Sometimes creative ideas whither and die. That’s not the case for undead ones: Stephen Gregory Smith’s still has places left to lurch. “In the whole George Romero cannon of ‘Living Dead’ films, if you’re bitten by one of the living dead, then you are infected,” explains the 32-year-old. It’s a concept Smith hopes to replicate in modern times…to a point.
Since the first reading of his theatrical rendition of the Romero cult classic Night of the Living Dead at the Kensington Arts Theatre last October, the actor-turned-playwright has been furiously hunting for flesh (aka theaters and performance groups) to bring his NightoftheLivingDead: the musical to pulse-free life. It hasn’t been easy. “I’m somebody from nowhere and I’ve written a show,” he says. “Who’s going to listen to me if I contact a theater out of nowhere?”
So in February, Smith emailed his friends and supporters to ask if they knew theaters across the country who would be ripe for his musical’s “infection.”
They responded in droves, recommending stages from South Carolina to Colorado. Smith has sent out in introductory missives—-which he jokingly calls “bite letters” —-to theaters in 25 states to date. The goal is to have a “nationwide theatrical pandemic” with as many troupes as possible performing the piece in October 2012. So far theaters in Houston, St. Louis, Richmond, Portland, Ore., Boulder, Los Angeles, and Vero Beach, Fla., have expressed interest. Alas, no word on a D.C. home just yet.
For now, Smith is starring in the The Boy Detective Fails at the Signature Theatre August 25 through Oct. 26. His partner and LivingDead composer Matt Conner also has The Hollow (for which he wrote the music and lyrics) debuting at Signature on August 23. Their shows will play on alternate nights, allowing the pair to take turns zipping back and forth from New York in September. There, they’ll observe readings of their zombie brainchild by Musically Human Theatre Company, in the hopes it leads to a later performance by the group.
In the meantime, Smith continues to spread the word, acknowledging the mood of his work can be lost in translation. While it’s easy to assume this zombie musical is a campy romp, that’s not the case at all: It’s less rollicking Rocky Horror, more Sweeney Todd paranoia. No undead are seen in the hour and half plot that focuses on six characters’ emotional trauma while under siege in a farmhouse.
“Sometimes people are bitten by my letter and don’t respond. It either goes to junk mail or they say, ‘Night of the Living —- WHAT the Musical’? No thank you,” says Smith. “Some people are going to read on and some people aren’t. The ones who read on are the ones I want to talk to anyway.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery