Haunt Season at Zombie Joe’s

Kait LeonardBy Kait Leonard      October 16, 2020

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Haunt Season at Zombie Joe’s
"Tortured Souls Threshold" events announcement. All photos courtesy of Zombie Joe
Why are zombies, ghouls, and general psycho-monsters at Zombie Joe’s Underground (ZJU) Theater quaking in their grave-dirt covered boots? Because Halloween is just around the corner, and even the undead have to comply with social distancing rules. During typical years the ghoulies at ZJU produce live, horror-themed theater year-round. Even during a full calendar, this season would be an especially big time for them. But this is 2020, and until very recently, Zombie Joe and his gang weren’t sure they would be able to go live at all. Thankfully, the creativity of zombies should not be underrated, and the show will go on. Opening on October 21, ZJU Theater will be presenting “Tortured Souls Threshold,” a series of interconnecting stories intended for an adult audience. (No one under 17 will be admitted.) Tickets are on sale at zombiejoes.com. Zombie Joe describes the event as “really scary,” and if the head Zombie is scared, get ready! Given the ongoing restrictions on public events, many people are craving anything that takes place outside of the computer screen. The hospitality and entertainment industries want nothing more than to fulfill these desires. Countless hours of creative effort, though, have gone into solving the problem, and some wonderful options have been springing up.
Promotional photos of the upcoming Tortured Souls Threshold
Currently, the always elegant Shojin is serving drinks and dinner to patrons in their cars parked on the rooftop of the building in downtown Los Angeles. The Electric Dusk Drive-in is showing Halloween, double features. The Ventura fairgrounds is hosting live “Concerts in your Car.” And it is rumored that some of the local haunts are planning drive-through events.

Leave it to a group of the undead to think up something new. (Do you think it’s all those brains they eat finally paying off?) Audience members will not be bothered by gear shifts and rearview mirrors. ZJU Theater is going off-computer and out of the car.

Two-by-two, audience members will be led to the front door of the theater to peer in at the first act unfolding inside. After the front door segment, an actor will continue the story while leading victims…I mean viewers… around the building to the back door. The finale will be enacted beyond that last threshold. The whole experience will last about 20 minutes.

Zombie Joe is ghoulishly delighted that they were able to come up with something for the season. It was touch-and-go up until the last minute. Finally, during some creative brainstorming, a joke about keeping the audience outside turned into an event. Though the theater group has done what they could online during the blackout, which started in March, everyone is excited to get back to providing live theater.

ZJU Theater began in 1992, when Zombie Joe made the fateful decision to drop out of the University of California, Irvine’s prestigious theater department because he had “wild ideas for wild theater.” Anyone who’s attended a pre-pandemic production can attest to the fact that Zombie Joe produces wild theater.
Promotional photos of the upcoming Tortured Souls Threshold
To try to imagine a ZJU production, begin with concepts like avant-garde and experimental. Then add in horror, macabre, goth, and even sci-fi. Shake those together, package them into an hour-long experience, and you get close to a ZJU event, close…but like looking in funhouse mirrors, you’ll still be shocked when you see the real thing.

Pre-pandemic, Zombie Joe produced two kinds of programs. In the more traditional shows, the audience is seated to watch the production. ZJU Theater is a tiny space, with only 49 seats. Actors are quite near, causing audience members to feel that at any moment they might be grabbed by a zombie, mothslut, or perhaps Hermia from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. (Yes, Zombie Joe puts his own spin on Shakespeare.) Though the audience is assured that actors will not touch them, can you really trust a mothslut to play by the rules?

The other kind of production is what Zombie Joe calls an “experience.” The audience lines up outside, where they are given flashlights and then blindfolded. They are guided through a series of hallways and rooms and given instructions by guides and even characters. These experiences come closest to the structure of the new show, but the idea of going around the building at night, with only one other person and a character/guide sounds even more terrifying, and wonderful.

If you’re looking for some seasonal fun and fear, find a partner and grab your tickets quickly. The production is not sticking around for long. And while you’re checking on tickets, you can explore “The Spiderweb Meditations” by Joseph Bishara. The meditations are hard to describe. You might think of them as a multi-part visual and sound experience…perhaps. Zombie Joe says they’re for “active or passive meditation.”

Spiderwebs in the brain? Why not? It’s Haunt Season after all.

Zombie Joes Underground Theater: 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA  91601; tickets available at zombiejoes.com
Shojin: theshojin.com
Electric Dusk Drive-in: electricduskdrivein.com
Concerts in Your Car: concertsinyourcar.com
Kait Leonard
      October 16, 2020

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