Most people don't often think of horror and musicals together. The two niches just don't seem to really match. And yet, throughout history, and since the birth of the musical in the late 1800s, we've actually seen a number of famous musicals that were based on horror stories. First, a little defining of terms are in order.
Horror is a type of story that is made to horrify you, to scare you, and musicals are the kinds of stories told in musical form. You might ask yourself, how in the world did these genres come together?
Apparently, they sometimes do, in a very big way. Some good examples would be Carrie the Musical, which was produced in the 1980s based on Stephen King's book of the same name (recommended reading: Not Since Carrie), or Dracula the Musical or Lestat the Musical. These are all famous, albeit commercially unsuccessful musicals that were based on the horror genre. So, if the horror musical genre as a sub-genre hasn't done so well historically, you're probably wondering why would I even bother to make one?
I did make a horror musical, it’s true. It’s called ‘Tis Pity She's A Whore, and it’s a musical adaptation of the classic Jacobean play of the same name by John Ford. If you're not familiar with ‘Tis Pity She's a Whore, it’s a story based on a brother and sister who fall in love with each other, and how their relationship leads to the utter annihilation of an entire kingdom which in turn leads to mass havoc and bloody chaos. Lovely, isn’t it? The show, oddly enough, is sort of a tragicomedy because it very subtly pokes fun of Romeo and Juliet, but at the same time, it also has some serious and disturbing elements such as incest, the theme of mortality, and the bloodshed of several key characters.
When I was submitting this show to many different theater companies, I kept getting the same response and criticism of “why on earth would I turn this show into a musical?” To tell you the truth, even to this very day, I'm not exactly sure why I did it. I know that this is quite unusual, but let me take a step back. Firstly, I encourage you to check out my other article on how this musical was made. It’s found here on Jordan Clark’s website. It will tell you all about the fun adventures I had when I was putting this show together.
Going back to my point, there are some projects in some business ventures that you do have to take a leap of faith on. It is given that you hope that money will come back to you, but there are also other benefits—not relating to money—that come with taking a chance on a project that maybe you never thought about before.
With ‘Tis Pity She's A Whore, I used it as an outlet to connect with other artists around the world. This to me was both priceless and invaluable because it helped me connect with honest, reliable, trustworthy folks. People like Joni Fuller, Jonathan Matthews, Audrey Carmel McDonald and Kirine, were dependable, reliable, enthusiastic and incredibly talented performers in their own right. Working with Luifer Lawyer in Venezuela was the best thing that could have happened to me, and so many other benefits accrued to meeting such amazing powerhouse talents.
The show itself wasn't ideally meant for the Broadway platform. But you have to admit, it’s meant for a demographic. Call it whatever you want. A target market, a sub-niche, or a cult, it still has a certain flavor that brings a certain type of people together. This is entirely different from thinking strictly in monetary terms although it certainly can lead to such a bottom line.
Moreover, I have to say that to this day, the show has led me down many different paths, and has allowed me to meet many different people. This in itself makes the show an amazing endeavor.
I’ve encountered many common challenges in doing this musical. Many composers will attest to the extraordinary difficulty of putting together a musical, let alone one that is commercially viable. For example, does anyone remember Do I Hear a Waltz? Or how about Anyone Can Whistle? Even the most successful artists in any industry experience their fair share of troubles and obstacles. But that’s part of the work, part of the territory for many people.
Sure, there will be people who won’t like what you do, but it doesn't matter. That's the nature of the world. We all are diverse and there will be a handful of people who get you and a handful of people who won't and don’t. Part of the work that you do is trying to find the people that you have a commonality with and those you can connect with.
If you think about it, shows like Rocky Horror Picture Show and Sideshow the Musical are all very unusual musical productions, and yet, they still find their coterie of loyal followers who sometimes can be considered on the verge of fanatics or cult followers when they dress up like these characters and go to midnight showings to re-enact favor scenes.
In many ways, you can always use the creation of a play to market yourself by doing and sharing your interests and passion, and with this, you can create a great entertaining piece that is in fact liked by other people.
As stated in Meryl Secrest’s Stephen Sondheim: A Life, Sondheim posed the following challenge to aspiring musical theater composers: If you want to improve your craft as a musical theater composer, you will need to keep creating different musicals. But you may want to start off with a show that you think would be an amazing musical and that easily lends itself to music, that you can easily compose music out of it. Some scenarios and stories are better than others. However, to really develop your craft, you eventually want to graduate from that to a show that is flawed which could nevertheless be musicalized and then fixed up. After that, you will need to graduate to a novel which is something larger—some kind of bigger piece that would not necessarily easily lend itself to being a musical but has the potential. Think of something like Wicked the Musical which was originally a novel by Gregory Maguire. Or Man of La Mancha which is based on Don Quixote.
Even though businesses are often founded on the things that are easy to generate money with, the life of a commercial artist oftentimes demands flexing and exercising your creative muscles so that you can become more resilient and dynamic, and ultimately, be able to do any challenge in the future that would seem insurmountable without such preparation.
In musical theater, you are building a house—the musical—and in order for it to become prime intellectual real estate, you sometimes have to go beyond the bounds of comfort. But in that process, you will meet so many amazing people that open so many other opportunities along the way that you’ll come to realize that even your biggest whoppers of failures were worth it in the long run.
Always remember that the only person who can limit yourself is you. Being able to think widely and expansively has its own reward, even with projects facing flounder, just like what I had to go through with my musical ‘Tis Pity She's A Whore.
With this, I end this article with that piece of advice which encapsulates the steps in a journey of creation and artistic expression.
Todd Squitieri is the author of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore: A Pop Opera which can be found at the following link: Tis Pity Pop Soundcloud Channel. He is also the author of The Mariachis and is currently working on a book about his English teaching experience. He received a BFA in Musical Theatre from New School University, in Manhattan.