THE PALE MEN: Bug Horror tends to gross people out, and, in fairness, Mattress King certainly has its icky moments but there is something very haunted, even dreadfully sad at the heart of the horror, can you talk about where the idea for the piece came from?
Clay McLeod Chapman: The idea coalesced from a few stray thoughts… Living in New York, we tell our children to steer clear of the errant mattresses that line the curbs for fear of bedbugs. In my neighborhood, I have witnessed the very same white van without windows trawl our blocks for abandoned bed mattresses. I kid you not, this gentleman driver will pull over whenever he comes upon a mattress, hop out, pluck the mattress off the sidewalk regardless of its condition and toss it on the stack bungee-corded to his van’s roof. I’ve seen him with a mound of five or six mattresses on some days. And thus the Mattress King was born.
CMC: Beyond that, I’ve always been curious about ghost stories and how we’re haunted… and whether or not there are new ways in which the supernatural can penetrate the world of the living. I thought bed bugs — and the blood they’ve ingested — could be an interesting way to explore new narrative territory when it came to ghosts. Haunted mattresses? Possessed bedbugs? Has that ever been done before?
THE PALE MEN: It is a sad twist of fate that we find ourselves releasing Mattress King at a time when there are even more dire contagions than bedbugs. We also recall a certain story you pitched called Seasick… Is there a pattern there…?
CMC: For better or worse, I am personally obsessed with societal order disintegrating and our civilized culture regressing. Global pandemics are wonderful catalysts for this. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, we’re only one sneeze away from collapse.
THE PALE MEN: You’re mainly known as a writer, how was the experience of directing Mattress King live?
CMC: It was petrifying, to be honest. I was terrified. I felt the awesome responsibility of working with such heavyweights as Kate Flannery and Martin Starr and… and this Larry-fella, what’s his name. Being a part of SpectreVision’s SpectreFest was amazing, and rummaging around LA with the rest of the Glass Eye crew was wonderful, but as soon as the show got underway… it was crippling. I felt like a conductor. I just had to lean into the script, the music of the moment, and just ride the words. At one point I remember feeling the audience at my back, hearing them react, and it was such a huge relief. Thank goodness they went along for the ride.
THE PALE MEN: You have written several radio plays for TALES on your own and in collaboration. Do you enjoy the form…? maybe speak to how it relates to your own oral performance work which predates TALES.
CMC: I feel like the oral tradition is at the core of most if not all of my work, regardless of the medium. We’re all sitting around campfires of some sort, whether that’s in a movie theater or with our ear buds. What’s great about Tales and how it dovetails with what I love about live storytelling, is that it truly intimates the listening experience… Onstage, the audience tends to close their eyes and lean into their ears. With these plays preserved and presented for the podcast, that live performance is in effect a frozen moment in time, an insect trapped in amber. Maybe a bedbug?
Clay McLeod Chapman (Brooklyn, NY) is the creator of the rigorous storytelling session “The Pumpkin Pie Show.” His previous publications include Rest Area, Miss Corpus, and The Tribe trilogy – Homeroom Headhunters, Camp Cannibal, and Academic Assassins (Disney). He is the writer of TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE’S “The Mattress King,” “Like Father, Like Son,” co-author of “Tales We Tell PT 1 & 2” and performs in several Tales including “Reappraisal,” “In The Wind,” “Cold Reading,” and “No Signal.”