This October, something gory and inventive is coming to a Western North Carolina's theatrical stage. The world premiere of The Splatter Play, written by Abby Auman and directed by Jess Johnson puts a fresh focus on spectacle–especially the gooey kind–in the hopes of creating a one-of-a-kind immersive audience experience.
“Oh god, it’s warm!” a company of actors receives a sensory surprise for which many have no comparison.
It’s Recipe #2–several gallons of fake blood consisting of boiled water, tapioca starch, various food colorings, cocoa powder, and a dream, disseminated via a sprayer tank – all prepared toward special effects for the world premiere of The Splatter Play.
The Splatter Play is a bloody new comedy taking the main stage at The Magnetic Theatre in Asheville, North Carolina, just in time for Halloween. The innovative ensemble play reworks beloved tropes of the speculative supergenre with a beating, authentic heart rooted in “the idea that ‘healthy’ and ‘normal’ are unrelated concepts,” to quote playwright Abby Auman.
Debut playwright, established lighting designer, and technical director at The Magnetic, Abby is a widely known creative, collaborator, and friend. As both Erato contributor and The Splatter Play stagehand, I was thrilled to receive her answers to some burning questions about the writing and production experience of The Splatter Play, a stage blood-soaked comedy which includes among its themes mad science, transcending life and death, the extremely thin lines between arch nemesis and lover, and between opposing perspectives and our own. Through virtual magicks of the email variety, our conversation has been synthesized and edited for brevity.
Erato (E): When did The Splatter Play first begin to take form, and do you remember anything about those first days?
Abby Auman (AA): The Splatter Play was a very deliberate creation. Back in 2021, we did a show at The Magnetic that was supposed to have some big, messy blood effects, but they weren’t a top priority and were ultimately reduced to a minor aspect. Later during a visit to The Haunted Farm in Hendersonville, NC — I highly recommend! — I was treated to splattery and dramatic effects, with maybe a loose kind of plot, but not an important one. I was with my wife and our roommate at the time and I said it would be awfully fun to write a play where we came up with the special effects first, then a set to accommodate them, and then finally a plot to justify their existence. My wife asked me what the play would be about, and I truly didn’t care. The important thing was for the audience to be literally soaked in blood by the end of it.
I spent some time marinating on it and I was pretty sure that it was a fricken great idea. I pitched it to our artistic directors at The Magnetic, Katie and Jess, and what do you know! They also thought it was a great idea.
The funny thing is that I was never supposed to write it. We were going to come up with a bunch of effects and then find a writer, or group of writers, to stitch them all together. I just had SO MANY ideas. I asked Katie and Jess if I could throw together a rough script and it all snowballed from there.
E: I've spoken with several company members in admiration of how this is the first stage play you've written. Is that entirely accurate? What is your history with writing like?
Abby Auman: It is very much the first play I’ve ever written. It’s actually the first thing I’ve ever written that was intended for anybody other than me to read. I’ve written short stories for my own enjoyment as a hobby, though. That was probably good practice.
E: How has The Magnetic Theatre proven the right home for your debut as a playwright, and your continuous work as a lighting designer?
AA:As far as this play goes, The Magnetic is probably the only theater around that would let me try it. The best thing about The Magnetic is their wholesale commitment to putting new art into the world.
As a lighting designer I work on between 15 and 20 shows with a whole bunch of companies a year, each for no more than two weeks. I adore my job, but every once and a while, I get this horrible hamster wheel feeling. I put a show up, then in a month it’s gone, and I’ve stopped thinking about it well before then because I need to focus on the next show on my docket.
Furthermore, these theaters need to fill at least a portion of their seasons with shows that are famous enough to attract audiences by name alone. There’s a limited number of those, so I end up working the same shows over and over in different contexts. That really exacerbates the hamster wheel feeling. But at The Magnetic, every production is new. Even though each show only lasts a month, I’ve added something to the artistic landscape just by helping it exist, and that’s exciting! It’s satisfying in a way that helps me go back to my other work feeling refreshed.
E: The Splatter Play features a delightful plethora of spins on tropes and famous figures throughout the horror, sci-fi, and wider speculative genre! What made you want to engage with these stories and let them influence your original play?
AA: Your line there, “a delightful plethora of spins on tropes and famous figures throughout the horror, sci-fi, and wider speculative genre” pretty much describes the inside of my head. All my favorite horror, sci-fi, and fantasy stories are just washing around in my mind all the time, and The Splatter Play came from that whole mess, as do all my thoughts and actions. Here’s something about me: I am a voting-age adult with the capability to make appreciable changes to the world we both live in. Also, Roger Corman’s Poe cycle occupies as much space in my mind as my entire college education. There’s a little two-sentence horror story for you.
E: (I still owe that reference an internet deep-dive.) What do you hope audiences take away from The Splatter Play?
AA: Let me start by saying that this is not a learning-lessons type of show. My main goal is for each audience member to have a truly memorable experience at The Splatter Play. I want them to have a wild time at the theater, for good or ill. That said, if you do care about the plot, there is some stuff in there involving the idea that “healthy” and “normal” are unrelated concepts. If we let people be their own version of healthy without trying to lock them into our version of normal, it can actually be pretty easy to reach a place of mutual happiness. So best-case scenario: audiences have an excellent time, and then go home and be a little easier on each other.
E: What is it like to tell a story through a script you wrote, rather than with lighting design? How if at all, do these literacies overlap in your brain?
AA: You know, I don’t think they do. When I do lighting design I feel like I’m putting the icing on a cake. The substantive parts of the show are already there, and I’m just heightening and clarifying the work that other people have done. Scriptwriting is on the far opposite end of the production process. I rarely ever meet the playwright of any show I design lights on. I am doing the lights for The Splatter Play, and I will say that it’s pretty funky to take what writer-me was thinking, translate it through what Jess Johnson wants as the director, and then pass it back to lighting-me to execute. Luckily I have a really good working relationship with Jess, and she pretty much lets me do what I want.
E: Your command of lighting design as a language is stunning. Maybe even a little scary. Speaking of frights, what is scary about handing off your original script to a production team and cast? What is exciting about it?
AA: In this case it’s not that bad. I’ve worked with almost everyone involved many times over many years, and they’re all fantastic. I’ve learned to just trust them. It’s been especially great working with Jess. I told her from the jump that she had final say over the whole production, and that I didn’t want to be an impediment to her leadership in any way. I would have been happy to step back from the process entirely, but she kept me in the loop throughout every step of production, and went out of her way to ask my opinion on all sorts of things. She really didn’t have to do that, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.
Also, there’s a pretty great get-out-of-jail-free card that comes with passing your work on to someone else. I told my Mom that once you hand off a script it changes a lot as it passes through the hands of various designers and performers, and therefore if she found anything in my play to be distasteful or crude, it was definitely someone else’s fault. I feel good about that. I think it’s something that all playwrights should tell their mothers.
E: Ok–stealing that idea. Finally, one last bite of the good stuff. Why is theatrical storytelling important? What is its draw for you?
AA: My favorite thing about live theater is that every aspect of a performance is intensified when the audience and performers are in the same room. The smaller the theater, the larger the effect. Special effects that would be mildly interesting in a movie are crazy cool on Broadway, and would just about blow your mind in an 80-seat blackbox like ours. Most importantly to me, an amount of gore that you wouldn’t blink at in a movie or book is overwhelming in a live show. You get a lot of bang for your buck, and it all comes from the physical presence of the audience. That aspect is absolutely key to The Splatter Play.
E: (Toward context for you, reader, The Magnetic is an intimate black box theatre seating about eighty patrons as stated. Definitive proof of aphorisms about big things in small packages and doing a lot with a comparative little, The Magnetic is a pocket of originality situated in the vibrant River Arts District of Asheville.
Identified as values on their home site are “original work,” “community,” and “inspiration.” The Magnetic produces exclusively new theatrical works including full-length mainstage productions, new play development readings, and patron engagement series like karaoke and puppetry.
The community it calls home is likewise an inspired, colorful, and energized landscape.
A historically indigenous section of the French Broad River that cuts through Appalachia, the area known today as Asheville’s River Arts District has grown from an agricultural settlement, to an industrial sprawl of stockyards and factories including a significant Black population and black-owned businesses, to part of the lively, shifting city of modern Asheville with more than 100,000 residents.)
AA: The Splatter Play is a show that is at its best when you’re sitting in your poncho in the front row, bracing yourself for the splash mountain level wave of blood that’s literally coming at you with the next disembowelment or beheading. I can’t hit you with soggy intestines through a movie screen. I can’t send monsters running through the audience of a book. And how would I get gore on your glasses with a podcast? There’s just no other format that works for this story. It’s live theater or nothing.
As an assistant stage manager on the production, it’s been flabbergasting to witness all hands on deck come together and craft epic storytelling proportionate to the inner life of The Splatter Play. Those with the opportunity to see for themselves the world premiere of this unique theatrical experience and keep abreast of what The Magnetic gets up to in future are mortally encouraged to do so.
The Splatter Play runs at The Magnetic Theatre, 375 Depot Street in Asheville, North Carolina through October 21. Show times are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30, and Sundays at 4:00pm. Tickets may be purchased on The Magnetic website. A digital playbill for the production will become available in time with the show’s premiere.
Theatre Venue + Photographer
Magnetic Theatre: @themagnetictheatre (Instagram and Facebook)
Photo credit: Jenbenmedia (Jennifer Bennet)
About the Writer
Sarah Hajkowski is a freelance writer based in Western NC. In alignment with Erato, Sarah believes in the power of the written word to change the world, and is invested in mining the human experience both for the depth and pure, fun chaos of it. In her downtime, she will be storytelling with fellow creatives, baking, or listening to music.
Find out more at www.sarahhajkowski.com or reach out on social media.