It didn’t take long for executive artistic director Stephen Svoboda to realize that Alice In Slasherland, the horror play performed by the New York City-based “geek theater” company Vampire Cowboys, was going to be unlike any show he’s ever hosted at the Redhouse, 201 S. West St. A particularly big hint that spurred this revelation came when Vampire Cowboys managing director Abby Marcus instructed him to “make sure he builds in a mop budget.”
Sensing Svoboda’s puzzlement, she further explained her strange request: “At every show, there will be so much blood on the stage that you will need new mops to clean it up. Because by the end, it’s just murder and mayhem.”
Qui Nguyen, co-artistic director and founder of Vampire Cowboys, emphatically reinforced Marcus’ assessment. “This is our bloodiest show ever, by far,” said Nguyen.
“Like, Super-Soaker level of blood. Literally,” added co-artistic director Robert Ross Parker, referring to a popular brand of air-pressurized water guns.
Offbeat allusions to 1980s and 1990s films, television shows, music and celebrities slip out effortlessly throughout conversation with Nguyen and Parker. Just like their casual banter, assorted pop-culture references lace the shows they produce. Alice in Slasherland, which runs this week at the Redhouse, is borne out of that same geek culture mash-up.
“Everyone that saw The Cabin in the Woods, everyone that saw The Avengers, everyone who went to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, this is that language,” explained Svoboda.
Alice in Slasherland tells the charmingly manic story of Lewis, a hapless dork who unintentionally unlocks a gateway into hell. His careless act allows the resurrected soul of a girl named Alice to wreak assorted havoc on Lewis and his high school. One of Lewis’ co-stars is a teddy bear named Edgar, created by longtime Cowboys puppet designer David Valentine.
“This time, one of the main characters is a puppet, and that’s really fun,” said Parker. “He swears like a sailor and he has an eye patch. He’s a puppet with a past.”
Edgar comes to life on stage with the use of three separate puppets. Vampire Cowboys alternates between a remote-controlled mechanical bear, a traditional puppet bear and a “stunt bear.” When it comes to action and fighting sequences, the stunt bear is there to both receive and administer punishment.
“They still have to be able to carry the narrative story,” said Nguyen of the trio of Edgars. “But at the same time, they have to be able to kick the shit out of you.”
Impressive martial arts battles and other over-the-top action scenes are the hallmarks of any Vampire Cowboys show. Nguyen has been a student of various martial arts his entire life, allowing him to showcase a vast skill set that has given him an unusual perspective as a New York Innovative Theatre Award-winning fight choreographer in the company.
“As a writer, Qui writes about action in a way that playwrights don’t normally understand, and particularly as a fight choreographer, he has a grasp of story that a lot of choreographers don’t necessarily have,” said Parker. “That’s a unique strength.”
Svoboda is riveted by the stunt work Vampire Cowboys can accomplish in their shows. “What I love about these guys is their combat and their movement,” he said. “It’s highly visual.” Svoboda is clearly not the first person to be impressed by Alice In Slasherland. The show’s debut two years ago at the HERE Arts Center in New York City garnered glowing reviews from leading publications such as The New York Times and Time Out New York.
Parker doesn’t consider their Syracuse restaging of Alice in Slasherland a rehash of the New York City show. “You get the 2.0 version,” said Parker, indicating that a series of tweaks and new approaches have helped improve the show. “There’s a demon that appears that had these sort of big huge wings that were controlled by a separate puppeteer the first time. Now, it’s this sort of rig that the actress wears where she controls the wings. That allowed us to upgrade the fight because now she can move around.”
Svoboda’s relationship with the theater company goes all the way back to his graduate school days at Ohio University, where he knew Nguyen and Parker as classmates. It was there in 2000 that the seeds for Vampire Cowboys were planted. “I got to see the first workshop production of the first show,” said Svoboda.
He hopes that bringing a successful show from a cutting-edge young theater company like Vampire Cowboys will stir interest in the community for similar content. “What we’d like to see happen is to build this identity for the Redhouse as a place to see this sort of awesome pop culture work,” said Svoboda. He will complement the look and mood of Alice in Slasherland by exhibiting artwork in the Redhouse Café from local comic book, tattoo and graffiti artists.
Nguyen feels that when it comes to relishing in some ridiculous fun at the theater, you can’t do much better than Alice in Slasherland. “It’s like going to watch a great trashy movie. You can go by yourself and enjoy it, but if you go with a bunch of your friends drunk, it’s a blast,” he said. “There are parties onstage.”
Alice in Slasherland runs Thursday, Oct. 25, and Friday, Oct. 26, at 8 p.m., and Saturday, Oct. 27, 2 and 8 p.m. Admission is $25. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit theredhouse.org or call 425-0405.