Supporting creative work by women
Jolene Noelle is the Program Director at Theaterlab, where her company–Traumaturgy Productions–will premiere the horror play Remains just in time for Halloween. She is also a freelance director, dramaturg and theatrical wanderer. Her recent dramaturg credits include Exposure (Next In Line Productions), The Hour of the Star (Columbia Stages) Ripper, (Times Scare) and ACE, which will premiere off-Broadway next fall.
Works by Women spoke to Jolene about horror theatre as a genre, what makes it good and what to expect with her new show.
WORKS BY WOMEN: Why theater? What first inspired you to be a part of theater?
JOLENE NOELLE: Like a lot of theatre makers, I first found theatre at a young age, in community theatre and the like. And “why theatre?” is a question I’ve continued to ask myself ever since. I think it’s important to regularly revisit and refresh this question for ourselves. Right now, theatre is where I go to encounter the self, to examine the relationship between the self and the body, and to watch the grotesque meld with the sublime. These aren’t things that happen anywhere else – they can only occur when live bodies stand onstage in front of another and allow some kind of exposure.
WBW: What is horror theater? How would you describe it?
JN: Horror theatre has a few concrete distinguishing features. First, its story centers on some sort monster or inhumanely monstrous figure – a ghost, a remorseless killer, a demon, etc. Unlike in many thrillers or mysteries, in horror, the threat is very real. Horror doesn’t ask if there’s a monster under the bed. It says – yes there is a monster. Now what?
While many plays utilize isolated moments of horror, horror theatre is created with the distinct intent to instill feelings of anxiety, disgust, or fear in its audiences throughout the duration of the play. Horror excites what Noël Carroll and other horror theorists refer to as the “paradox of the heart” – the seemingly contradictory notion that we are attracted to things that should rightly repulse us. The term comes from an 18th century essay titled “On the Pleaseures Derived from Objects of Terror” in which Anna Letitia Barbauld describes the “very exquisite and refined pleasure” that results from viewing “scenes of misery.”
Jolene Noelle at work. Photo: Alex Sollitto
WBW: What is a successful, spine-tingling horror production that you’ve seen? What made it so?
JN: This is a tough question to answer. Horror theatre is currently very sparse, which is why we created Trauamaturgy Productions – to create more horror theatre at a refined level. The National Theatre of Scotland’s Let the Right One In at St. Anne’s last year was a lot of fun. Maybe not horror theatre entirely, but it had some great moments. They did a great job of allowing you to believe that the characters were in real and present danger while knowing that the actors playing the characters were really quite safe. Horror theatre often features very direct instances of violence, it relishes in the fragility and destructibility of the human body. So it’s important that moments of violence are crafted to make us fear for the character’s bodies, not the actors’. Also, I once saw a production of Martyna Majok’s Mouse in a Jar that scared the hell out of me. The whole production had this constant, looming threat hanging around and that feeling stayed with me for days.
WBW: Horror and genre rule films, TV shows and other forms of entertainment. How can these forms be more viable on stage?
JN: First, we have to believe that it’s possible. I hear a lot of people dismiss horror theatre out of hand as “impossible”, as something that is only viewable through the eye of a camera. Of course, horror has existed as a genre long before film and television, so we know that’s not true. It may not be impossible; it is however, very difficult. So, we have to put real effort into treating horror as a legitimate genre, as an endeavor worth putting our time and resources into. And we have to treat horror fans as audiences worth pursuing.
WBW: Tell me about Traumaturgy Productions.
JN: Stephen Christensen and I created Traumaturgy Productions as a vehicle for creating horror theatre, where we can start creating some scary plays without relying heavily on campy aesthetics or a haunted house vibe. As I’m interested in horror’s unique relationship to the body, particularly the body as unpredictable and uncontrollable, we’ve created a possession play as our first full-length piece.
WBW: Tell me about Remains. What can audiences expect (without giving away spoilers)?
JN: Remains is about the consequences of unresolved guilt. After a young woman is murdered, three young travelers return to site of her death and are haunted by the restless spirit. It’s a challenging and complex story, and there are some great bits of blood and violence. We’ve put together a really talented team, and I’m excited to get it in front of an audience.
WBW: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
JN: It’s okay to share ideas. Don’t dismiss good, interesting ideas just because you didn’t think of them first – reuse and reinvent.
See Remains at Theaterlab (357 West 36th Street, 3rd Floor) October 27 – 31, 2016. For more information and tickets, visit Theaterlab’s website.