Pemberton Secondary School’s (PSS) drama class has a Halloween tradition.
Every year around Oct. 31, they set up a maze in the drama room with actors performing horror scenes throughout.
Only, in the middle of a pandemic it didn’t seem wise to have dozens of students cycle through the space.
So, drama teacher Renata Zablotney put pen to paper and came up with a Plan B.
“We decided to shift our acting from acting on stage to acting on film,” she says. “What we’ve done is I’ve written a series of short horror skits—a horror anthology—with one of them being famous, I didn’t write it; The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe. There are seven other pieces that are just fun, horror-based pieces.”
Dubbed Fright Night, the series will be posted online on Oct. 31 and available for ticketholders to view for just under a week.
The experience was completely different from the usual theatre productions, Zablotney says.
“The process is very different, but the funny thing is before doing live theatre, I had experience in film and working in the film industry,” she says. “It was interesting talking to my students about [that] experience. I also teach media studies, so I teach students about camera work and editing and really capturing that look in film. So it’s really exciting to me to bring that to the forefront to see that expertise behind all of that. That was really exciting.”
Grade 12 student Rafe Murphy, who performs in The Tell-Tale Heart and “a psychological horror” called People, said acting for film and live theatre have been completely different experiences. (He starred as one of the Willy Wonkas in last year’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.)
“They’ve very different,” he says. “Film, in my opinion, seems more relaxed because you can do multiple takes. There’s still a deadline, but film has more of a perfectionist aspect to it and theatre is more free-flowing. If you make a mistake on stage, you have to use it and improvise.”
He also learned that while live theatre is all about projection, film is more about nuanced acting.
“In film, you don’t have to [project],” Murphy adds. “You’ve just got to play with body levels, voice levels, all that type of stuff because you can.”
While more productions this school year could be recorded or livestreamed, this will be the one-and-only true film project Zablotney says. (Plans are underway for a huge play in the New Year to celebrate their 20th production.)
“I was going to make sure that … if we started a project, it could come to full fruition,” she says. “There’s nothing worse than starting a project and realizing we couldn’t do it later. What we need to make sure is happening is whatever we’re choosing to do, we’re going to see it through to the very end. That was the goal.”
But there are also a few unexpected perks of releasing a film online. For one, friends and family from around the world can tune in.
“My family has been hugely supportive of me and my theatre projects,” Zablotney says. “A lot of them have driven from the Okanagan to see the live performances, but a lot of them now get to watch it from Europe. So I have people buying tickets from the U.K. and parts of Europe.”
For his part, Murphy likes the idea of having the film as a sort of time capsule to capture one aspect of this tumultuous time.
“People [in the future] will realize that throughout everything—including arts and production arts—things changed and we had to get around that,” he says. “This is the best way we’re getting around that. I love theatre and enjoy being in the program, so it’s nice to continue doing it in a safe way.”
Tickets for Fright Night are available now for $10 by clicking here. One ticket will allow you to stream the films on Saturday, Oct. 31 and for five days after.