Alright, so, why do I do it? Am I stalling answering the question for dramatic effect? Or because of the much more likely reason. That I don’t really have any idea.
There is a show called “URBAN DEATH”. Taking place late at night in the terrifying city of North Hollywood, for the past ten years, this theatrical shows spends one hour staring into the human psyche. And that’s how I got into this mess.
What began simply as an actor’s risk transformed into so much more. Not only the most physically challenging show I’ve ever done, but with the biggest following (you don’t stay in the theater biz in L.A. for ten years without being onto something). I did my first run of it a about three years ago. And it lasted nine and a half grueling months. In more time than it takes to conceive and deliver a baby, I had devoted my body and being to the stage in the most horrific of circumstances.
First, it was the fear that went.
The fear of death. The fear of looking ugly or silly. All of these were torn from me in the rehearsals and performances. It got to the point where I could be absolutely naked, in front of an audience of strangers, wearing nothing but stage make-up and fake blood, and feel nothing by alive and liberated.
When the nine and a half months were over, I was glad to finally stop though. It was time, I said. I’m so tired, I said.
What I didn’t realize was the instant withdrawal I would go through. What I didn’t realize at the time was that Urban Death had become my weekly catharsis.
Here’s how it works : Saturday night — I get to the theater, and in a rushed, cramped backstage, I slather myself, full body, with blood and make up. My perfectly shaped eyebrows are drawn over. My mouth is scarred. My hair is sprayed down with water and caked with dirt. I dig blood under my fingernails. Bloody my knees. Put dark circles around my eyes. Disfigure myself to the point of repulsion. On bad nights, I’ll even add a few more cuts and cashes, at the neck or the wrist most usually, or scratch or bite marks on my face and chest – a hint as to how I may have died.
Lights up : A pile of rotting corpses lays dead, almost at the feet of the live audience. The actors hold their breath. With my eyes closed, I can still hear the audience in their inevitable gasp, the shuffle of their feet as they stand to get a better look. Right away, the audience is amazed.
Eternities pass. I am dead. My actor’s mind works in my subconscious. It knows how to lay, the timing of the piece, the awareness of how I look. But for me, I am dead.
And finally, the spark. A spark so small, even zombie-me is not aware of it at first. A twitch in the finger. Then another. The body convulses slightly. And suddenly, something happens. I shake, and my eyes burst open, but I can’t see like how I did when I was alive. I can move. I can see. I can feel – but only hunger and pain. I am dead.
Slowly we rise. And the audience, I imagine, shrinks back into their seats, holds their partners’ hands, and wonders how far we will go.
After being a zombie, I run backstage, and in less than a minute I take off all of my carefully applied make up. In an instant it is gone, and that is my catharsis. Like real life and death, I made myself perfect, I died on the stage, and then I move on, with nothing to hold onto.
I suppose that’s the life of theater in general. But something about being a zombie : there is a glorious, natural ugliness, a hunger and an ache that matches my own, and a commitment to being the most base of human characteristics.
I don’t know why all of you like zombies so much. Without the fun of being covered in make-up and walking around with strong, twitching limbs, I’m not sure the appeal, but I have an idea.
I think the greatest villains and monsters are those that we can relate to. The surge in popularity with vampires is different. They have become relatable, the anti-heros that we can lust after with ease. Zombies are different.
There is nothing human about them any longer. And yet, we can all see something of ourselves in them. That, I believe is their enduring power. In a way, we all feel like zombies already. Our decreasing connectivity to each other, to nature. Our impending apocalypse, coming at us from all directions, whether it be a loss of our humanity as we submerge into a cyber era, or the slow destruction of the earth to the point in the not-so-distant-future where it may be uninhabitable, to the cancer that we have surely experienced in somebody in our lives, to our own self images, and everything in between.
The joy of zombie narrative is the hope that we can defeat it, and the strange, terrible comfort that we never will.
by Vanessa Cate