Pittsburgh faces its zombie apocalypse

An undead performer begs for brains.  (credit: Jackie Mansky | Photo Staff) An undead performer begs for brains. (credit: Jackie Mansky | Photo Staff) Stage performers urged audience members to avoid zombie “quarantine” areas.  (credit: Jackie Mansky | Photo Staff) Stage performers urged audience members to avoid zombie “quarantine” areas. (credit: Jackie Mansky | Photo Staff)

Attention Carnegie Mellon students: Prepare yourself for a zombie invasion! Zombies are taking over Pittsburgh in Evenings in Quarantine: The Zombie Opera, performed at the Grey Box Theater in Lawrenceville. If you are looking to get into the Halloween spirit, this show, which combines previously filmed images with live acting, will take you on a multimedia journey through the infected streets of Pittsburgh. The story follows three college students as they attempt to survive the infestation. Each character must come to terms with his or her priorities in life as they attempt to survive the living dead on their journey to a military-controlled safe zone.

Creators Bonnie Bogovich and Elizabeth Rishel take a traditional horror plot and make it anything but ordinary. In this play, rather than scream, the actors sing, and they sing quite well. Don’t expect for any zombie to perform “The Monster Mash,” however. The vocals are utilized in the play to intensify the range of emotions that the characters must deal with when faced with a zombie apocalypse. Despite the dark themes that the plot explores, the show has a playful side to it as well. It was important for Bogovich and Rishel to create a show that had laughs and horror. The comic relief livened up the show and was a highlight for junior drama major Amanda Thorp, who enjoyed the wry news reporter who sang the news with a straight face and warned people, “If you don’t want to be zombie food, stay tuned!”

A range of musical influences were employed in the show to keep the audience engaged in the performance. Choir, techno, rock, and instrumental piano all came together to create a believable and engaging atmosphere. The impact of music on Evenings in Quarantine is appropriate, considering the fact that the show started with a song. Rishel originally wrote “Screaming,” one of the featured songs in the show, as a standalone piece. However, the song had such a backstory that Rishel found that she couldn’t contain the concept to one music video. Collaborating with Bogovich, the concept evolved into a collection of 10 songs and kept growing until eventually they decided to make it into a performance.

What makes the play successful is the spirit of the cast and crew and their obvious appreciation for the city of Pittsburgh. Special effects make-up designer Arvin Clay called the show “a love letter to Pittsburgh.” The filmed backdrop features iconic visuals of Pittsburgh, highlighting the Cathedral of Learning, Squirrel Hill, and our very own University Center at Carnegie Mellon. It was important for Rishel and Bogovich to make a film that Pittsburghers wanted to see. Bogovich believes that sometimes artists can forget that the audience is important.

There is a real interest in Pittsburgh for zombies. The city has even been dubbed the unofficial zombie capital of the world, thanks to previous iconic horror films made here by George Romero and Tom Savini. Bogovich and Rishel believe that the show enabled them to take a concept that audiences here are invested in and reinvent it in a way to create something new and exciting. Brian Buckley, a music student currently studying for his master’s degree, describes himself as “a big zombie fan.” He seemed to echo the sentiment of the audience when, standing amidst the zombie survival kits and fake blood, he said he was, “very impressed and would look forward to seeing the play again in the future.”

The most rewarding thing for Boyovich about Evenings in Quarantine was that, after finding out that after original dates for the show had sold out, “people wanted another day.” Creating a successful production that was distinctive to Pittsburgh and employed local talent was a dream come true for the creative team behind it. Rishel explained that after graduating from college or graduate school, many students leave to find jobs elsewhere. This show was a way for the team to get people to stay and create something original in the arts in Pittsburgh.

Working with different skill sets also helped them make Evenings in Quarantine such a unique piece. The fusion of live acting and filmed footage created an interactive experience that added to the realism of this piece and made you look twice at the shadows outside after you exited the theater. With previous shows already sold out, Bogovich and Rishel are kicking around future ideas such as making a soundtrack and a DVD to accompany the play. They would also love to make Evenings in Quarantine an October tradition.