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Event Report: “TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE LIVE!” at the 2015 Stanley Film Festival

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From everything I could gather out of last year’s Stanley Film Festival, one of the most fun and engaging events was none other than the live rendition of TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE, Glenn McQuaid and Larry Fessenden’s series of macabre radio plays. Ripe with excellent writing, strong performances and the live spectacle of foley work and musical accompaniment, TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE was the highlight of FANGORIA’s coverage last year at Stanley Film Festival. So with high expectations in mind, this writer made sure the live TALES was at the top of his agenda at the Stanley Film Festival, especially once I heard both Barbara Crampton and Leon Vitali would be among the performers.

Settling in at the Historic Park theater, the venue definitely seemed like the perfect space for a live radio play of this particular genre, exuding an eerie yet elegant essence as soon as one entered. As the crowd piled in (and they certainly did, as there was nary an empty seat in the building), this writer took note of the set up, with writer/director Glenn McQuaid sitting next to composer Graham Reznick in a production area next to the stage. Meanwhile, four microphones were set up across the stage, all in front of the foley area, where various props and tools lay in secret. With the sense of anticipation building, festival programmer Landon Zakheim took the stage, introducing everyone to an exclusive stop-motion promo for the next season of TALES before the show began.

Soon enough, Larry Fessenden took the stage and jumped right into the show, with the introduction music playing and the lights going dim. Fessenden slipped right into character as our host, setting the tone for the show as he introduced our first tale, “Cold Reading”, written by Glenn McQuaid and April Snelling. As his introduction began to wind down, Crampton, Vitali and Martha Harmon Pardee came up to the stage, readying themselves for what would be a very old-fashioned horror story.

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“Cold Reading” proved itself to be one hell of a start to the evening, as the tale (which took place in the early 1900’s) follows an ill-fated seance where our psychic medium is none other than a ventriloquist dummy. Fessenden played double duty as the drunken psychic and his increasingly sinister puppet, while Vitali added a wry wit to his skeptic character, Pardee played his naive wife and Crampton took on the role of a defensive newcomer with a deep, dark secret. While the show did have a hitch or two (including a loud water bottle fall), those accidents lent themselves to the charm of the live performance, and the actors never skipped a beat. And by the time the chilling story came to a climax, Crampton and Fessenden’s verbal sparring and monologuing offered an intense experience unlike any other at the festival.

I must also note that, even though the radio plays essentially appear as a well-rehearsed live read, the atmosphere of the event is much more effective thanks to the audio work elsewhere. The live foley work from Chris Skothdopole and Tessa Price truly sells each morbid moment, and seeing it happen live makes it an all the more fun experience, especially when twisted balloons and crunching popcorn make for strangulation and shattering bones. And, believe it or not, but the live music and sound design from Reznick and Lee Nussbaum really makes it a transformative experience, lending an atmospheric dread that incites and plays under one’s own imagination.

The tale brought a thunderous applause at the end, with the cast switching out immediately as Fessenden returned to the role of our host. Next on the stage came performer/writer Clay Macleod Chapman, producer Roxanne Benjamin and Shock Till You Drop Managing Editor Sam Zimmerman, who would lend their voices to the Fessenden-penned “No Signal”, with Fessenden himself staying on stage to lend voice work to this one as well.

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“No Signal” is a contemporary terror tale, following a trio of ghost hunters as they approach a notoriously haunted residence with a history of horror. And while some might peg “No Signal” as a less charming affair due to its contemporary setting, those people would be dead wrong, especially as, around one-third of the way through the story, the big twist was revealed: the haunted residence was that of the home from our first story, and that “No Signal” was a direct sequel to “Cold Reading.” In this round, every performer did an excellent job, but Fessenden was truly the master of his domain, reprising his roles from “Cold Reading” as well as lending distinct voices to more than a few ghostly presences. It was a captivating, shocking and even at-times hilarious tale, one that kept the audience in silent suspense until its grisly finale.

As an entire experience, TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE LIVE definitely lived up to the hype, providing a one-of-a-kind stage performance that was as gripping as it was disturbing. By relying on the audience to use their imagination to fill in the visual gaps, the show executed the audio and vocal elements expertly, and the writing went to unexpected places in order to frighten and entertain. And from the incredible crowd response, there seemed to be more than a few TALES converts, and even more crossing their shivering fingers for more live TALES at Stanley in the future.

For those who were unable to attend, fret not; the live Stanley performance will be available in the third season of TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE later this year, and you can catch up with previous episodes at their official site here.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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