faceless voice named Sharon to do tech and audio. The orphan twins welcomed us to their first birthday party with catchy songs and dance, and then even put on their masks to greet each of us individually, even if only for 0.5 seconds. It’s evident that a lot of thought went into the rhythmic, almost poetic reciting of the words in this performance. I’d encourage anyone to go see Creepy Boys, a show that was not too scary, but funny, chaotic, and creepy.
I spoke with Duck and Ryan about diversity and inclusion, and how it is a shared value amongst the people that put the festival together, including the performers, and it is an expectation for the patrons to be committed to diversity and inclusion as well. As a Black woman, I am always hyper-cognizant of those who are in my immediate surroundings, and how I might fit in and/or stand out. While there was a great range of diversity in a number of aspects, I couldn’t help but immediately notice that aside from Blackout Improv’s performance, I was the only, or one of few Black people in the room during my time there. By the very nature of being a theatrical horror festival that was started by a group of white people in the state of Minnesota, I didn’t expect to see a cultural melting pot in each audience. But the truth is that Black people write, perform, create, do horror, and do it exceedingly well. The Twin Cities Horror Festival has an opportunity to curate a show that highlights Black artists across disciplines and mediums who can bring something scary to the festival. Whether it is putting more diverse shows on the mainstage, featuring Black visual artists at the gift counter, or featuring Black voiceover artists in the listening room, I think there is limitless opportunity in upcoming years to make the festival a more diverse, welcoming, and inclusive place.
All in all, I’m thrilled that I was able to go to the Twin Cities Horror Festival. All of the shows I watched hit a different spot on my horror palate, and I’m sure the remaining two shows would have rounded it out perfectly. It was an exceptional way to get into the spirit of Halloween, and I am looking forward to going next year. I think there is an opportunity area; performers of color can and should be incentivized to bring their uniquely unsettling ideas to those who curate the festival, to increase the racial diversity of the performers and ultimately of all people who are involved in or attend the festival. With that said, I still encourage everyone to attend the festival because what Ryan and Duck said is true—you will find something for you, and perhaps you’ll get some inspiration on what you can conjure up and submit to be a part of next year’s festival.