Writers Glenn McQuaid and April Snellings reminisce about TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE’s “Cold Reading”, performed live at the Stanley Film Festival on May 1st, 2015 and featuring Featuring Barbara Crampton, Martha Harmon Pardee, Leon Vitali, and Larry Fessenden
Looking back on the beginnings of Cold Reading, I remember mentioning to you that I wanted to collaborate on a Tale set during a seance and that I wanted to add a ventriloquist’s dummy, sort of MAGIC meets SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON, but I worried that those two elements were too incongruous, but then you had all this great seance knowledge which included the use of ventriloquism in spiritualism!
It was serendipity! I’d been doing a lot of reading on spiritualism for another project, and I came across some great stuff about the origins of ventriloquism–it’s tied in with demonology, necromancy, and other lovely pastimes. The Greeks called it gastromancy, and thought it was the result of the dead shacking up in the bellies of the living. Of course seances and evil dummies are two horror tropes that we both love, so when you wanted to combine them, I was all in. I also liked that it would be a challenge–though we think of ventriloquism as an auditory trick, it’s really more of a visual thing, and a lot of the creep factor has little to do with sound…
Speaking of visual things, it was so much fun watching Larry switch back and forth between Edwards and Stanley, I think it’s one of the great performances! Can you believe we got the cast we did?
Ha, I was afraid we were going to break poor Larry. (We didn’t, did we?) I was both elated and terrified when Barbara Crampton signed on. Writing for a horror legend–talk about pressure! I’ll never forget the audience’s reaction during her monologue toward the end. I’ve never heard a packed theater be so utterly quiet and still–I didn’t even hear anyone breathing. And Leon and Martha, who played Ernest and Doris–they were so much fun! Hey, didn’t we maim a foley artist that night?
We did! I think Chris Skotchdopole lost a limb but it was all in the name of art. In all seriousness the foley team really do give it everything they have during our live shows, Tessa Price and Chris really took things very seriously up there and I think Chris sliced his hand while stabbing a cabbage! Getting back to Barbara’s monologue, it was such a wonderful shift of tone, we went from the naughty fun of Ernest and Doris into something much more serious, she was pitch perfect as she took us down that path, it changed everything, and introduced Larry’s third character, and you’re right, you could hear a pin drop.
I remember Barbara saying that she had to lie down for a bit after she did her first read-through of the script. My god, Glenn, this one took its toll! It’s like our own personal Fitzcarraldo, only we just caused people a bit of mild distress instead of making them carry a steamship up a mountain or whatever. Speaking of the tonal shift, that’s one of my favorite things about this one. Those shifts can be tough to pull off, but the cast really sold it (along with Graham Reznick’s music and Lee Nussbaum working that sound board like a mad genius). I felt it during the writing process, too–we were having so much fun bouncing the seance back and forth and being silly, and then the story took a turn for the dark and we began to have some very serious conversations about the story’s themes. That was a delight for me–that process of tossing things back and forth and discovering, together, what we were really getting at. That’s what I enjoy so much about collaboration. What is it that you enjoy about working with other creators?
I think, for most of us, writing is usually a solo endeavor, so opening up the process of discovery with a partner, stepping outside of our own creative instincts and putting trust in someone else can be a wonderful, sometimes vulnerable and valuable experience. I really enjoyed working with you on Cold Reading, when I go back and listen to it I hear both our voices in the mix. I read a review of it recently where we were called monsters for a certain scene and in fairness, I do remember the fun we had in pushing ourselves and pondering how we might off a certain character, I like to blame that whole bit on you.
I still get side-eye from my in-laws over that. Of course I tell them it was all your idea and I protested vigorously. Hey, I think we’ve arrived at the real benefit of having a co-writer: plausible deniability!
LISTEN TO COLD READING at
TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE The Podcast
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