BWW Interview: David Eck, Jordan Mann from THANKSKILLING THE MUSICAL Get Stuffed and Personal
Have you ever watched the movie Super Size Me? You know, the documentary where Morgan Spurlock fulfills every fantasy we had as a child by eating McDonald's for thirty days ... and exposes the harmful effect fast food can have on our bodies and the horrorible treatment of processed meat ... but we don't talk about that last part. Did anyone else think as they were watching that movie, "God, I could really go for a burger." Because after watching the horror and hilarity that is ThanksKilling the Musical at all I kept thinking was, "God, I could really go for a turkey sandwich."
ThanksKilling the Musical, which features music by Jeff Thomson (Trails, Jawbreaker, Pump Up the Volume) and lyrics by Jordan Mann (Trails, Jawbreaker), was created along with producer David Eck and is adapted from the cult film by Jordan Downey and Kevin Stewart.
Based on the film of the same name, ThanksKilling the Musical is about five college students heading home for Thanksgiving break as they cross paths with a killer turkey possessed by an ancient Indian curse. Horror, hilarity, and sodomy ensue as the teens try to stop the homicidal bird from killing them all.
I got on the phone with the show's producer David Eck and lyricist Jordan Mann to discuss their creative process, and what excited them about mounting the show in Atlanta at Dad's Garage Theatre Company. Unbeknownst to them, I was mouthing down a turkey sandwich as I asked them the hard hitting questions.
Broadway World: When did you discover ThanksKilling and what inspired you to adapt and produce the movie into a musical?
DAVID: I was traveling back and forth visiting my wife while she was in school. Jeff Thomson (the composer for ThanksKilling the Musical) was house sitting for me, and we were talking about our fondness for horror movies, bad horror movies, how the formula of a horror movie musical doesn't work, and in what way could it work. If it could work, it'd have to be a parody in the style of something like Evil Dead. Jeff mentioned to me, "Have you seen this movie called ThanksKilling?" and I said, "No!" (laughs) He's like, "Well you should watch it because I think it would make a great musical." So I downloaded the movie, watched it on the plane, and the second that the wheels hit the ground I called Jeff back and said, "Jeff we've got to do this!" (laughs) "And we need to do this with same intention they did with the film." I was able to track down Jordan Downey and Kevin Stewart, and our conversation basically was them asking us, "Why do you want to do this? What is your concept, or how do you see this being done?" Jeff, Jordan, and I all hopped on the phone and said, "We see it being done in this parody style, honoring the tone, and adding a drinking game into it." They asked us, "What do you ultimately want to do with this?" You know, we're all theatre people, and well we didn't want to spend a penny (laughs) on it at all. So I said, "Let us do a first draft, we'll write out in an increment of time, and if you like our draft we'll go into an agreement together." So with their permission, we had one production meeting between the three of us. Then Jeff and Jordan went away, and wrote out the show in three days.
JORDAN: I think it was three days and then getting a read through that Friday. The thing is Jeff and I have been working together for a very long time. As a writing team we kind of work in short hand very quickly, which is part of why we were able to write it so fast. Also, when I have to think of horror-movie-fantasy types, I just think of something like Cabin in the Woods.
Broadway World: I love that movie!
DAVID: Yeah! That was kind of our inspiration for doing the musical. Jeff and I saw that movie, and we thought this would really help kick it off.
JORDAN: There's this wonderful theatricality to Cabin in the Woods. That and Scream where you think, "These are the standard tropes." What the original film (ThanksKilling) did so great is that they were sort of aware of the basic tropes and didn't do anything to hide the fact. If anything, they were undermining the tropes (laughs). Characters in horror movies tend to be a little on the dumb side, and in this case they made them REALLY dumb. We kind of ran with this and said, "We don't want to give this anymore than a week to write because if we didn't then we wouldn't be honoring the spirit of the original," which was done in a week on a very limited budget almost done entirely with no professional actors what so ever.
Broadway World: I like that you guys wanted to keep the 'shot in a week' feel of the movie and wrote out the musical in three days. Why was it important for you to maintain the low-budget feel in the creative process?
DAVID: We felt like we needed to honor the source material. The script is pretty much untouched. We really lifted the screenplay from the film, just cut a couple of scenes, and entered songs to kind of expand on the action. When the show had its workshop in its world premiere in Seattle, Jordan and Kevin who did the film came out and were like, "This is so much better than the movie ever was!" (laughs) We're like, "This wouldn't exist if your film wasn't there." It had those tropes, that style, and that self-awareness that we were really just able to run with it and they loved it. They've given it their full blessing. They've been very supportive of the project since the very beginning.
Broadway World: What interested you in mounting the show at Dad's Garage?
DAVID: Really it was them reaching out saying, "This is something we want to do!" René Dellefont (one of the Associate Artistic Directors at Dad's Garage) contacted me late last spring I believe and said, "Hey we're looking at the show. We'd love to do it down here!" and we had been looking somewhere in the southeast to do it. They reached out to us and they said, "Look we love it; we really want to do it! We think it's in alignment with what we do." I had also heard of Dad's Garage. I grew up in central Florida, and a lot of my friends and colleagues that did theatre in Orlando had worked at Sak's Comedy Lab. A couple of those premiere improvisers from Florida were some of the co-creators of Dad's Garage. So it was really wonderful that they reached out and wanted to do it! It was great because we knew their work. We knew that Dad's Garage being a comedy and improv troupe that they would handle it well and it would be done in the right tone.
JORDAN: It was funny, for me - not that there was that much at stake - what helped me was the fact that they have Amber Nash and Lucky Yates as ensemble members. I've been a huge fan of the Archer for the last few years and they do voice work for that show. I was like, "Okay! I get to meet Pam Poovey and Dr. Krieger! I'm totally in support of this!" (laughs)
Broadway World: Which is a dream come true?!
JORDAN: Right?! Yeah, definitely.
Broadway World: The movie ThanksKilling critiques the recycled horror tropes of B movie cinema and the greed surrounding the film industry. Do you feel your musical adaptation critiques similar trends in the theatre industry? If so, how?
JORDAN: We sort of do. One of the opening lines of the show is, "This is ThanksKilling the Musical not La Cage or Le Mis. If you want culture, go fuck yourself!" The idea being that we are very blatantly saying, "We are doing a musical version of a very bad horror movie." The trick is we wanted it to be as much as ... as much as something that shouldn't be turned into a musical, turned into a musical. We also want to honor the genre. There are a lot of numbers that are Disney-esque, and we do take of a lot of the musical theatre tropes and styles and imbed them within the show. We're not trying to create anything particularly original. We wanted it to be like, "Look, there's a lot of musical theatre stuff." In terms of the style, in a weird way makes the movie work and the musical work, is that underneath all the dark and self-parody there's kind of a warm heart to it. A lot of people, after the show, have said "That was really, very sweet!" I'm like, "Wait. Were you watching the same show or talking about the movie?" (laughs) I mean there was rape, vomit, and blood all over the floor! The thing is, underneath it all there's kind of a warm funny gentle heart despite the subject matter.
DAVID: It's a musical for people who don't like musicals. It's a rebellious anti-musical in the sense that when we created the show, we wanted to create a show that anybody could produce. It should be bare-bones. It really should look like it cost you fifteen dollars to produce the show. It should be theatre in a black box. It should be what they (Jordan Downey and Kevin Stewart) did with the film. Even with Atlanta, that's exactly what we've set it out to be.
ThanksKilling the Musical only has five more performances at Dad's Garage, and tickets are selling fast! Head over to www.dadsgarage.com to buy your tickets today. Now if you'll excuse me, I have another turkey sandwich to finish and I'm still recovering from a hangover I got from the 'Horror Cliche Drinking Game.' Want to know what the 'Horror Cliche Drinking Game' is? BUY THOSE TICKETS!
David and Jordan are also excited to announce that ThanksKilling the Musical - the Studio Cast Recording is now available for purchase at www.cdbaby.com/cd/thankskillingstudiocast Fans of the show and killer turkey victims should check out this laughter and vomit inducing album! If you're an artist, producer, or B movie enthusiast that's interested in mounting ThanksKilling the Musical in your city, visit www.thankskillingthemusical.com for licensing information.