There’s a virus in the air that’s infecting people left and right. It’s not COVID-19 – this virus essentially turns people into zombies and is spread through an unlikely mode of transmission – the English language.
Durango High School Thespian Troupe 1096 is returning this weekend with a Halloween night radio performance of the super-scary “Pontypool.”
And we’ll be happy to see the young actors come back after having their spring season abruptly cut short thanks to the closure of virtually everything – in-person school included – in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Pontypool” is a 2008 horror film based on the novel, “Pontypool Changes Everything,” by Tony Burgess (who also wrote the movie’s screenplay). The story has also been written as a radio show.
It’s the story of radio disc jockey Grant Mazzy (played in this production by Ethan Craig), a man who reports to his radio station in the Canadian town of Pontypool, thinking it’s just another day at work. But when he hears reports of a virus that turns people into zombies, Mazzy barricades himself in the radio booth with a couple of co-workers and tries to figure out a way to warn his listeners about the virus and that words are the transmitters.
“I remember seeing the movie ‘Pontypool’ years ago and loving it. I’m not a huge fan of zombie movies in general, but this is by far and away the best zombie story ever,” said Director Ben Mattson. “I thought it was amazing that the entire movie takes place in the radio station, and much of the violence and gore of the movie is only told through field reporters or other community members calling in to the morning talk show.”
Mattson said Dustin Nolen, operations manager and program director of AGM Durango, was looking for “War of the Worlds”-type of show to broadcast on 99X and contacted the troupe.
“The coolest thing about the ‘logistical challenges’ for this presentation was that neither Dustin nor I really knew about securing performance rights for radio productions,” Mattson said. “I emailed the publishing company of the script, and by the next day I heard back from Tony Burgess himself. I felt a little starstruck when I got his email. He agreed that we could run the presentation over the radio for free, and even offered to do a Q and A with my cast over Zoom.”
Mattson gave the script to junior Maya Mouret, who assembled a cast and got to work putting the production together.
“I am in charge of a group of four or five student playwrights, and we’re all working on our original, written plays that will eventually get performed through first or second semester, whether it’s through Zoom, animation or live theater,” she said, adding that she was supposed to have a show premiere on Halloween, but with school and scheduling conflicts with the cast, it didn’t seem possible to pull off, so that project was postponed, and “Pontypool” became the Halloween show.
“The show gives you the ability to feel connected to these characters. I can see myself in these characters,” she said.
As for the rest of Troupe 1096’s season, while rehearsing in person is still not happening – all correspondence, meetings and rehearsals are held over Zoom – the troupe is moving ahead with productions. When it’s not possible to perform in person, the group is able to pivot with their storytelling, using Zoom, radio, film, Facebook Live or YouTube Live.
“We are working on a very exciting (and technically complex) virtual production of ‘1984.’ We’ve started production on it, but it’s been hard to balance such an ambitious project with everything ‘new’ this year for my students,” Mattson said. “So, we’re taking our time. We have also been talking about doing a short film festival in one of our ‘show slots.’ I’m really excited about that, and I have some awesome students with strong film backgrounds that can help drive that.”
Along with Craig as Grant Mazzy, students working on the “Pontypool” production include: Natalie Cohn, theater assistant and tech director; Dakota Gervais, playing Kena Loney; Lily Smith, playing Sydney Briar; Lilia Reynolds, playing Laurel-Ann; Maya Mouret, performing Dr. Mendez and sound design/editing; Baxter Moore, playing Nigel Healing; Topher Hughes, Anthony Berger, Benjamin Hinkley and Mattson’s third period class performing various voices; and Sophia Holt as sound adviser.