For 25 years, Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre has been synonymous with the horror genre.
Nothing is taboo – a fact you should keep in mind if you choose to keep reading or viewing the attached photos – for this North Hollywood-based experimental theater, which launches its 12th annual “Urban Death Tour of Terror” spectacle on Friday, Oct. 6 for select nights through Tuesday, Oct. 31. Tickets are $15.
ZJU, as it reads on the storefront, is a non-dues paying company with about 70 active participants. It produces about 40 shows a year, including the annual “50 Hour Drive By Festival” of short plays and at least two productions based on William Shakespeare, most recently “Andronicus! Titus with Ten Clowns” and “Twelfth Night, or What You Will.” It also partners with outside organizations.
Last year, ZJU staged street performances in collaboration with the L.A. County Museum of Art’s “Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters” exhibition.
“The group is very passionate and artistic,” Zombie Joe says. “This is a haven for artists and costumiers who want to belong. If you’re involved in a show here, you’re all in because each one is challenging in its own way.”
But “Urban Death” is ZJU’s signature show.
Described as a “horror vaudeville,” thrillseekers walk through a terrifying maze and into the all-black 49-seat room at the rear of the building for a series of gruesome vignettes. The scenarios are performed by a revolving-door cast of opera singers, musicians, and actors who push themselves to the limits.
“Our audiences come ready to hold their breath to what we’re about to show them,” says Zombie Joe, who directs “Urban Death” with Jana Wimer. “Some of our stuff is out there. But even the most horrifying stuff that you can’t unsee has a little bit of humor to it. For us, we just don’t take ourselves too seriously because we want our audiences to have fun.”
People pass through what Zombie Joe calls “a black and terrifying labyrinth” to go to and from the show.
Equipped with a flashlight, they encounter actors in the middle of performing “beautiful and horrible and disgusting” scenes up close.
Don’t worry; they can’t touch you.
Inside the Theater
ZJU has about 450 scenarios in its canon of works, which include graphic scenes of madness, suicide and worse that can range from 5 seconds to a minute in length.
“It’s like you’re catching mini-stories,” Zombie Joe says. “Sometimes they’re disgusting.” He then describes a story that is, indeed, revolting.
And that’s just the jumping off point for this year’s Halloween experience, which founding artistic director likens to a “Grand Guignol, French tableau-style” performance.
“Urban Death” is set to an original soundtrack by L.A. composer and poet Christopher Reiner.
He’s been setting the mood for this show with music and songs in three incarnations of “Urban Death,” which has been performed in New York City, Cape Town, and North Hollywood.
Behind the Scenes
Zombie Joe describes his theater company as a “blue collar working man’s theater.
“We get the shows up fast, because we don’t have the luxury of time,” he says, explaining rehearsals for Urban Death begin two to three weeks before showtime.
During the show, actors not only perform in several vignettes but they also double as costumiers, makeup artists, and even props.
There are scare actors, and there are actors.
The cast of “Urban Death” is the latter.
“We focus on the performances,” says Wimer, the show’s co-director. “I feel like it’s the opposite of what you get at a haunt where you’re walking through a set, and people in costumes are jumping out at you. What we do here is theater. For the actor, it’s an opportunity to stuff that you’ll never be able to do anywhere else.”
Back when she acted in “Urban Death,” Wimer created a piece that people still can’t shake.
So what was it?
“It was just me in my underwear, a shotgun in my mouth, and my foot reaching for the trigger,” she says. “Yeah.”
Urban Death Tour of Terror
When: Opens at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 6 and runs on select nights through Oct. 31. 8, 9, 10, 10:45 and 11:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, plus Monday, Oct. 30 and Tuesday, Oct. 31.
Where: 4850 Lankershim Blvd North Hollywood CA 91601
Information: 818-202-4120 or zombiejoes.com/
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